With the release of a new operating system, one of the first questions that pops into your head–besides how much it is going to cost you–is if it will increase the performance of your machine. Newer operating systems are usually more optimized, designed to start quicker, load programs faster, and increase performance with better drivers. With that question in mind, we took two identical Lenovo ThinkPad T400s loaded with Windows Vista or Windows 7 and compared every facet relating to performance.
To make this article relevant to consumers, we picked two identical systems with factory images (operating system installatons). One included the latest configuration of Windows Vista Business and the other Windows 7 Professional. They were both manufactured on 9/10/09 and are only four serial numbers apart. These systems match even down to the most basic internal hardware. To compare the system performance of both machines, we created a level playing field by removing the same bloatware from each machine including AV software and gave each laptop the same custom power profile in the Lenovo power manager.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T400s configurations included the following hardware:
- Windows Vista Business SP2 32-bit or Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
- Graphics: Intel X4500M Integrated
- Screen: 1440 x 900 WXGA+ LED Backlit (Matte finish)
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo SP9600 (2.53GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 6MB Cache)
- Memory: 4GB DDR3 RAM (2GB x 2)
- 128GB Toshiba SSD
- Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW
- Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.0
- Battery: 6-cell 11.1 44Wh
In the first section of the performance review, we compare daily activities of each system. This includes tasks such as boot times, shutdown time, sleep time, and wake from sleep time. These are activities the user has to sit through multiple times a day, meaning that a few seconds here or there really adds up over time. Both systems were set to automatically log in, without a password prompt to delay the process. The timer was started either when the power button was pressed, or the appropriate button inside the operating system was clicked. For the power-on sequence the timer was stopped when the system was at the desktop, idle and waiting.
Measuring the boot times side by side was pretty interesting, since our Windows 7 system turned on almost 30% faster than the Vista machine. We expected both machines were going to be quick with their relatively clean installs and SSDs, but coming in under 30 seconds was impressive for the Windows 7 system.
Shutdown time was equally impressive, with the Windows 7 configuration completely powered down in half the time over Vista. Timers in this case were stopped when the activity LEDs were off.
Sleep and wake times are important for users who want to quickly power down their machine–say at the end of a class or meeting–but might not want to lose what they were working on. In this test as well, the Windows 7 system had another clear advantage over the Vista configuration.
For standard system activities, Windows 7 easily takes the lead. Clocking in with consistently faster times over and over again, there is no question in our minds that at least some areas have been optimized compared to Vista.
Our next test is battery life, which plays a major role in day-to-day use and also gives us an indication of how stressful background activities are on a notebook. In this test we installed FireFox on both systems with the ReloadEvery plug-in set to refresh the same webpage on each system every minute. This was to duplicate slow but steady usage which might be duplicated inside a classroom or reducing the boredom in a lengthy meeting. For this test both systems were configured with the same power profile inside the Lenovo Power Manager. The primary settings included the processor set to adaptive mode, screen brightness to 10/15, and all idle timers disabled. Inside BatteryMon, both systems reported a battery capacity within .6kWh of each other.
Out of all the tests we ran, I think this was the most interesting. I say that because of the sheer fact each system shutdown after 5 hours and 56 minutes, within 15 seconds of each other. Technically one system shut down with 5:56 on the counter while one showed 5:57, but for us it was close enough to be called equal. Both systems stayed at about 6.5 watts of power consumption during the test, without many background tasks coming up to stress the notebooks.
Application performance was a toss up with some software taking longer to load in the Vista environment and another taking longer inside Windows 7. We used AppTimer to measure the length of times GIMP and iTunes took to start up on each computer. After running the test multiple times on each system to find the average, we found that iTunes takes a bit less time to load in Vista and GIMP takes less time in Windows 7.
iTunes load time
GIMP load time
Video Playback Performance
Video playback and its stress to the processor was another area we checked, and in this scenario we used the latest CCCP codec pack with Media Player Classic HomeCinema, with Divx 7 installed x264 decoding. The test file was the 1080P trailer for the movie Up!. CPU utilization seemed to be better in Windows 7 (if only slightly), as shown by a more stable readout in the Task Manager. In Windows 7 if you go with Windows Media Player 12, which supports hardware decoding with the Intel X4500 chipset, the performance difference is huge. Instead of 15-25% CPU utilization, it is between 0-4% on average.
Windows 7 using WMP12
Synthetic Benchmark Performance
The last half of our performance comparison guide covers synthetic benchmarks, including wPrime, PCMark05, PCMark Vantage, and 3DMark06. Both systems had all available Windows Updates installed and we used a non-Aero basic theme during each test. The results we found were very surprising. After the pretty significant advantages Windows 7 showed in day-to-day performance in prior tests. The only area where Windows 7 performed equal to or better than Vista was in 3D performance … which had marginal gains at best.
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMArk Vantage also measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
Wprime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
HDTune Windows Vista:
HDTune Windows 7:
While most of the synthetic benchmarks might have the disadvantage of not being optimized or designed to run inside Windows 7, wPrime shouldn’t have those problems. Even it ran slower inside Windows 7. To simulate gaming performance on each system, we used Real-time HDR IBL (rthdribl) in its default startup mode running at 640×480 on the desktop, with FRAPS recording the average framerate. In this test Windows 7 showed a small lead in framerate over Vista. The increase would probably be more significant with a better graphics card.
rthdribl FPS (higher scores mean better performance):
After testing all aspects relating to performance between two identical system equipped with Windows Vista and Windows 7, we found each version of Windows performed differently under certain circumstances. In day-to-day operation Windows 7 easily beats Vista with a quicker boot times, shutdown times, sleep times, and wake times. In some of those tests it was almost 50% faster, a huge lead when you consider how many of those cycles the computer will go through in its lifetime. Video performance is improved in Windows 7 if the user switches to Windows Media Player, where it now natively supports hardware-decoding with the Intel X4500 chipset. Battery life was unchanged with each system getting nearly the exact result in our side-by-side test.
The main area that seems to suggest a disadvantage for Windows 7 is overall system performance when tested with synthetic benchmarks. It is too early to tell if this is non-optimized benchmark software or driver related hiccups inside Windows 7. What we do know so far is 3D performance seems to be improved by a small margin; a plus for gamers. As more and more Windows 7 systems come in for review we will see a better picture of how it performs in our tests, but we can easily say for the average user, Windows 7 will feel much faster in day-to-day activities.