Cowboy Programming Game Development and General Hacking by the Old West

May 11, 2007

Why is Vista Slow?

Filed under: Game Development — Mick West @ 5:47 pm

(The following is just my tale of woe and rants, for speed-up tips, see here)

I’ve always been a little hasty in upgrading my computer to the latest version of Microsoft Windows, and this time I let it go a while to see if there were many reported problems. Nothing major seemed to transpire, so I did the upgrade.

I’ve been using it for a month or so now, and my impression is that it was a mistake to upgrade. It’s pretty. But it’s slow. Mind numbingly inexplicably frustratingly slow.

An operating system has two primary functions: It has to provide a common interface to the hardware for the software that you use. It also has to provide a fluid user experience.

I read somewhere that they spend a billion dollars on Vista. This is quite disturbing. A billion dollars to take a perfectly good operating system, and make it look prettier, but slow everything down.

I tried to like it. I tried to get along with the “do you know this program that you are trying to run, and you have been running every few hours for several days, but maybe someone changed it, or something?” hand-holding. But after I was asked this for the hundredth time I finally gave up and switched it off. It’s just so stupid. Sure the basic idea is sound, but why can’t I have a “Don’t ask me about this particular program again” button.

But the simple slowness is the biggest problem in my mind. Take something as simple as opening a folder, like, to look at the contents. I’ll even do it the way Microsoft wants me to do it. Click on “Start”, click on “Documents. And wait. For three seconds.

THREE SECONDS! Do you know how much a typical computer can do in three seconds. Never mind that, how much can MY computer do in three seconds. It’s a 3.6 Ghz dual core pentium extreme edition. With four gigabytes of ram. It can load 50 Megabytes of uncached data from the hard drive in three seconds, it can perform at least FIVE BILLION FLOATING POINT OPERATIONS.

So what am I asking it to do? Simply show me the contents of a folder. What the heck is it doing?

This kind of things goes on and on. Open internet explorer (to a blank page, no internet access required): three seconds. Open a folder with some video in it and get an error “COM Surrogate has stopped working”. Press ctrl-alt-delete (three seconds).

Here’s one that really bugs me. I have a folder open showing some photos. I right click on white space in the folder to bring up the context menu so I can change the view. FIVE SECONDS! WTF! That is just totally insane. What is it doing?

Obviously, in all these cases it is doing something that someone at Microsoft thought was a good idea. The problem is: they have let the functionality get in the way of the responsiveness. When I open a folder I don’t give two shakes about all that crap going on behind the scenes. I expect the operating system to DROP EVERYTHING (with the exception of any Audio or Video critical things, like playing music, or video chat) and bring the full resources of the machine to the task I have just demanded of it. It should display that window.

I’m in charge here. I want Vista to do what I ask, and I want it to display a window listing my files, and do it in less than a tenth of a second. There is no technical reason why not. Video games create an entire frames worth of presentation in 1/60th of a second. I’m prepared to allow a little time for hard disk seeking, but what exactly is the computer doing that is so important that it takes THREE SECONDS to show me what’s in a folder, and FIVE SECONDS to bring up a menu.

What’s this rant doing in Cowboy Programming? Well, game programmers need to remember that the player is the boss. The most important thing you can do as a game programmer is translate the intentions of the player directly into results, with no impediments. No pauses. Never.


  1. Thanks for putting into words my biggest beef with XP and Vista. And, to be fair, OS X too – I know I’m running a lot on my Mac Mini but even so, *I JUST CLICKED MY MOUSE* – what could be more important than giving me immediate feedback?

    I’d love to speak to someone at MS who could tell me just what the hell is going on behind the scenes…

    Comment by Howard M — June 21, 2007 @ 2:09 am

  2. I hear ya brother…
    I thought it might be my computer…but you’re absolutely right!

    Ya know it probably has to do with their desire to sell faster computers. I mean, if all your windows and menus opened in a tenth of a second on a 1.5ghz machine with 512 megs of ram….you’d probably be so happy with it’s speed you’d never upgrade :)


    Comment by Jonny C. — August 7, 2007 @ 5:31 am

  3. It’s simple, really, its first connecting to the FBI, sending your web request or the contents of your folder to the FBI central processor, waiting for the FBI central server to say “Yup, I got all that”, then it carries on with your request.

    Isn’t it obvious.

    Comment by I.B. — August 14, 2007 @ 3:24 am

  4. I am an IT person, CCNA and MCSE. Let me tell you,
    MS Vista is the worst OS Microsoft ever made. When XP came out we had to deal with incompatibility too, which wasn’t a surprise, but when time goes by vendors adjusted by writing updated drivers, and life was good again. The problems with Vista aren’t just incompatibility issues. We were having companies downgrading to XP, since vista was giving them a headache. It is terrible slow, error messages that don’t make sense at all. But mainly, it doesn’t add anything new to XP, which was working fine, well as long you had SP 2 installed. I am a afraid Vista will hurt MS badly, since there isn’t really a fix for the problems they experience. The performance simply sux. No one wants to buy an OS that is running slower and pay $200 for this.

    Comment by cornelis — August 25, 2007 @ 10:57 am

  5. I bought my son a Dell desktop a few years ago with the win XP o.s. I was so impressed with it and how fast it still goes after all this time, and he downloads all the free trash that is available that I decided to do the same.
    Why o why didn”™t anyone warn me, I bought a faster machine with pre installed Vista. I thought that it was a nigh mare to open folders and to browse the net with my old machine, until I met Vista, then I realised that the nightmare had only just started.

    Why does M$ spend so many millions to develop a system that is so inadequate, I think that we the consumers are really being taken for a ride. We are fed this cock and bull story of how great this new advanced system is, the amazing things that it does, when really we are amazed at the things it should do, and it doesn”™t.
    I bet that M$ has a “sucker” counter that is continuously rotating with every Vista they churn out.

    Comment by Joey F — November 20, 2007 @ 8:21 am

  6. Im only 16 years old and i don’t expect much out of a computer but Vista is so slow.It frustrates me to the point where i fight with my sister for her computer! I can’t download pictures or play a game without it freezing or messing up. Its ridiculous and Vista isn’t compatible with ANYTHING!

    Comment by Scarlett — January 1, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  7. CAn anyone tell me why my new Mac is so slow after I installed Vista…
    If fact Vista and Mac are slow know

    Very dissapointed.

    Comment by Nieves — February 19, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  8. I must admit, I converted from XP to Vista and now my PC is slower than ever! I am not too sure what needs to be done, aside from going back to XP. Let me tell you, I am darn close to doing this.

    I did find a site that has come resources on how to speed up Vista PC’s, but I’m not technical enough to know if it works.


    Comment by Jason — March 27, 2008 @ 11:31 am

  9. One thing you can try, although it’s not at all nice, it to do a clean re-install of Vista. I found it was a lot quicker after I did that.

    Comment by Mick West — March 27, 2008 @ 11:48 am

  10. How about unlocking the PC?

    As a systems admin/support guy I think it’s sensible to lock my PC when I step away from my desk.

    When I get back to my XP box it takes about 3/4 seconds from CTRL+ALT+DEL to password entered to the screen being unlocked.

    With Vista, CTRL+ALT+DEL, then press ‘right’ to select my account instead of ‘Credentials Manager’, then enter my password to the screen being unlocked: 15 seconds. FIFTEEN SECONDS!!!

    So frustrating…especially when something bad is happening and the pressure is on!

    Not mention that the 2Gb of RAM my PC has is over 60% used even after a reboot and doing nothing more than logging on.

    And what happened to the super-fast boot-up times we used to enjoy with XP – even compared to the previous versions of Windows?

    Comment by Jeff — July 11, 2008 @ 4:36 am

  11. I bought Vista about 6 months ago when my house got burglarized and all my pcs and laptops got ripped off. We went ahead and decided we just needed two laptops, and they came with Vista. What a mistake. It is very slow, everytime i turn around and try to download something, i have to go through all kinds of permission requests repeatedly. I have been considering changing to Linux or Solaris. And Ctrl-Alt-del is just awesome. It takes an inordinate amount of time to come up. Sorry for the rant.

    Comment by Joao Coelho — August 29, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  12. Guys, what do you expect. Vista is based on Windows which in turn is based on DOS which was bought for a few dollars from a one man software shed and is now 30 years old. You can tune your 1975 Ford Pinto, you can keep it clean and what ever you do to it – it remains a Ford Pinto, from 1975. You may put in a Bose sound system, give it some very cool color, spinning wheels, leather seats, wide wheels… Ford Pinto, 1975.

    If a man makes Billions and billions for himself – that money didn’t go into development. And if that same man actually never invented or innovated anything, how could that product from 1975 become so much better. As long as we keep ducktaping windows we get what we asked for…

    Is there anybody developing a whole new OS? Why not – it is not trivial but not impossible. But it looks like nobody has the guts to do so. So scratch with the chicken and eat windows Vista 2009 and 2010 with service pack 55 as build 20,000 and wait until you are 100 to load your word processor. If I could I’d write a new OS.

    Comment by Axel — September 4, 2008 @ 8:20 am

  13. I think the real question is more: “why is Vista slower than XP?”. They spent a billion dollars on it, and it’s prettier, but slower.

    Comment by Mick West — September 4, 2008 @ 9:57 am

  14. the reason vista is slow is that it is checking every bit for DRM compliance.

    In other words MS thinks you are a thief and Vista IS CHECKING for DRM compliance.

    It is like a hidden virus scanner checking every byte and bit.

    Vista has tilt bits which are on the edge and will reboot the pc or disable it if DRM media is detected without a licence…

    just type tilt bits vista in google for more info.

    MS were suckered by the MPAA and RIAA to building tilt bits int vista.Hence that is why it is so slow.It is checking if you are thieving copyrighted content with embedded DRM.

    MS is estimate to have lost $28 billion in lost sales due to this DRM…

    Comment by esecallum — December 26, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  15. you have to be kidding about the DRM compliance. That’s the reason? I’m in complete agreement with the comments on this page. Vista looks nice… nice enough for a Mac lover to be impressed. But its functionality sucks. Literally. I love my MacBook Pro, and it worked swimmingly with XP, but Vista truly sucks the life out of the computer. And I’m afraid to downgrade because I had problems upgrading. Argh.

    Comment by Looks Aren't Everything. — December 31, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  16. Vista is the worst ever. Bring xp back. Please get rid of vista.

    Comment by Bonnie Snyder — January 27, 2009 @ 10:23 am

  17. I used Vista for about 2 weeks. This was on a bran new laptop with dual cores and 2g ram. It was slow. I found the perfect solution though. I put Linux on it! Now with Gentoo, it takes less than a second to navigate to a directory or open up a menu! =D

    Hell, Gentoo can do all these things fast on my old 166mhz machine.

    Comment by xteraco — March 24, 2009 @ 3:04 am

  18. Well VISTA is compromising speed for security. They have put too much effort in building a “secure” OS but they forgot about performance and speed. Anyhow, the new Windows 7 is supposed to be much better, at least in terms of performance. We’ll see how it goes.

    Comment by cisco asa — April 4, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  19. lots of truth here and there in the comments, but here is the final nail to the coffin, why vista is so slow :

    It’s registry is fully virtualized. Every piece of software tries to read/write your registry – in XP and prior this was instantly : the program read its values fromt he registry, “knows” what it must do, and does it instantly. Whenever you do a click on a button in your software, it changes a dword value in the registry tree..

    Now in vista, the program read a faked registry, a faked value for security purposes. ( malware also depends on the registry of course ) – every read/write attemt is virtualized. Vista captures what your application is trying to do with that virtual systemtree, analyizes if those read/write attempts might harm the OS itself, and only if Vista gives it’s “Ok” to the desired changes, the application will be given access to the real registry.

    So that is the reason why every piece of software takes ages, reads longer, writes longer, becomes unresponsive and eats more memory than the same app would do in xp/2000.

    With Win7 nothing will change concerning this behaviour : Win7 is Vista reloaded, only a rebranded and tweaked Vista Number 2.

    The part with DRM is also true. For example take WIndows Server 2008 – the Server conterpart of Vista, which is the client OS. Server08 has no DRM subsystem – it runs double fast as Vista, yes it outperforms it in every way, even with Aero and all the Vista goodies enabled .. Problem for people that want Server 08 as their Desktop OS : due to the lack of DRM, it wont play every video and stutters with mp3 playback. Mind you, a 3rd party player like vlc or winamp helps.

    Another example are the “N” Editions of Vista. Those are sold here in germany as an option to customers. “N” means : no Mediaplayer and no Moviemaker – I tried Vista Business N and compared it to Vista Business “normal Edition”, both at SP2 patchlevel and the “N” is faster.

    Comment by Smartie77 — September 12, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  20. Am I the only man alive who has NEVER had ANY problems with Vista? Seriously. (being annoyed at having to set things to
    un as admin or not being able to run incompatible games don’t count, lol)

    The only time it ever ran slow for me was about 9 months into owning it when I accidentally dropped it on hard ground, which I believe may screwed up the hard drive (a bad hard drive on a Windows computer is bad news, you know =P). It was always slow after that… then the drive died when I hit the laptop for getting an I/O error on something uber important. But that’s not the point. >_>

    Man… I loved that Vista computer. Yeah, it does have its problems… but I don’t see why you guys are bashing it. Don’t be hatin’ now.

    Well, okay, what if Vista really is bad? Maybe I just had a just good enough computer to make the performance and slowness-inducing problems invisible? That might be a real possibility. I dunno.

    Comment by Miles3298 — September 17, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  21. Miles3298:
    It does run decent NOW. But only after SP1 and SP2 are installed. Before this, it was everything the above post’s said it was! I remember hearing that one of the main reasons Vista is slow is the GDI interface wasn’t hardware accelerated properly, also the video/sound drivers were poorly written and un-optimized. I also think that some GUI features were left un-finished and un-polished. Windows 7 seems to fix many of these issue’s.

    Comment by Matt C. — December 30, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

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