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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [03.05.08]


PCMark Vantage

This is the part that made me really excited to do this review. The team at Futuremark did a great job of making PCMark relevant again, by turning their benchmark suite into one that uses real software that we use day-to-day. Their old software worked well as a low-level performance benchmark, but really how important is it to know that one hardware configuration has a memory bus that is 200 MB/s faster than another? What really matters is how that performance translates to the real world.

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.

Each Vantage suite was run three times, and an average score of the three is given each time.

Memories Suite

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 taxes the CPU and HDD.

So far, SP1 is not showing a performance increase, as these scores are relatively tied.

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.

Our first significant performance increase shows up when watching and encoding a lot of video in SD and HD. So far though, the 6% increase here is about the same as we've been seeing all along with a few exceptions.

Music Suite

The music suite 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.

Again, about a 4.5% increase in performance thanks to SP1. Although we saw that audio encoding itself isn't improved by SP1, the other components in this suite are obviously affected. For instance, a lot of file transferring is done, as large music libraries get imported into Windows Media Player 11 in this test.

Communications Suite

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.

This is the largest non-file-transfer-related performance increase we've seen so far at 15%, and I believe it has to do with the internal compression and encryption API's being improved with SP1.

Productivity Suite

Probably the least intriguing 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. This is a good way to test a majority of Vista's integrated software all at once.

Again, a nice 8% performance increase, which is at about the maximum level of the average range of performance increases we've been seeing all along.

Gaming Suite

The gaming suite is sort of like a 'mini 3DMark' test. It runs some game engine-based CPU, GPU, and HDD tests. Level loading is tested, which makes use of data compression; it also tests multithreading by running several tests at once.

Just as we've seen before, gaming performance is relatively the same.

HDD Suite

The HDD suite uses various HDD-intensive tasks within Vista. This includes a run of Windows Defender, loading a level in a game, importing pictures, video editing, media center usage, adding music to WMP11, and loading large applications. Also, Vista startup time is tested.

This suite of PCMark Vantage tests is rounded off by another tie.

Overall, PCMark Vantage tells us that SP1 can improve Vista's performance by anywhere from 4% to 8% on average, but in many cases up to 15%. Sometimes the performance is the same, but in no cases did we see SP1 perform slower than Retail.

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