While most Tom’s Hardware readers initially resisted the switch from Windows XP, responses to our own articles since last year suggested that many have given up the fight and moved to Vista.
Perhaps Microsoft’s end-of-life announcement for that venerable operating system had something to do with the rise in popularity of Windows Vista. Or maybe high-end users simply wanted to enjoy the newer features, such as its Aero visual enhancement, as well as Media Center, available to Home Premium and Ultimate buyers. However, a few of Vista’s nagging problems have persisted, including slow loading times, a ravenous appetite for RAM, and the need for even more RAM to minimize those slow loading times via SuperFetch.
Meanwhile, radically reduced prices for high-speed, high-capacity memory is most likely the reason behind the increased popularity of Vista among enthusiasts. New applications and games that required additional RAM arrived just in time to match the increase in mid-priced DRAM density, but a 64-bit operating system would be required to properly support capacities of 4GB or more. Vista was the first Windows OS to mainstream its 64-bit versions, and spotty driver support under 64-bit Windows XP has made Vista x64 the easier choice.
But for many of us, the compromise of using an OS that both supports and requires additional memory seems wasteful, especially when that added memory doesn’t give us back 100% of the responsiveness previously felt in the OS it replaced. Microsoft is finally ready to handle that concern with Windows 7, which is really an improved version of Vista.
Tom’s Hardware has already published articles explaining some of the more complex changes Microsoft incorporated into its latest operating system. However, hardware editors are more concerned with the simple matters of program performance and responsiveness. Thus, while we’ve heard a great many details of how Windows 7 improves such things as security, features, and “user experience,” we probably define “experience” differently than the software guys. When narrowing our focus to basic performance, how much better is Windows 7 than the OS it replaces? It's time to quantify the differences!