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The Vista performance saga – final chapter

By Roger Andrews, Posted on March 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm

In January we finally determined why file I/O on Vista and Server 2008 disks is slower than on Windows 2003. In a previous blog post I stated that

“The performance problem on disks that have been hooked by applications that use the new Vista/Server2008 filter manager infrastructure – can cause CPU overheads of at least 40% on all I/O operations including cached I/O and locks reducing throughput.”

So what applications use the new filter manager? Well UAC on system disks using the UAFv.sys file system re-director use the filter manager, and many current antivirus applications use the filter manager on all the disks where they are set to perform real-time scanning.

In Vista the initial hit is high to register “any” application to use the filter manager on a volume and then rises even higher for every operation type hooked. The UAC file system re-director – that ensures that writes to Windows-protected directories like windowssystem32 and program files are re-directed to the user’s local path, which the user does have access to. If you use Yahoo Messenger on a Vista system, you will see it has this problem because it always assumes it can write to program files. Now the reason that the uafs.sys file system redirector hooks every file I/O operation on the system disk is because it tries to cache these re-directed operations to avoid creating and writing the temporary re-directed file to disk ever; however this now causes the performance issue on Vista unless file system redirection is turned off by disabling the service (which may cause applications like Yahoo Messenger to fail unless UAC is also turned off).

I had turned uafv.sys off on my Vista system – however performance traces in Intel’s VTUNE performance advisor showed that I was still getting performance degradation due to the filter manager when running our test suites. It turns out that the latest Trend Micro antivirus engine is following Microsoft’s best practices and using the new filter manager on all disks – so the previous work-around of using a non system disk did not work on my machine.

In my dialogue with Microsoft, they indicated that they did not expect the data drives of an internal file server to always need to have an antivirus scan (by this I don’t mean a file server in the Word document sense, rather a dedicated database server that has no internet access), so the overheads related to the virus scanner would not apply to non system disks – and even if a virus scanner was installed that it would only be set to scan the system disk in real-time mode.

The good news is that Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 have significantly improved this situation. Though there is some overhead for the initial attach to the filter manager, additional attaches cause much less overhead, and the overall figure is far better than Vista. Microsoft will continue to look at this area during the release cycle of Server 2008 because of the impact it has when virus scanners are using the filter manager and set to real-time scan all disks on a system.

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