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