Special Report - Windows 2000 Review: Say Hello to Win2000
Our tests show the successor to NT 4.0 is everything we hoped it would be. Of course, it isn't perfect either.
After all the waiting, the beta-testing, the revising, rethinking, and re-engineering, Windows 2000 is done. Microsoft delivered finished "Gold" code to Winmag.com a couple of weeks ago, and we've been testing it ever since. Cut to the chase: Win2000 was worth the wait. There's a lot to like, and also a lot to get to know, because this is a very different version of Windows. And it's not for everyone. Still, it might surprise you how well it could work for you.
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Windows 2000's Welcome screen is just one of many small features designed to make those new to computers feel comfortable with it.
Originally conceived to be "NT 5.0," Windows 2000 is clearly an evolutionary upgrade of NT 4.0. But in the process it adds important functionality Win95 and Win98 users have taken for granted for years, such as direct plug and play support for all kinds of devices, as well as support for USB and 1394/FireWire. Even so, you can't always expect that the latest peripheral you might pick up down at the local computer superstore will run perfectly under the new operating system. Microsoft focused first on drivers for business hardware, as opposed to those for consumer-oriented hardware.
Windows 2000 also adds tons of new features that until now haven't appeared anywhere in the Windows family -- some on the desktop side, some on the server side, and some in both places. Many are designed to make day-to-day use and manageability of servers far easier. What's more, on comparable hardware, Win2000 is faster than Win98 and about as fast as NT 4.0.
But Windows 2000 isn't all things to all people. For one thing, it's got pretty stiff hardware requirements-- at least as restrictive as NT 4.0's were, and more so for Win2000 Server. Plus, you won't be able to run absolutely every piece of Win98 or NT 4.0 software on Win2000. Although most programs are perfectly safe to run, only a handful are actually certified for Win2000, and a few system-specific programs just won't work as-is, and we'll tell you about that.
In case you're wondering, Win2000 is due to arrive on store shelves and on new PCs in the U.S. on February 17th. Many corporations and companies will receive distribution discs much sooner than that, however, and may in fact already have them. For more on Win2000's release, see Windows 2000 Goes Gold.
Finally, if you're unsure about whether you should make the move to Windows 2000 -- as a lot of people are -- take a look at the conclusion to this story, which makes hard recommendations about the types of uses for which Win2000 is best suited.
How does Win2000 stack up against Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 98? We decided to find out the old-fashioned way, by testing it of course. Specifically, we ran WinTune and our traditional suite of application benchmarks. We used the same test machine for all three versions of Windows, a Compaq Deskpro with a 450MHz Pentium II processor, 320MB of RAM, a 14GB hard drive, and a Matrox Millennium G200 AGP video card.
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Windows 2000 and NT 4.0 were neck and neck in our tests. On the applications suite, Win2000 bested NT on the Word benchmark, and NT 4.0 did a notch better on the Excel test. Win98 lagged behind, except on the DeBabelizer test.
Windows 2000 (the "Gold" version) and Windows NT 4.0 (with Service Pack 6a and the most recent video drivers) ran neck-and-neck in the testing. This isn't surprising, and is in fact pretty reassuring: Win2000 doesn't appear to lose performance over a comparably-equipped NT box.
When compared against Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows 2000 was noticeably better. Windows 98's concessions to 16-bitness ultimately hamper its speed -- even on a machine this fast and with this much memory to burn. Since Win2000 is built on the same all-32 bit technology that drives NT 4.0, it doesn't have those limitations.
One thing we did notice, though -- our Excel test score on Windows 2000 lagged slightly behind its Windows NT counterpart. Why? Our Excel test is far more graphics-intense than our Word test because the former creates bar and pie charts and some 3D displays. At this stage of their development, many Win2000 video drivers (including the one for our Matrox Millennium G200 AGP card) might be slightly slower at rendering fonts at different sizes than a freshly updated NT driver. Meanwhile, the raw WinTune video test scores for Win2000 are faster than WinNT (see all our test scores). This doesn't mean that Win2000 is always going to be slower with video in some cases -- just that some cards' drivers may not be as speedy as they can be. (Expect the best results for video to come when you download drivers directly from the manufacturer for Windows 2000 in the coming months.)
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