Power consumption and Vista’s Aero interface

Much has been made of Windows Vista’s new Aero interface, and for good reason. The GUI is loaded with luscious eye candy, including the liberal use of transparency, and even a few 3D effects. That eye candy doesn’t come cheap, though. Aero relies on graphics hardware to accelerate the interface, and requires a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card that supports Shader Model 2.0 and has at least 128MB of memory. Those requirements are pretty steep for an operating system, but they also raise an interesting question: if Aero is accelerated with graphics hardware, will system power consumption rise as a result?


Vista’s swanky Aero interface

Obviously, higher power consumption isn’t a good thing. For one, it makes a system more expensive to run. More importantly, though, it increases the amount of heat that must be dissipated by a chassis’ cooling configuration. The more heat you have to dissipate, the more cooling you need, and that can lead to higher system noise levels.

To determine whether running Vista’s Aero interface increases a system’s power consumption, I grabbed a copy of the latest public release candidate, x64 build 5728, and a stack of graphics cards that included a Radeon X1900 XTX and X1800 GTO, and a GeForce 7900 GTX, 7900 GT, and 7600 GT. Then, I put together a system with an Athlon 64 X2 5000+ processor, MSI K9N SLI Platinum motherboard, 2GB of Corsair DDR2 memory, Western Digital Caviar RE2 hard drive, and a 700W OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply and began testing.

This system was plugged into a Watts Up watt meter that measures system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet. Power consumption was measured under three scenarios. In the first, the system was left idling at the Windows desktop. Next, the system was left to idle with Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer windows open on the desktop. Finally, I measured peak power consumption while using Aero’s fancy 3D window switching feature.

For the first two scenarios, I measured power consumption with Vista’s Aero and Classic interfaces. The latter doesn’t have any fancy eye candy effects, so it makes a good baseline for comparison. However, the Classic interface doesn’t support 3D window switching.


Windows switching in 3D

I had plans to put together a bunch of graphs illustrating the results, but those wouldn’t have been terribly exciting graphs to read. With each graphics card, from the Radeon X1900 XTX down to the GeForce 7600 GT, system power consumption with Vista’s Aero interface was only marginally higher than it was with the Classic interface. A GeForce 7900 GT-equipped configuration, for example, idled between 105 and 106W with an empty Classic desktop, and 106 and 107W with two windows open. With the Aero interface, the same system idled closer to 106W with an empty desktop and closer to 107W with two windows open.

In all, none of our configurations consumed more than an additional watt moving from Vista’s Classic to Aero interface. Power consumption did spike by between 10 and 15W when using Aero’s 3D window switching feature, though. This spike didn’t last for much more than a second, so it’s unlikely to have a significant impact on overall system power consumption or noise levels. In fact, none of the cards we tested with variable-speed cooling fans even ramped up their fan speeds during our Aero testing.

Despite requiring a recent 3D graphics pipeline, Vista’s new Aero interface doesn’t meaningfully increase overall system power consumption. This is still a beta operating system with beta graphics drivers, of course, but it seems unlikely that power consumption will be a problem for Aero when Vista finally hits shelves.

Comments closed
    • indeego
    • 13 years ago

    After an hour playing with this OS I found myself putting things the way I like for XP.

    The 3d window task switcher is candy that is less functional. I do like the alt+tab previews though.

    The sidebar is almost fairly useless behind windows, I suppose as resources are easy to spare they’ll be fun.

    Migrating my home machine (which I don’t care too much about) I came across issues with shortcuts to VPN’s all missing, and a few devices not working.

    I am failing to see how this OS will help me get my job done any better than XP besides the nice imaging components of the backup subsystem. Time will tell though. UAC, even in it’s current format, will simply annoy the crap out of every user from power on down to newb and will be the first thing turned off on most machinesg{<.<}g

    • GreatGooglyMoogly
    • 13 years ago

    Where’d my post go? Oh well.

      • Damage
      • 13 years ago

      Nuked for profanity. Sorry, but we can’t edit your posts in this system, so we have to nuke.

        • GreatGooglyMoogly
        • 13 years ago

        Ah, OK. No biggie.

        • A_Pickle
        • 13 years ago

        Hehe. Nuked. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • GreatGooglyMoogly
    • 13 years ago

    Not too surprising. I mean, this is obviously due to current video cards presently having shitty idling when not doing anything at all. They’re ALREADY drawing too much power/generating too much heat when not doing anything…

    I wish they would have a separate core and memory for 2D, and halt the 3D core and memory subsystem completely.

    But of course, that won’t happen now that Vista is coming, and everyone’s jumping on the Aero Glass bandwagon. Not me though, because I hate Aero. Windows Classic forever! (Though I’d like to be able to tweak it more (make it smaller)).

    • UberGerbil
    • 13 years ago

    I’m surprised anybody is surprised by this (though I guess I always underestimate the pervasiveness of the “everything Microsoft does is big and bloated and inefficient and stupid” meme). When the UI isn’t doing anything, it isn’t doing anything. So it’s not going to use significantly more more power. Only when it is doing something intensively 3D — like shuffling the active windows, or doing fancy composition using NET 3.0 / WPF / WinFX (or whatever it’s being called this week) — would you expect it to make the GPU work up a sweat. And those operations tend to be extremely brief: unlike a game, you’re not transforming and texturing polys and updating the display ~60 times a second.

    • paulio
    • 13 years ago

    Is my 9800 pro going to be able to cope with Aero?

      • droopy1592
      • 13 years ago

      my 9600 pro and 9700 pro handle it fine

        • paulio
        • 13 years ago

        Thannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnks

    • blitzy
    • 13 years ago

    other than looking nice is there any practical advantage to having the aero stuff?

      • indeego
      • 13 years ago

      None at allg{<.<}g

    • Vaughn
    • 13 years ago

    been running the beta of Vista for a few weeks now I like it better than XP.
    Everything just feels alot quicker. I still use XP most of the time on my dualboot system. Games and application compatibility being the reason. I also wish they would fix the shutdown and restart speed in build 5728, it takes too long. I’m sure RC2 which is suppose to be released soon, will solve those issues aswell as bugs.

    • Thresher
    • 13 years ago

    I find the whole interface sort of annoying. It’s just too….well, for lack of a better term, busy. There is just too much stuff going on. Semitransparent windows over bright backgrounds with a huge sidebar and the taskbar with all that glistening stuff all over it. It’s like they took the original OS X (somewhere around 10.1) and turned it up to 11. Even Apple has dialed back on all the lickable interface stuff.

    I realize that most of this can be simplified rather easily, but it just seems like overkill to begin with. Quite honestly, while the XP interface is rather dull, it’s miles ahead of this. I’ve been using Vista on my home media machine and I just can’t seem to get used to it.

      • bender
      • 13 years ago

      Sorry, I realize it’s slightly off topic:

      Interesting, I find the exact opposite. After using Vista for a week, I find Luna absolutely appalling to look at (I find it’s functionality admirable still). Vista is just so much nicer looking. No ‘blue putty’…even the alternate color schemes in XP seem clunky and ungraceful to me. To me Vista’s interface is more graceful, and the movements are tasteful, which I can’t say about XP (or Aqua for that matter..sluuurp!). On top of that, even on my fairly modest machine (P4 2.6 Northwood, AGP GF 7600GS, 1GB RAM), the UI is just as snappy as XP.

      Office 2007 Beta gets a little to ‘blingy’ for me though. Why do the buttons have to stay lit for so long? I hope that MS doesn’t keep moving in that direction for too long.

      And is anyone else having weird problems trying to power down Vista after it goes into sleep mode (as in, after waking it up)?

    • robg1701
    • 13 years ago

    well i may as well post here since nobody is using the comments on the front page ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks for doing the testing i asked for Geoff, exactly what i was after… with a surprising and far better outcome than i imagined ๐Ÿ™‚

    I know getting windows XP based numbers would show the systems idle power draw in a more comparable light, but for a hugely quick and dirty comparison, all anyone neds to do is take a quick look at some TR videocard articles to see that the idle numbers being reported here are pretty damn low, so im not sure there will be much if any change by using XP instead of vista’s classic interface, not more than a couple watts id say.

    Thanks again Geoff ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Corrado
    • 13 years ago

    This is KIND of off topic, but does anyone else find the sidebar SUPER annoying? I mean, I run a 20″ widescreen LCD, but thats cuz I LOVE screen real estate, not because I want to give it up to a clock.

      • Beomagi
      • 13 years ago

      It does look annoying, but I got used to google’s sidebar – then again, that tells me when I have gmail, news, chat, virtual windows etc. The sidebar in that screenshot has too little info to be useful.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 13 years ago

    While it’s not the purpose of the investigation, which is a good one I might add, knowing the power consumption of an XP install would still be nice for comparative purposes. Maybe Geoff can do this for a few of the graphics cards – one ATI one NV – with the system otherwise identical to save some work of driver switching between 5 cards.

    • Cyril
    • 13 years ago

    Please digg if you find this interesting.

    ยง[<http://digg.com/hardware/Windows_Vista_only_marginally_impacts_GPU_power_consumption<]ยง

    • Proesterchen
    • 13 years ago

    I would’ve liked to see an idle Windows XP setup as a baseline for comparison.

      • nerdrage
      • 13 years ago

      Seconded. It would seem that the reviewer should consider the possibility that Vista Classic desktop != XP desktop in terms of power consumption.

        • Dissonance
        • 13 years ago

        But that wasn’t the question.

        We set out to determine whether the Aero UI consumes more power than the classic, eye-candy-less interface, not whether Vista itself consumes more power than XP.

        It’s rather difficult to isolate the UI’s power draw across two completely different operating systems.

          • Shining Arcanine
          • 13 years ago

          Okay, what about the possibility of measuring the power consumption change between two operating systems at idle? It would be great to have the power consumption of Windows XP at idle to compare to the power consumption of Windows Vista at idle.

            • Dissonance
            • 13 years ago

            We may spend more time with Vista when we can get our hands on a retail version of the OS with non-beta drivers.

    • eitje
    • 13 years ago

    nice, dude… this is the kind of stuff i like to see – just a geek geeking around, and answering a question as methodically as he can. ๐Ÿ™‚ i think you’ve now given us the mark that says Vista’s eye candy is basically free – in terms of power consumption.

    • Jigar
    • 13 years ago

    Hope this OS is going to be more exciting then XP..

      • Thresher
      • 13 years ago

      I don’t want an exciting OS. I want a stable OS. Exciting applications? Sure bring them on by the bucketload. But the OS? Stability is key. As long as it’s functional, looks okay, is secure, and it’s stable, I’m fine. Heck, if they could just secure WinXP, I’d be fine with it. OS X is damn near perfect in my book.

      Exciting? God, please no.

        • crabjokeman
        • 13 years ago

        My thoughts exactly. A lean, rock-solid, stable OS excites me. I like OS X although I no longer use Macs and Windows XP is great too.

        Most people’s idea of exciting = Bloat. There’s a reason Microsoft hasn’t come out with a new OS for so long – Windows XP eventually became their best OS ever.

        Windows is becoming like the federal government; it just keeps getting bigger and more inefficient.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 13 years ago

    Awesome perspective. Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ˜€

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