To listen to Microsoft talk about Vista in the run-up to its launch, you could be forgiven for thinking the OS was going to do for your PC what a jet engine would do for a hang-glider. Better management of memory and I/O devices would mean your PC would be more responsive, offering faster startup and shutdown.

But when it first arrived, Vista was hamstrung by a bewildering variety of performance bugs and glitches. File copying took an age, performance wasn’t what it should be, and 3D gaming was better left unmentioned.

We’re happy to say that things are much improved now. File copying appears to have been fixed in one of the myriad patches. Copying a pair of AVI files from a USB flash drive under Vista took 3mins 43secs; on the exact same hardware, the transfer took 3mins 44secs under Windows XP.

We also tested using our application-based benchmarks, with mixed results. In Photoshop and 3ds Max, the system was actually faster with Vista loaded – albeit only by 4%. But in our Office 2003 test, it was much slower, down by 23% on XP. Aggregating all the scores, Vista was 8% slower than XP.

Startup and shutdown times are better for Vista. On our test rig, a fresh install of Vista took 28 seconds to go from off to ready to use. The same hardware under XP took slightly longer: 34 seconds. Shutdown times on both were near-identical, though, at around 15 seconds each. Startup and shutdown times are markedly different on laptops, though. Open a laptop that’s sleeping under Vista and it springs to life nearly instantly – something that makes Vista a tempting upgrade for mobile workers.

Most of the time, a software vendor will tell you that new versions of software always run slower than their predecessor on the same hardware than the previous iteration. Most of the time, you forgive it because computer hardware increases significantly in speed every few months, and also because you’re desperate enough for the features in the new software that you’ll forgive it being a few shades slower.

Microsoft has managed to get Vista to a point where application and benchmark performance is nearly parallel between it and XP. But it’s a long way from the jet engine we were promised.

XP – 8
After six years of tweaks and patches, XP remains marginally the best performing version of Windows to date.

Vista – 7
Performance is roughly comparable to that of its predecessor, but Vista lacks the “wow factor” we were promised.

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