From the benchmarker’s standpoint, the change from Windows Vista to Windows 7 is simply a matter of documentation. The one benchmark that showed a big difference was actually slower in Windows 7, likely due to a compatibility issue with one of the program’s components.
Yet, by being designed to show only the performance differences of various hardware, typical benchmarks do not represent the total performance experience of end users. A game certainly appears smoother at 40 frames per second (FPS) than at 30 FPS, but the benchmark doesn’t indicate how long it takes to load a map. Rendering a 3D animation frame in 24 seconds certainly saves time over rendering it in 25 seconds, but again it doesn’t indicate how much time the user wastes starting the program or changing between menus.
To better gauge the user’s performance experience or how fast the system feels, load times must be captured. While we could certainly have used a stopwatch, an electronic timer is far more accurate, and benchmarks such as PCMark and SYSmark use them. These programs indicate that Windows 7 feels 7% to 10% faster than Windows Vista, and that’s enough to make us give the new OS the nod in spite of its lack of differentiation in most of our other test.
Editor's Note: For even more data demonstrating Windows 7's responsiveness versus Vista, check out our recent look into the Core i7 Mobile's power consumption. In that piece, you'll find complete runs of PCMark Vantage in Win7 and Vista with power sampled every two seconds. Clearly, Windows 7 is finishing the test faster, though it's using more power in the process, too.