See what makes people say “WOW!” faster — showing them the Vista interface (yawn), or showing them some of the zany ensembles in Reaktor 5 (wow). Yeah, thought so.

Native Instruments today made a statement on compatibility and performance under Windows Vista for their full product line. They’ve been doing what sounds like some fairly extensive testing, so these answers should be interesting even in regards to products you use from other vendors.

Native Instruments: Windows Vista Compatibility statement

They have to weigh their words; I don’t. So here’s the executive summary:

What works? Everything, as far as current drivers and software. The only side effect of Vista: some extra clicks during installation for the usual “certification warnings” and whatnot. Your mileage may vary with older products.

Should you install 64-bit Vista? Not yet. There’s tentative 64-bit driver support planned for later this year. I wouldn’t rush, even then: 64-bit Vista introduces some additional compatibility issues (as with x64) for a very small increase in performance. In other words, live life, be happy, go 32-bit for now. (And if you do want 64-bit, the NI stuff should run, albeit no faster than under 32-bit Vista.)

Is Vista faster? No. (They have a longer answer, but I’ll leave it at that. Note that this is software performance; some readers have reported better ASIO driver performance, possibly due to housecleaning elsewhere in the driver system.)

Do I need Ultimate? No. Actually, my current recommendation would be the Business edition, unless you’re planning on recording TV with your computer.

Having oversimplified their answers, though, I do recommend reading through their full story.

What about WaveRT? There’s also been discussion here about WaveRT drivers, the new, high-performance audio driver model in Vista. I should clarify: WaveRT is a significant technology as far as PCI drivers, but for now, it doesn’t apply to USB/FireWire audio devices like NI’s. And you’ll still need a host that supports WaveRT, like Cakewalk’s SONAR 6 or Image Line’s FL Studio 7. (Even Cakewalk’s own Project5 doesn’t yet support WaveRT.) WaveRT could be a factor in upgrading to Vista, but only if you have a compatible audio card and a compatible host. For everyone else, the primary advantage of Vista is overall system stability and usability.

And, of course, the eye candy interf– hey, what’s this? According to NI:

As in previous Windows versions, deactivating certain visual features of the operating system can increase performance of music production software. This especially applies to the new “Aero” interface in Windows Vista.

Yep, that’s right: you may wind up turning off one of the major new features in the OS. (It’s pretty easy to switch back and forth, though, if you must.) I’m not actually sure that Aero will slow down performance in all cases; I would guess that on a system with enough RAM and a dedicated video card, its impact is negligible — and far less than that of visual effects in XP, which run on the CPU card rather than the graphics card GPU. But I’ll be interested to do some testing.

Current checklist for CDM favorites: Cakewalk SONAR, check. Ableton Live, check. FL Studio, check. Max/MSP/Jitter support is coming in an imminent update, though short of authorizing, the software itself runs nicely (and without the UI glitches of the XP version when running 3D graphics, I’ll add).

I’m planning to upgrade my main PC to Vista, because I’m satisfied with compatibility indications for the software and hardware I run. I’ll absolutely log the process here.