We have been using PCMark for quite a while in our CPU and motherboard reviews. It was always a simple way of contrasting performance of various components of a PC with its ability to test different subsystems individually. It used components of real-world tests to give combined scores in various scenarios. For instance, the CPU Suite ran various tests that stress the CPU speficially; file compression, decompression, encryption, audio encoding, etc. Multithreaded results were given by simply running several tests at once.
For CPU reviews, we would run the CPU Suite and the System suite, and it generally gave us a good idea on how the processors compared in terms of overall performance. But these were never 'real world' tests.
PCMark Vantage was recently released, and is a completely different approach compared to what we've seen before from the PCMark team. Instead simply testing low-level performance of PC's, there are several new suites in the program that attempt to recreate what a real user might do, all using the software built into Windows Vista. This is really the way we've been going with our reviews as well, something you'll have noticed if you've been following us over the years. Although we include some synthetic benchmarks like SiSoft Sandra and even 3DMark, we feel it's far more important to test real-world scenarios. Futuremark agrees, and thus PCMark Vantage is a great fit for us.
Vantage itself runs in a way similar to the older PCMark programs - select a 'suite' to run, and it will test a variety of scenarios and give an overall score for that 'suite'. There is also a CPU test that is very much like the CPU test from PCMark 05, and a Graphics test that uses components of 3DMark 06.
Each Vantage suite was run three times, and an average score of the three is given each time.
Memories focuses on Vista's photo and video features. The tests include some image manipulation, which depends on the CPU and GPU. There is also some video transcoding (two videos are compressed to 320x240 1 Mbps WMV9 - one is 720x480 35.38 Mbps, and the other 1280x720 11 Mbps) which is obviously CPU dependant as well.
We've seen Intel CPUs do well in video encoding tests before (and we'll look at that again later on in this review) so it's not much of a surprize to see them do well here. The Quad Core CPU does take advantage of the fact that Windows Media Creator is multithreaded, so its overall score is increased despite the clock speed deficiency.
TV & Movies Suite
This one is pretty obvious - it uses Vista's various video playback and transcoding features. All sorts of video types are played in these tests - 720p VC1 from an HD-DVD, 1080i MPEG-2 from terrestrial HD, and 1080p MPEG-2 from Blu-Ray. Even more video transcoding is done in this test, a lot of it also in HD. As you can guess, this suite is very CPU bound, but relies on GPU as well.
This time both the Intel and AMD chips are quite even, although the quad-core once again excels due to the multithreaded video encoding tests.
The music suite is possibly the most CPU-bound suite in Vantage. It does a lot of music transcoding, something a lot of people do every single day. There's some WAV > WMA Lossless, MP3 > WMA, as well as shrinking WMA files to a higher bitrate WMA format. There is even some web-browsing thrown in (you gotta buy your music somewhere right!) with transcoding and Windows Media Player library management going on in the background.
This time the Intel dual-cores pull ahead again, thanks to their superior performance in music encoding (again, we'll look at this specifically later on in the review). The multithreaded nature of these tests once again allow the Quad Core to overcome its slower clock speed disadvantage.
We all communicate using our PCs, right? So why not test it! Actually, the communication suite in PC Mark Vantage has a lot of data encryption (CNG AES ABC) as well as some data compression. Also tested in the suite are web browsing using IE7, searching within Windows Mail, and some audio transcoding to simulate VOIP.
Quite an even result, although this is the most MHz reliant test we've seen so far in Vantage. Even the Quad Core's quad cores can't help it keep up this time.
Probably the least profound suite in the program; after all, how productive can you be in Windows without installing an Office application? These tests utilize Windows Contacts, Windows Mail, IE7, Windows Defender, and WordPad. Yes, WordPad. At least it's not Notepad. Also, Vista's startup time is tested.
Just as I suspected, this test is pretty much a wash. For a true test of productivity performance, be sure to keep reading!
PCMark Vantage also includes an HDD Suite and a Gaming Suite, but they are out of the scope of this review. We'll definitely be using this program more in the future, as I think it gives a good overall perspective on how a system will perform. Don't worry though, we didn't forget how iportant specifics can be! You can get a free version for yourself which includes one overall Suite which includes components from each Suite shown here. Sweet! However, the free version ONLY INCLUDES ONE RUN! Not so sweet. For unlimited use of the 'overall' suite, you need to buy the $6.95 version. To have full access to all the tests you see here, the personal advanced version is $19.95.
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