Vista Uncapable Intel

Lots of chatter around the emails published due to the "Vista Capable" lawsuit. It's of course upsetting that Intel could push their 2001-era technology in 2006, and reading the emails, it's amazing to me that they didn't know their hardware just...sucked. Overall, I think there should be a lot less criticism of Microsoft in this and more scrutiny of Intel. Having your CEO ask for favors that deceive customers is very bad indeed.

For years people would ask, "Why don't you use graphics hardware in Picasa?" and we'd always say "because it doesn't work on the lowest-end PCs" and largely that meant Intel's awful integrated chips.

I suppose this is what you get for squeezing margins on PCs too much...Apple didn't ship Intel's integrated chips, ever, and instead used discrete chipsets in all the models from 2002 on. That choice probably cost them an extra $10 per machine, for which their users got 10x the graphics performance.

But in a backwards-looking way, I can criticize Microsoft for not providing a software path that implemented Aero Glass in a reasonable way. In 2006, a new Intel CPU could do a pretty good job of full-screen compositing. Maybe there were some doubts about this as Longhorn was ramping up earlier in the decade, but a dual-core 2GHz machine in 2006 was capable of amazing, amazing fill rate, seriously.

Apple managed to pull off a full CPU-based path in 2001 using just a 400GHz G4, and while the performance was pretty bad on a slow CPU like that, Vista's performance would have been quite good in 2006, and it would have worked on the old hardware that was being shipped then. And it would run on ultraportable machines with tiny screens, bad GPUs, and good CPUs.

But the silver lining here is very good. By kicking the awful integrated chipsets out of bed, by 2008 the spread of performance from the "fastest" to the "slowest" hardware in the industry has narrowed, perhaps from 100:1 in 2005 to 10:1 in 2008.

This means that on average, if you're making a new graphics-intensive app in 2008, you can rely on decent hardware support. And this result is almost solely due to the Vista requirements. Awkward process, but it has been extremely good for software developers.

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