Windows 7 Performance Tests

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Nick Mediati, PC World
PC World
Wednesday, October 21, 2009; 12:19 AM

Windows Vista never was particularly speedy in most people's eyes. Whether it deserved the reputation or not, the word on the street was that Vista was both slow and bloated.

Given that, it's no wonder that improving performance was one of Microsoft's design goals with Windows 7. Many reviewers have said that the new operating system feels faster than Vista. In our extensive PC World Test Center evaluations comparing the two, we found an increase in speed, though the overall improvement wasn't dramatic.

We installed Windows 7 on five computers (two desktop systems, two laptop PCs, and a netbook), and put the systems through our WorldBench 6 benchmark suite, which consists of a number of tests that assess a machine's performance in popular, real-world applications. We also ran timed tests to measure how the two OSs affected boot-up and shutdown times, laptop battery life, and launch times for several common apps. (For more information, see "Windows 7: How We Test.")

The verdict? Windows 7 makes some performance strides over Vista, though in some cases we saw no clear-cut winner, and in one area Windows 7 lagged considerably behind its predecessor.

For more of PCW's Windows 7 coverage, read our in-depth Windows 7 review and check out our guide to Windows 7 upgrades.

WorldBench 6 Test Results

Overall, Windows 7's performance improvement over Windows Vista is slight--but the important thing is that there is an improvement at all. For a breakdown of some of the performance scores, see the chart below.

On our E&C Black Mamba desktop (with a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 processor, overclocked to 3.8GHz), Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit earned a WorldBench 6 mark of 144, edging out Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit, which scored 139. Here Windows 7 was roughly 3.6 percent faster than Windows Vista.

When comparing the two versions of Windows on the HP Pavilion a6710t desktop (with a 2.6GHz Pentium Dual Core E5300 CPU), we tested both the 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows Vista Ultimate and Windows 7 Ultimate. Running the 32-bit versions of Vista and Windows 7, the a6710t saw its WorldBench 6 score increase only a little, from 104 on the former to 106 on the latter. But on our WorldBench 6 tests comparing the 64-bit versions, it enjoyed a somewhat larger boost with Windows 7, going from a score of 96 on Vista to a mark of 103.

We saw similar incremental performance improvements on our portable test PCs as well. With the 32-bit versions of Vista Home Premium and Windows 7 Home Premium, our Gateway T-6815 notebook went from a WorldBench 6 score of 58 on the older OS to a result of 64 on the newer one. Our Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 laptop's WorldBench 6 score improved by only one point with Windows 7 in our comparison of 32-bit Ultimate editions (going from 83 to 84); when we tested the 64-bit editions of the two OSs, we again saw a modest boost, with the Y530's score increasing from 79 to 83.

In our WorldBench 6 Nero tests, Windows 7 showed big improvements. Performance nearly doubled on average over Vista, which indicates that the new OS enhances hard-disk performance. *Average of results from six test PCs. Lower time equals better performance.>Windows 7 makes big gains in disk performance, however. For example, in our hard-disk-intensive WorldBench 6 Nero test--in which we create a series of images of an optical disc and then save them--every PC we tested showed an improvement. In our comparison of the 64-bit versions of Vista and Windows 7, the IdeaPad Y530 performed the test twice as quickly with the newer OS. Meanwhile, our Gateway T-6815 was almost two and a half times faster, going from a time of 1648 seconds to complete the test on Windows Vista to a time of 667 seconds on Windows 7. We had noticed a similar speedup on disk-intensive tests in our earlier evaluation of the Windows 7 release candidate; such gains may be due to updated hard-disk drivers under Windows 7.

One particular result worth noting: In our testing, the 64-bit versions of Vista produced poorer disk performance than the 32-bit Vista editions did. With Windows 7, however, Microsoft brought the 64-bit versions' disk performance more in line with that of the 32-bit versions. That explains the larger WorldBench 6 score advantages over Vista that we saw from 64-bit Windows 7 compared with 32-bit Windows 7.

Boot-Up and Shutdown Times

Microsoft says that in Windows 7 it changed the way the operating system handles starting up processes when you boot your computer. For some processes and services, Microsoft employs a scheme called trigger-start services. These are system services and processes that under Vista would have started up when you booted your PC, but now kick in only as needed. One example Microsoft gives is Windows 7's handling of Bluetooth: Instead of launching at system boot, Bluetooth now starts up when you use a Bluetooth device with your PC. Reducing the number of services that start at boot is supposed to reduce boot-up time.


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