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Conclusion: The Platform Is Willing, But Drivers Are Still Weak

Windows 7 Versus XP: Which Belongs On Your Netbook?
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At first glance, one might come away from our benchmarks with the impression that Windows 7 is just as slow as Vista and that nothing much has really changed. However, looking only at the benchmarks doesn’t give you the full picture either. Subjectively, the release candidate feels quite snappy. Even with only 1 GB of RAM installed, the pronounced slowdowns that plague Vista on the netbook platform were extremely rare. So unlike Vista, Windows 7 may very well develop into an alternative to XP for netbook hardware. After all, performance isn’t exactly the primary concern of this platform, although newer and more optimized drivers should give it a boost.

Microsoft’s drivers weren’t quite up to dateMicrosoft’s drivers weren’t quite up to date

We are a lot more critical of battery life under Microsoft’s newest OS. Even with its huge 59 Wh battery, Windows 7 shuts off much sooner than XP. This is beyond disappointing, since a newer OS should come with better and more refined power saving mechanisms than its eight year old predecessor. Then again, they won’t do any good if there aren’t any drivers to take advantage of them. See a pattern here?

This is where Windows 7 currently falls short. Microsoft and the hardware vendors have their work cut out for them. We can only hope that Intel won’t only release optimized drivers for its “revamped” Atom platform based on the GN40 chipset, but will also provide newer versions for the aging 945G chipset found in the majority of netbooks in stores today.

Aside from that, Windows 7 provides a much more pleasant user experience on a netbook than Vista ever did. While its updated user interface adds several new features, Microsoft has also made many changes under the hood that aren’t as visible to the user. Where functionality and feature set are concerned, the new version has the upper hand anyway, if not now, then in the future. At some point, newer technologies will no longer be made available for Windows XP via patchs, hacks, or service packs. Also, since Microsoft has already terminated mainstream support, companies are less and less likely to provide drivers for new products that work with the aging OS. Like it or not, the future belongs to Windows 7. Hopefully, IHVs share this view and will provide newer drivers even for older hardware.

If you’re interested in trying the release candidate of Windows 7 for yourself, you can download it for free directly from Microsoft after registering. A word of warning: we don’t recommend pulling Win 7 RC1 from P2P sites, as several versions have been shown to be infected with viruses and malware.

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Top Comments
  • 18 Hide
    harshavardhanr , July 2, 2009 8:11 AM
    Windows RC1 installs the ULTIMATE edition by default whereas netbooks that come installed with Windows 7 will have the STARTER edition installed. The Starter edition should be able to perform better and last longer on netbooks because it is (supposedly) optimized for them. Also, it will have far fewer services running in the background compared to the Ultimate edition.

    Hence, the conclusion, THE ABOVE COMPARISON IS POINTLESS.
Other Comments
  • 3 Hide
    duckmanx88 , July 2, 2009 7:08 AM
    apache_livesLMAO just as i thought - its a vista renamed and flashed up a bit morei know - BUY MORE RAM - just might help a little? who knew!


    did you even read the article? look at the results. read Benjamin's conclusion. its the moder interface of vista with the functionality of xp. and this is only an RC. who knows what'll happen until the October release.
  • 18 Hide
    harshavardhanr , July 2, 2009 8:11 AM
    Windows RC1 installs the ULTIMATE edition by default whereas netbooks that come installed with Windows 7 will have the STARTER edition installed. The Starter edition should be able to perform better and last longer on netbooks because it is (supposedly) optimized for them. Also, it will have far fewer services running in the background compared to the Ultimate edition.

    Hence, the conclusion, THE ABOVE COMPARISON IS POINTLESS.
  • 4 Hide
    bigdaddycool , July 2, 2009 8:42 AM
    Windows 7 is much improved on Vista. Using Vista on a laptop is ok if you have enough cpu power/ram mostly to back it up.

    Windows 7 on the other hand in a real world test, say opening up like 10 internet explorers, photoshop and other things....... windows 7 will be alot snappier then Vista, also it uses less ram and less gpu power.

    Ontop of that, by default Windows 7 selects the most appropriate power setting for the processor you are using.

    Take notice, low-mid range cpu's will be set to Balanced, where as high performance cpu's like quad cores will be set to High Performance by default.

    Microsoft took Vista (good gui product a lil run down running wise) and for a better word tweaked it out...... much like tuning a car.

    The result is impressive I say for notebook and desktops. However, they really do need to fix their minor network issues and IE8 issues.
  • 2 Hide
    YGDRASSIL , July 2, 2009 8:47 AM
    Ultimate edition on a netbook and then complain about battery life. Hmmmm. Tommy is really losing it now. Wonder why I still come back here after the old good Tommy was brutally murdered.
  • -4 Hide
    empstar , July 2, 2009 8:57 AM
    "after the old good Tommy was brutally murdered."
    wahahaha
  • 6 Hide
    Inneandar , July 2, 2009 9:42 AM
    It would be nice to see some more 'practical' benchmarks like boot time, app launch times or media playback preformance imho... The conclusion already more or less indicates that win7 felt smooth, but this ain't something you're gonna prove running synthetics. I installed win7 recently on an old laptop (p IV, 512 Mb ram!) and to my opinion it is smoother than the xp previously on it (older install, admittedly). Together with the added functionality, this certainly tips the balance for me.
  • 0 Hide
    pbrigido , July 2, 2009 11:10 AM
    Very good article! I was wondering with regards to the battery life difference between Win 7 and XP if all settings were set to a similar mode. The huge difference between the two OSs seems to be much larger than it should, even without the most current drivers for 7.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 2, 2009 11:13 AM
    I hope Tom's does another test on the SAME(!!) system, when drivers are updated and the completed version of Win7 comes out.

    The lack of a completed version of Win7 and un-optimized drivers makes this test more or less useless. Unless you factor in the obviously missing link in the test.... Windows Vista.

  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , July 2, 2009 11:38 AM
    You shouldn't really get hung up on the idea that this is a beta of Windows 7. To all intents and purposes it is as close to final code as you'd need to get to benchmark. Take a look at paul thurrott's analysis of it to get a better understanding of just how far on Windows 7 is.

    While I found the article really quite useful, it answered some questions I had. What I'd really love to know is just what the differences are when running games, surfing and doing the kinds of things you'd really be doing on a Netbook. Photoshop is really a meaningless benchmark for a Netbook, while it may reveal something about multiple cores and a strained system, it isn't really reflecting how the vast majority of Netbook users will be using the system. How about streaming flash in HD on Youtube, these are the kinds of benchmarks that I'd like to see, even if they end up being subjective opinion from the reviewer.

    I'm lucky enough to have Ubuntu, XP, Vista and Windows 7 all running on same hardware to get a sense of what they all perform like, but this is on beefy hardware. Understanding what it's like on 1gb and a very modest processor is valuable stuff for those looking for that ultra portable.

    For me, it'd be a deal breaker if I couldn't stream Youtube and other higher res video on the web. But if I knew that with XP it just worked ok,but was a little glitchy under Windows 7, that would again be really valuable information about which OS I would want to put on a Netbook.

    I guess the best approach would be for people who already have XP to just slap it on their own Netbooks, run their own benchmarks that are meaningful to them and compare to Windows 7 and Linux. Time consuming and a shame tomshardware can't do it for us :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 2, 2009 11:48 AM
    Or.... You could get Linux, and get a full-featured and beautiful looking OS that comes with open-office, and pretty much anything else you could ever need via package managers and repositories. As much as Linux doesn't get a lot of help from the hardware vendors, you have to admire them, they can create a hacked hardware driver for a new device faster than most of the hardware vendors were able to create drivers for Vista.
  • 0 Hide
    coolkev99 , July 2, 2009 12:30 PM
    linus_torvalds_fanboyOr.... You could get Linux, and get a full-featured and beautiful looking OS that comes with open-office, and pretty much anything else you could ever need via package managers and repositories...


    Speak for yourself
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 2, 2009 1:27 PM
    coolkev: Please explain what you need that Linux doesn't have, that you will be doing on a netbook? Please tell me you're doing video rendering, audio production, or some other number-crunching task on a netbook, please. Or better yet, games, tell me that Linux doesn't support your favorite game title that a netbook couldn't even run anyways.... Netbook aren't meant to be full-fledged computers, which means that Linux with it's outstanding web-browsers, office apps, and IM clients, is really all you need...
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , July 2, 2009 1:50 PM
    Linux users: if Linux is so great and secure and mighty, why is it that every few weeks a new kernel must be installed?

    The fact that drivers are "hacked" screams security exploit to me, hmmm. Maybe Linux coders should stop preaching a free government welfare style system and instead band together and do something like an "evil capitalist" and release a common commercial product. Maybe then Apple, Microsoft and hardware manufacturers might take you seriously instead of seeing you for the angry kids you truly are. Heh.
  • 3 Hide
    erloas , July 2, 2009 1:58 PM
    techpopsYou shouldn't really get hung up on the idea that this is a beta of Windows 7. To all intents and purposes it is as close to final code as you'd need to get to benchmark.

    The point was mostly that while the OS might be almost done none of the drivers really are. Considering that so much that goes on with a computer is based on the drivers then having unoptimized drivers is going to make a big difference.
  • 1 Hide
    aft_lizard01 , July 2, 2009 2:21 PM
    There is an install trick that will allow you to install starter on it. Either that or throw an extra gig of ram on it to help compensate for the extra services that are running in the background in Ultimate.

    FWIW I gain 50% battery life on my Fujitsu Lifebook with additional tweaking that XP simply doesn't have, which includes display dimming to a level where XP can't touch.
  • 2 Hide
    Mikee99 , July 2, 2009 2:44 PM
    The battery life test was not very fair. Obviously, if you are running Aero, you are going to be using more GPU resources. That is going to reduce your battery life. XP does not use hardware acceleration in the same way, so unless Aero was disabled (and according to those screenshots, it was not), that battery test should not be viewed as a negative. I'm curious to see what the battery life would be like with aero disabled, and I'm suprised that Tom's Hardware of all places would not even try it.

    One of the major under-the-hood changes to Windows 7 was how it scheduled CPU tasks to improve battery life. If you're GPU is constantly processing data, it's going to offset any performance improvement you gain.

    Honestly, it doesn't matter whether you have Ultimate or Starter on it. The only performance improvement you would obtain would be from less services being enabled by default. However, considering that most of the benchmarks are very close, I think that speaks great volumes for how good Windows 7 is. Remember, you are comparing it to an 8 YEAR OLD OS.
  • 0 Hide
    dman3k , July 2, 2009 2:47 PM
    Linux on netbooks? What is this about some distributions such as Ubuntu being a battery vamp?
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