Our final system has the hardware credentials to do justice to the 'Powerhouse' nick we gave it. Granted, it may not be the fastest system possible now, especially with only a lesser GeForce 8 card like the GeForce 8800 GTS and not the top GeForce 8800 GTX. Its Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 processor will also play second fiddle in a straight CPU comparison and the 2GB of DDR2-800 memory we installed looks increasingly likely to be the new 'minimal' standard for a hardcore enthusiast or gamer. Overall though, this is a very good system that should handle multi-tasking and the latest games effortlessly. The Windows Experience Index score agreed with us, as this machine scored a high of 5.4, just 0.5 off the theoretical maximum for the index.
It was while installing Windows XP that we felt most keenly the convenience offered by Windows Vista. Since this was a newer technology than Windows XP, we had to have the floppy disk containing the SATA drivers ready when we were installing XP so that Windows XP would locate our SATA hard drive (to enable AHCI and NCQ operation). This was of course unnecessary in Vista, which detected and installed to the hard drive without a fuss. For those who have already ditched the floppy, you would likely have to slipstream the SATA drivers first onto the Windows XP installation disc or depending on your motherboard, include the drivers on a USB flash drive. In short, Vista took much less time and effort, since it already has the drivers, an advantage offered simply by virtue of being the newer operating system.
As for the Windows Vista experience, it was excellent. The eye candy was there as usual and applications ran smoothly and started quickly. However, as we soon found out, the same could be said of these applications in Windows XP. This is such a high-end system that there was little we could do (using the system as a typical user and not running intensive benchmarks) to stress it. If you have a similarly powered system, we can even say that it doesn't matter much which operating system you choose - they are all going to perform great on such a system.
Startup and shutdown time for Windows Vista has never been faster, that is until we found that it was even faster in Windows XP with this hardware configuration. The shutdown time for Windows XP was frankly quite amazing, with the power going off in less than 7 seconds. Open Office was also very speedy in Vista, significant more so than in XP though this advantage was less evident in other applications. Paint.NET for one still marginally favored Windows XP while firing up Firefox in Vista was lightning fast and virtually instantaneous. Although the gap has been narrowed, playing games like Quake 4 on Windows Vista again suffered a performance penalty.