Get up to Speed on Windows XP

Windows XP

Story Contents


Facts & Figures

Home & Pro Differences

Behind the New Wheel

Folders & Special Folders

Looking at 'My Pictures'

Windows Media Player 8

Internet Explorer 6.0

Functional Improvements

Personal Firewall

Remote Assistance

Backup & Restore

Product Activation

Hardware and Setup

Will Your Programs Run?


Beta Conclusions

Hardware and the Setup Experience

People who regularly review software for a living will tell you that any Beta 2 version of Windows isn't mature enough yet for them to really know about how it's going to come out in the end. We're asking the question out loud because this version of Windows is different. Microsoft is doing a better job than usual. That's probably because XP starts with Windows 2000, an already pretty darn good operating system. But here are some thoughts about some of the most important questions we ask of any new version of Windows.

Installation and Hardware
In keeping with its true heritage -- Windows NT -- the installation process for Windows XP is built like a Sherman tank, and it runs like one too. Slow, patient, plodding even, but very thorough. Windows XPs Beta 2 installation is better than any other Windows setup routine we've ever seen. Microsoft's top priority for the process seems to have been "get it right." And you know, that's what we think the top priority should be. Speed is not important; never having to do this again is what's important.

Each of the authors of this story installed XP multiple times, as an upgrade of Win2000, of Windows 98, as a clean install, on different PCs. What astonished us was how little there is to say about the setup experience. During an upgrade installation, XP displays an "upgrade report" in the event you have any devices with missing or non-certified drivers. On one of our test machines, it listed a PCI Ethernet controller that wasn't even installed in the system, and an OfficeJet that was on another system on the network. Another machine, running Windows 2000, was given a stern warning about the Promise FastTrak 100 IDE RAID hard disk controller. We ignored the warning without any repercussion. We've also come across power management issues on some older PCs we've tested (although that's the case with every new version of Windows).

Win XP's setup routine is slow and steady, but it gets the job done right. And that's what you want.
Click to see larger image

Win XP's setup routine is slow and steady, but it gets the job done right. And that's what you want.

Word to the wise: While the authors tested with several PCs, Microsoft temporarily gave three of us Windows 2000-certified Compaq notebook PCs with which to test Windows XP. None of us had any problem whatsoever with these Compaq machines and XP. In fact, with recently built notebooks designed for Win2000 or XP, Microsoft finally seems to have conquered the gremlins that have haunted power management areas like suspend, resume, and hibernate. That's no small feat. Those problems have been there since Windows 3.11.

Still, in the real world, where there are literally millions of hardware configurations, a certain percentage of people will have trouble installing Windows XP, or will have hardware that doesn't work properly after setup. An important test of the new operating system will come only after several million people have tried it. The question will be: How high or low is that percentage of people who have problems? Then and only then will we know whether it's a good version of Windows to buy and install yourself. But keeping those caveats in mind, the early indications are good -- in fact, very good.

Still in Beta 2, Windows XP has some tweaking and tuning left to go, and we did not run performance tests per se. But subjectively, we like some of what we see. Microsoft focused on eliminating unnecessary pauses during boot, and created a utility called Bootvis that lets device driver developers see the effect their software has on the boot process. In addition, Microsoft added an option to Disk Defragmenter that optimizes the layout of boot files on the hard disk to reduce read time. As a result, system startup is incredibly fast on most systems. At last, Microsoft is delivering a version of Windows that starts up noticeably quicker than its predecessors. That's a major plus. Usually operating systems get faster in their final version, not slower. But it's a little too soon to party. Some Windows versions have actually appeared to be slower in the end.

Memory size and graphics speed are probably the two most important issues for Windows XP performance. With 128MB of RAM, performance is excellent, and as stated at the top, we wouldn't recommend running with anything less. In the graphics area, the new user interface makes use of effects such as animation, drop-shadow, and alpha-channel effects. On a slow system, these effects can be a drag on performance. The setup program will disable some effects if it determines your graphics board doesn't support them well. But to eliminate all performance-sapping video effects, go to Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance > System > Advanced > Performance Settings and click Best Performance.

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