Saturday, August 16, 2008

Windows Vista's SuperFetch and ReadyBoost Analyzed : Cache Me If You Can!

Windows Vista has been available only for few days and opinions about the new operating system are controversial. Some like it; others mistrust it and the business strategy that may be behind it. The new OS brings noticeable improvement in usability, accessibility and networking features, which helps less experienced users to get along. On the other hand it requires much more hardware resources, dumps native OpenGL support, performs slightly behind Windows XP and requires at least new drivers for many of your devices. In the worst case, your preferred applications may not even work anymore and Vista will not only require new hardware, but several software upgrades as well.

Windows has been the dominant client/end user PC operating system for more than a decade, which has predictable effects on new releases. If Microsoft decided to turn its operating system inside out, it can literally do so, because there is no real choice. Windows has become the ecosystem for our digital life. Though there are alternatives, most of them lack convenience, support, funding or the proper marketing. Vista is a prime example of strategic and technological modifications that involve the whole industry. Although Windows is barely catching up to what Mac OS X has already offered, no one can deny that Windows Vista is the better Windows from a user's perspective. That's why Microsoft has an excellent position marketing the advantages. Windows feels fluffy, and the new Windows Vista feels even fluffier, which makes it very easy to accept it - despite all odds. Finding your Windows alternative and getting used to it is time-consuming, which prevents most users from even trying. Eventually, using Windows is a matter of convenience for many people.

It will take time until drivers and updates for all your hardware (and software) will be available. However, don't expect too much support for older hardware. If you fail to find updates for your devices by the middle of 2007 then you better prepare to replace it. Vista is a very significant release - both for the end user and for both the hardware industry and the software vendors.
Whether you embrace or reject the Vista wind of change, Windows has learned to serve you better. We've already discussed the usability advantages that Vista will give you. But there is much more to talk about, covered under the colorful AeroGlass hood. Microsoft's Vista requirements envisioned a better overall user experience, which means that Vista supposedly runs smoother. This doesn't refer to application execution performance, but to ironing out delays that we've come to accept with Windows XP. We have to wait every time you start the system or launch an application, which is because applications have to be loaded from the hard drive.

Vista comes with two mechanisms that effectively reduce the time required to launch popular applications: SuperFetch analyzes your behavior and proactively puts applications into available main memory, so they can be launched quicker. Of course this requires as much main memory as possible, which is where the second feature engages: ReadyBoost allows expanding the main memory size by plugging in a USB 2.0 Flash drive. Although the data transfer performance of USB 2.0 devices cannot compete with modern hard drives, access times for Flash memory are literally nonexistent, making these devices a nice and particularly cheap choice.