You may remember that when Windows 11 first came out in late 2021, there was a lot of fuss about VBS (Virtualization Based Security) slowing down games – and behold, here’s more controversy surrounding this security feature.
Go to the stage on the left (perhaps at the thunder rumble) from the report Tom’s gear (opens in a new tab)and our sister site recently ran a ton of graphics card benchmarks, then realized: namely that VBS was enabled.
The thing is, Tom’s senior editor who wrote the report, Jarred Walton, had previously disabled VBS, but at some point a Windows 11 update (probably) brought the feature back and enabled it back without Walton noticing. (Windows 11 now has VBS enabled by default for new OS installs.)
Walton further notes that Tom’s editor-in-chief, Avram Piltch, uses Windows 10 Home and hasn’t touched VBS since a clean install of the OS last summer – but VBS was also enabled on that system. Again, we can guess that this happened at some point through an update (although beware, we don’t know that for sure).
In short, Microsoft wants to enable this feature to make Windows more secure – clearly – and it apparently turns it back on by default on all PCs (most likely during major updates). But if users aren’t aware that VBS is being re-enabled and it can have a negative impact on gaming FPS, well, that’s a bit of a pickle to put it mildly.
Back when Windows 11 launched, we’ve heard stories of VBS throttling FPS, in some cases with FPS drops of up to 30%. This turned out to be a very dark scenario as Tom was running his own tests at the time which showed the drop averaged around 5% (still noticeable frame rate drop).
With that in mind, what impact is VBS having today? Walton was curious, so he ran a bunch of tests to find out using an Nvidia RTX 4090 graphics card (at various resolutions and graphics settings across 15 games).
Would VBS have a noticeable impact on gaming performance with the new Intel Core i9-13900K processor and state-of-the-art graphics card?
Apparently the performance dips remain roughly the same as in previous tests a year and a half ago, with VBS downgrading performance by around 5%. At higher resolutions, the impact was less: only 2% at ultra settings in 4K.
As you can imagine, there were a few games that fared worse. Tom’s Hardware highlights Microsoft Flight Simulator, where the average frame rate dropped by about 10%. Far Cry 6 and Control also showed 10% drops (at least at 1080p with certain graphics settings). Other games were much less affected or saw no difference in some cases.
Analysis: a difficult choice perhaps – but one we should make ourselves
It seems that VBS is still pretty much the same as it was when Windows 11 was first launched in terms of slowing down games with an average of around 5% frame rate (FPS) drop.
So nothing has changed in the broad overarching picture, but what has changed is that Microsoft apparently now enables VBS post-updates, at least in some cases (and this may be true for both Windows 10 and Windows 11 systems).
This is worrisome because the choice of “VBS or no VBS” should be yours – and you shouldn’t worry about the OS manufacturer deciding you’re not allowed to opt out of this security feature and enabling it without your knowledge. At the very least, if this is the route Microsoft thinks it must take, the move should be documented somewhere in the patch release notes, or it should do its best to inform the user.
The question of whether VBS should be disabled is a touchy one. On the one hand, it’s a security feature, and Microsoft apparently thinks it would be foolish not to use it; hence the restart. Probably the impact is also quite minimal for many games (as seen in Tom’s tests).
There is some impact though, and a 10% slowdown in remote cases is quite a penalty to pay. Particularly for hardcore gamers who are obsessed with fine-tuning their PCs to extract every extra frame – a frame-rate drop of one-tenth is like a lead weight tied to the feet of these kind of enthusiasts.
Moreover, while VBS may be unquestionably important for a business PC, for the average home user there are those who argue that it is overkill – and even probably not necessary. Again, on the other hand, Microsoft has indicated in the past that VBS can be a useful additional line of defense against certain malware attacks.
Ultimately, that decision is up to you, the types of games you play and whether you play them competitively – and how careful you can be on the security front as well. But honestly, what’s quite mysterious here is that Microsoft seems to be making these decisions for users, as it apparently is doing now.