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Clear Choice Tests
Windows Server speeds along at 64 bit
Windows Server speeds along at 64 bit
By Tom Henderson, Network World, 05/30/05
In our Clear Choice Test of Microsoft's recently released 64-bit edition of
Windows Server 2003, we found that when you employ optional, kernel-mode
processing features, the operating system flies. When you don't, it runs a bit
slower than other 64-bit server operating systems we've tested recently.
How we did it
Archive of Network World tests
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These Windows 2003 Server x64 kernel options let certain processes run at the kernel code level - in our
test case SSL certificate processing, caching and session handling. When you combine these options
with mandated 64-bit hardware drivers and the vast amount of memory that a 64-bit processor can
address, you can get some of the best performance we've seen on Intel/AMD architectures.
When we used kernel SSL processing, the number of sustained users climbed by 90% over 32-bit
Windows Server 2003 processing. When compared with other 64-bit operating systems (Red Hat
Enterprise Linux 4.0 [RHEL 4.0] Advance Server and Solaris 10), Windows Server 2003 x64 has a 15%
to 20% performance advantage.
Without the kernel processing options, Windows Server 2003 x64 performed slightly under par with
competitive 64-bit operating systems in our testing.
The downside to these performance gains is incompatibility issues in terms of the hardware Windows
Server 2003 x64 can run on and some of the applications it can support.
The two generic AMD64 white-box systems we tested were incompatible with Windows Server 2003
x64. One wouldn't start the kernel or boot through a kernel load. The other had constant crashes after
installation that seemed to be related to motherboard memory timing and additional SCSI hardware
driver issues.
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Two systems provided by Microsoft OEM partners - Polywell and HP - had no operational issues. Our
primary test server was HP's four-way Opteron DL585 server. HP was the only hardware vendor with a
full array of hardware drivers posted at Microsoft's Web site when the 64-bit operating system was
released in April. Buyers are captive to OEM hardware providers for now. This obviously limits
hardware choice: something we didn't experience with the 64-bit editions of Solaris 10, SuSE SLES 9 or
RHEL 4.0.
Old DOS and early 16-bit executables (games, WordPerfect 5.1, and Lotus 123 Version 4) didn't work at
all or worked initially but then halted abruptly. Microsoft employs a 32-bit emulator called WOW64 that
is automatically invoked to run 32-bit applications. We typically saw equal or slightly better
performance of these 32-bit applications on Windows Server 2003 x64 vs. 32-bit Windows Server 2003.
Interpreted code, such as an old Visual Basic application we'd written long ago, worked very well on
this 64-bit engine. And we could find no difference in execution time of a Perl script running on
Microsoft's Internet Information Server Web service in the 32- or 64-bit Windows environments.
We developed an SSL Transaction script using Spirent Communications' Web Avalanche to gauge the
number of sustained SSL transactions over a 10-minute build cycle (see How we did it ).
The particular test ramps up the number of discrete user sessions, and then sustains sessions until the
number of sessions dropped reaches 1%. Generating SSL sessions is CPU-intensive, and managing
multiple numbers of sessions presents a good gauge of how many balls the server can keep in the air
before it drops one.

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We tested this script against Windows Server 2003 (both 32- and 64-bit versions) and compared these
numbers against the 64-bit 2.6.7 kernel in RHEL 4.0 and Solaris 10 64-bit Edition. Both systems were
running Apache 2.0.3 Web service with OpenSSL. We used default settings in all cases, except when we
employed the kernel-mode SSL processing on Windows Server 2003 x64, as noted.
We took two sets of Windows Server 2003 x64 measurements: one reflecting the default kernel settings,
and the other reflecting the aforementioned toggle that allows SSL to be processed by the kernel.
The difference between the results were startling, and proves the benefit of this simple setting. When we
ran these tests on the four-way HP DL585 server, the operating system could sustain 288,471 sessions
over a 10-minute period when the SSL sessions were handled at the kernel level. Microsoft states that
the kernel lacks this setting by default, for backward compatibility reasons.
The Windows Server 2003 x64 native-kernel SSL session load was fast (207,202 sessions), but not as
fast as RHEL 4.0 (251,024 sessions).
We also used two prior tests for comparison - the number of maximum open TCP sessions, which
measures how many can be sustained, and the number of TCP sessions per second each operating
system could support, to gauge how fast the system can ramp them up.
In the maximum TCP transaction test, Windows Server 2003 x64 bested RHEL 4.0 but fell behind
Solaris 10. In the TCP transaction per second measurements, Microsoft beat Sun, but fell behind Red

On the surface, little has changed between Windows Server 2003 32- and 64-bit versions, but
performance numbers accentuate the musculature of the hardware and memory-addressing space
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beneath. Windows Server 2003 x64 is a strong performer, especially when nominally tweaked to take
advantage of kernel-level options.
However, driver and hardware support is weak enough that Microsoft requires buyers to tap OEM-
related vendors for sourcing Windows Server 2003 x64 products. When these issues are resolved, we'll
give it a stronger recommendation - because it's otherwise stable, fast and fully baked.
Henderson is principal researcher for ExtremeLabs in Indianapolis. He can be reached at

Henderson is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers
in the network industry, each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more
Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to
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