Compression Performance: 7-Zip, MagicRAR, WinRAR, WinZip

And The Undisputed Winner Is...

7-Zip is the clear performance winner of our file archiving and compression tools round-up. It sets the standard for both compression ratio and time with its very own 7z compression format. It manages to beat MagicRAR, WinRAR, and WinZip for the best compression ratio, even with its Fastest Compression setting enabled. 7-Zip is also a lot faster than the competition if the LZMA2 algorithm is used. It took 7-Zip only 25 seconds to compress our benchmark files and folders with Hyper-Threading enabled. Meanwhile, WinRAR took 44 seconds, WinZip 51 seconds, and MagicRAR an arduous 159 seconds.

If the priority is to get the smallest archive files possible, 7-Zip does it faster than the competition. If the priority is for the lowest archiving time, 7-Zip still yields smaller files. So, no matter which aspect of file compression you deem most important, 7-Zip is a clear choice. Another reason to choose it over the competition is that it demonstrates the most significant gains from threading. In our tests, Hyper-Threading demonstrated those benefits, but you'll also see better numbers if you opted for an FX-8320 over an FX-6300, both at 3.5 GHz. If that wasn't enough, 7-Zip has a pretty big price advantage, too. As a FOSS application, 7-Zip is free, while the competition will set you back at least $25.

Although we don't often dust off awards for software, due to its superior performance in both speed and compression, and a price tag that just can't be beat, we're awarding 7-Zip the coveted Tom's Hardware Elite award.

WinRAR and WinZip can’t quite keep up with 7-Zip’s compression speed, through they’re still pretty fast and have the added advantage of supporting the two most common compression formats, ZIP and RAR. WinZip also scores some points by being the only program in our round-up that offers social media and cloud functionality. Those are the kinds of value-adds that many people will appreciate, though we can't really quantify them.

While an argument favoring WinRAR and WinZip could be made based on their own proprietary compression formats, real-world performance shows that this doesn't make a significant difference. The reality is that each of these archiving and compression tools can support each others' proprietary formats in addition to a large number of others. But ultimately, old habits die hard, and it’s often still a good idea to send around archives you need to share as a ZIP file, rather than one of the less common formats.

Buying MagicRAR only makes sense if you regularly encounter uncommon archive formats. MagicRAR’s plug-in architecture is very useful for this, because new compression formats can be added on the fly. Unfortunately, this appears to be MagicRAR’s only advantage. Sure, it can compress files and folders, but it does so very slowly. And when we say very slowly, we mean very slowly. For example, WinZip takes 36 seconds to compress our benchmark files and folders into a ZIP file with default settings and Hyper-Threading disabled. Meanwhile, MagicRAR takes 284. Hard as it might be to believe, performance gets even worse with other compression formats. We didn't put those numbers into our charts because the competing apps would have had such short bars that you wouldn't have been able to tell them apart. What's more, MagicRAR is the only file archiving and compression tool in the round-up that's single threaded. So, it runs slower with Hyper-Threading enabled, and it doesn't scale based on the number of cores on your CPU. At least as a compression tool (MagicRAR actually includes a number of different utilities), we don't think this one stands apart.

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  • audi90
    One does not simply buy WinRAR...
  • mayankleoboy1
    1. There is no difference between LZMA and LZM2 . Both are the same algorithm. The only difference is LZMA is limited to 2 threads. LZMA2 is much more threaded, but uses double the amount of RAM.

    2. PPMd is strictly for compressing text. It compresses text better than any other algo. But it is limited to 1 core only.

    3. WinRar 4.2 is much better threaded than previous versions.

    4.7z threading depends a lot on the type of file compressed. On large files, it can use 100% of any number of cores. For many small files, it generally uses only 1 complete core.
  • mayankleoboy1
    7ZIP is even more impressive when you consider that the LZMA format was designed by one single person. And then the program 7ZIP was also coded by that single person only.

    Maybe contribute a few dollars to Igor Pavlov , the creator of 7Zip ?
  • s3anister
    This is an interesting article, I was rather surprised by the overall poor performance of WinRAR in every aspect when compared to 7zip.
  • belardo
    For reference, shouldn't the built in ZIP tool in the windows OS?
  • ojas
    Hey i had written this in the Haswell preview, but i think Chris missed it, so i'm repeating it here, since it is related.

    Could we have an AES-256 encryption comparison between CPUs and/or archive managers?

    Like without encryption vs with encryption, encryption with and without OpenCL, etc.
  • mayankleoboy1
    ^ 7 zip can use the Hardware based Intel AES-NI extensions.
  • abbadon_34
    Nothing new here, 7zip > WinRar > WinZip for quite some time. Why the inclusion of MagicRAR is a mystery, maybe a paid (failed) review? I'd be interested in an examine of the Parity/Recovery option of WinRAR and others. While still far behind PAR2 (or even the shady ICE Ecc), it is an important feature in Archiving that deserves more attention.
  • PreferLinux
    mayankleoboy11. There is no difference between LZMA and LZM2 . Both are the same algorithm. The only difference is LZMA is limited to 2 threads. LZMA2 is much more threaded, but uses double the amount of RAM. 2. PPMd is strictly for compressing text. It compresses text better than any other algo. But it is limited to 1 core only. 3. WinRar 4.2 is much better threaded than previous versions. 4.7z threading depends a lot on the type of file compressed. On large files, it can use 100% of any number of cores. For many small files, it generally uses only 1 complete core.

    4. You mean the 7Z format rather than 7-Zip.

    I've seen 7-Zip, using the Zip format, hitting 100% CPU usage when archiving around 1500 – 2000 files, the vast majority of which (like >75%, if not >90%) were tiny, about half under 100 B and the other half between 1 kB and 4 kB. But with the same set of files I did a quick test, and using LZMA2 to 7z it was using 1 and a bit cores (going by my total CPU usage).
  • LiviuTM
    Great article.
    Maybe you can add IZArc ( to the comparison.
  • srap
    "For example, the latest version of WinZip include social media and cloud functionality."
    Seriously, what. It randomly updates the facebook status, like: Imma zippin mah porn foldar! ? Or what?

    The cloud part of WinZip can be useful for companies, but other than this, I don't see a single good reason why someone would not use 7-zip.
  • weatherdude
    My hat is off to Igor Pavlov (and other contributors?). 7-Zip has been my compression tool of choice ever since I discovered it. With this performance data and it being Free and Open source the Elite award is definitely deserved.
  • ddpruitt
    While agree with the results of the article I lost a HUGE amount of respect for the authors and Tom's.

    TAR is NOT and NEVER WAS a compression format. It's a UNIX tool used to create one file out of several for Tape ARchives.

    And if you bring BZIP2 and GZIP compression formats, the primary compression format for UNIX vs ZIP the primary format for windows, maybe you oughta use the tools that have been around for 15+ years for these formats, you know the UNIX ones. Tools that had to be fast because they had no choice, because you can't waste CPU cycles or tape when your tape is only a few megs.
  • mynith
    Umm, the difference between LZMA and LZMA2 is that LZMA2 decides for individual blocks of data whether to compress them or not, yielding superior performance. That thread-limited thing I know nothing about. Also, I've been using 7Zip for 6 years now, and see no reason why anyone should use anything else. It's just the best thing ever. And available for Mac and Linux as well.
  • martinigm
    What about the unpacking performance of the programs? Doesn't that count for anything. I'm wondering which of the programs unpacks a 5-10GB archived who is divided into smaller parts?
  • cknobman
    This article just made me uninstall WinRar and replace it with 7-Zip.

    Thanks Toms!
  • bunz_of_steel
    Gr8 article and would like to see a part 2 maybe we can add Izarc, gnutar or other open source compression utilities.
  • ElDani
    Thanks for this review, but I cannot agree with your results, because mine are staggeringly different!

    Here are some stats from a comparison I did myself, on a scenario of some files, that are being compressed and sent to a backup-server on the Internet every single day. This is, in effect, a real practical example and not some random test data, which may or may not show the same characteristics as many of the available benchmarks.

    The data from my tests may not be as scientifically accurate as yours in this review, mainly because this is not a clean workstation and the files were both read from and written to the same HDD, I fully understand that fact. But the results are still so significantly different, that some minor deviations from the hard-drive performance or background applications like an idle browser or the deactivated Avast! won't make much difference to the results.

    The hardware and operating system used in my test:

    Windows 7 SP1 64-bit
    Intel i5-2500K (turbo deactivated, all 4 cores at 3.7 GHz)
    16GB Kingston DDR3-1333 CL9 RAM

    The programs I used:

    WinRAR 4.20 64-Bit
    7-Zip 9.30 alpha

    The files I compressed:

    962 files, total size 614.87 MB, average size ~ 655 KB
    types are html, js, php and cgi in that order

    The WinRAR settings I currently use:

    rar, best compression, solid archive, lock archive, force text compression, 1024 KB dictionary size

    The 7-Zip settings I tried (all with 4 threads):

    a) 7z, ultra, lzma2, rest default values (32 MB dictionary, 64 word size, 4 GB block size)
    b) 7z, maximum, lzma2, solid block size, rest default values (32 MB dictionary, 64 word size)
    c) 7z, maximum, lzma2, 8 MB dictionary, 32 word size, solid block size

    The results of the compression tests:

    WinRAR - 125.62 MB - 2:12 minutes
    7-Zip a) - 142.21 MB - 5:10 minutes
    7-Zip b) - 144.48 MB - 4:33 minutes
    7-Zip c) - 149.99 MB - 3:00 minutes

    In the end, WinRAR is both one third faster than the fastest 7-Zip settings I used and it creates an over ten percent smaller archive than the smallest alternative file.

    Maybe there is some unknown "golden setting" that I could achieve, by playing around with the dictionary, word and block sizes in 7-Zip. If someone knows of certain settings, that would work better than mine did for text-only files with a target compression rate of 20 percent, I would be grateful to hear about it.

    As it stands though, I am very happy with my WinRAR.
  • ojas
    mayankleoboy1^ 7 zip can use the Hardware based Intel AES-NI extensions.

    Which is exactly why i want to see a benchmark. Sandy bridge onwards should show a huge jump from previous generations.
  • edlivian
    I still like rar format more, it is soo consistent on all the platforms I use it on.
  • MauveCloud
    Two things to consider when choosing a compression tool that don't seem to be covered here:
    1. comparison of the graphical user interfaces
    2. decompression speeds (including comparison to the Windows built-in ability to decompress the ZIP format)
  • hllord
    There is also a PortableApps version of 7-Zip which makes it perfect for servers.
  • thermopyle
    7zip's performance advantage doesn't really matter when you consider how much more user-friendly WinRAR is. If you have a common profile you want to use every time (encryption, password, compression setting, volume size, whether files are stored in individual or a joint file), you're out of luck with 7zip. If it comes down to being able to select and .rar a bunch of files without having to do anything other than choose "add to archive" versus setting all of that stuff for each file, I'm going with WinRAR every time.
  • ddpruitt
    Love how things get down-voted around here when you point out flaws the authors opened themselves up to.