Experiencing Windows eXPerience


Experiencing Windows eXPerience

I have used Windows 98 and ME for about 2 years. Windows 98 is a featured but annoying operating system, because it doesn’t provide a stable enough platform. In many cases it may crash. As I am frustrated sometimes, Ye Pingyang told me that Windows NT is much more stable. In 2002, I successfully found Windows NT service packs 3, 4, 5 and 6, so that I successfully installed Windows NT 4.0 with useful softwares.

The first time I started Windows NT 4, the biggest impression is not its stability. It was its more efficient disk cache that astonished me. Disk cache in Windows NT performs very smoothly, much better than that in Windows 98. However, Windows NT by default doesn’t support DMA assisted disk transfer, so the mouse seems to be somewhat stuck when disk activity is high. Looking at this phenomenon from today’s perspective, this is also due to the multi-tasking mechanism of NT being too aggressive for continous CPU-consuming processes, thus leaving too little CPU time for periodically activated processes of the same priority class.

The second thing that NT performs fast is the loading of start up programs after logging on. In Windows 98, it is common that start up programs takes about ten or more seconds to load on my Pentium II 450 PC. In Windows NT, it takes only about 2/3 or half of the time.

Windows NT usually takes up only 48 MB of memory after logging on. In a picture in MSDN, Windows NT 4.0 English without any service pack takes up only 15 MB memory. Anyway, NT with no service pack is dangerous, because there are many many flaws in it.

Later, in 2003, I installed Windows 2000. Windows 2000 performs the as good or even better disk caching (maybe with better memory usage when free physical memory is plenty). However, the start up speed of programs after logging on seems to be even slower than Windows 98.

Windows 2000 usually takes up 70 MB of memory after logging on.

In 2005, I began using Windows XP Home Edition on my new DELL Dimension 3000. The computer is powered by an Intel Celeron D 2.53 GHz CPU with MMX, SSE and SSE2 features. The first time I used it, there is a complete suite of Norton Internet Security installed on it by DELL. The memory consumption was 244 MB. Under this configuration, I felt the computer very lagged when loading and unloading programs. The swapping happened very often.

In the end, I decided to disable Norton Internet Security and Norton AntiVirus. I use the Windows Firewall that came with Windows XP SP 2. I found the memory consumption after logging on is much lower, to only 120 MB. Considering that .NET framework is installed and may be running (it is probable that it is not running, and each .NET application basically takes up 3 MB memory), and some new services are configured exclusively for XP, for example System Recovery (I didn’t plan to disable it), special visual effects and new Windows Explorer, it is already ideal.

The process management of XP is still like that of NT 4.0, which provides more CPU time to continous working processes than periodically activated processes. To cure it, you can use the priority class "Above Normal" and "Below Normal" to let some application run faster or slower. Note that this only applies to applications started by the user, not by the system.

I haven’t tested the process spawning speed on Windows 2000/XP. Neither have I on Windows NT. I only know that Linux spawns a new process that share the same executable with a running process is very fast.

Before I deeply used Windows XP, I thought it was designed for high end computers so that it consumes a lot of resources. Now I think it is the case that the CPU, memory and graphics card must be fast. But the memory needn’t be too large to enjoy it. The new Windows Explorer, which was originally considered garbage by me, showed up some helpful features that I’ve never seen in previous Windows versions. For example, the new view of folders works well with local folders. Shift-selecting files in the new view includes all files in the logical range, not in the mouse range. Automatically switching to thumbnail mode provides good user experience. The old and somewhat useless HTML sidebar is now replaced with a new automatic sidebar, which is apparently more useful and faster. The only thing that is too clumsy is the search sidebar. I switched it back to the Windows 2000 style and found it good. Tip: to open a folder in a new window, click in the empty field, CTRL + double click the folder icon.

The disk cache management of NT series is very good. However, paging is never perfect when the size of physical memory is really too small. The CPU time assignment is not perfect, but is sometimes curable.