Review : Windows 8 vs. Windows 7 Performance

Unless you have been living under a rock, there is a good chance you have caught wind of Microsoft’s latest operating system. Those eager to see what the new OS is all about had their first chance to take a peek back in February when Microsoft released the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

More than a million downloads took place within the first day of the preview's release, but users were in for a shock as major changes awaited them. By far the most controversial has been the replacement of the Start menu for the new Start screen, and inherently, Microsoft's decision of doing away with the Start button on desktop mode.

For the first time since Windows 95 the Start button is no longer a centerpiece of the operating system, in fact it's gone for good.

On the final version of Windows 8, clicking the bottom-left corner of the screen -- where the Start button would normally be located -- launches the Metro interface (or whatever it is they are calling it now). The new tile-based interface is radically different from anything used on a Windows desktop and resembles what we've successfully seen working on the latest iterations of Windows Phone.
However, many users seem to be struggling to get their head around it. Personally, in spite of using Windows 8 for several months, I'm still undecided if I like the new interface or not. It certainly takes some time getting used to and for that reason I'm not jumping to conclusions just yet.

My opinion aside, there are countless users that have already shunned the new interface and many of them made their thoughts heard in our recent editorial "Windows 8: Why the Start Menu's Absence is Irrelevant". Yet, while everyone loves to try and remind Microsoft about how much of a flop some previous operating systems such as ME and Vista were, and that Windows 8 will be no better, we believe the new operating system still has a lot to offer.

Microsoft's PR machine has been hard at work over the past few months, trying to explain the numerous improvements Windows 8 has received on the backend. The good news is that it shows.

Coming from the two previews and now the final release of Windows 8, the OS seems smoother than Windows 7. It has been well documented that Windows 8 starts up and shuts down faster, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. Maybe it's the inevitability of bloating an OS installation that is a couple of years old (in the case of Windows 7), but there's this sense of when you move from a hard drive to an SSD, things just appear slightly quicker. This was surprising as I had not expected to notice much of a difference for general usage.

Of course, this is merely an informal observation and we are here to back up those impressions with hard numbers (read: lots of benchmarks in the coming pages).

Back when Vista first arrived I remember comparing how it performed to XP and being extremely disappointed with the results. Vista was generally rough around the edges and that included drivers, so gaming and productivity applications were more often than not slower in the new OS.

For comparing Windows 7 and Windows 8 we will measure and test the performance of various aspects of the operating system including: boot up and shutdown times, file copying, encoding, browsing, gaming and some synthetic benchmarks. Without further ado...

Benchmarks: Boot Up, PCMark, Browser, Encoding :

The following benchmarks were conducted using our high-end test system which features the Intel Core i7-3960X processor, 16GB of DDR3-1866 memory and a GeForce GTX 670 graphics card, all on the new Asrock X79 Extreme11 motherboard. The primary drive used was the Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB, while the Kingston SSDNow V+ 200 256GB SSD was used for the AS SSD Benchmark and Windows Explorer tests.
Using the Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB HDD we saw OS boot up times reduced by 33%. Going from 27 seconds with Windows 7 to just 18 seconds with Windows 8 is obviously a significant improvement and it means SSD users will be able to load Windows 8 in a matter of a few seconds.
A similar improvement is seen when measuring shutdown time. Windows 8 took 8 seconds versus the 12 seconds it took an identically configured Windows 7 system.
We tested wake-up from sleep times using a standard hard disk drive. Windows 8 shows a marked improvement here as well, however we still thought 10 seconds was too long. We then tested Windows 8 using our SSD and the exact same 10 second window was repeated. With <5 second wake up from sleep times being touted by today's Windows 7 laptops, we imagine the operating system detects when you are using a laptop and that there are special power saving features on a mobile system that make a difference.
3Dmark 11 is used primarily to measure 3D graphics performance, meaning graphics card drivers play a vital role here. Still the performance was very similar on both operating systems, though the more mature Windows 7 was slightly faster.
Multimedia performance is said to be another of the strengths of Windows 8, and as you can see when testing with PCmark 7, it was 9% faster than its predecessor.
Using the Mozilla Kraken benchmark we compared the performance of Windows 7 using IE9 and Windows 8 with IE10. As you can see the desktop version of the IE10 browsers on Windows 8 delivered virtually the same performance as IE9 on Windows 7. The Metro version of IE10 was 3% faster, reducing the completion time to just 3926ms.

Update: We've added benchmarks for the latest versions of Firefox and Chrome on both operating systems. Besides beating IE to the punch on these synthetic benchmarks, the take away here is that both browsers tend to perform slightly better under Windows 8.
Google V8 is another browser test we used. In this case it gives a score, so the larger the number the better. Again we see that the desktop version of the IE10 browser in Windows 8 is very similar to IE9 from Windows 7. Though this time the Metro version is actually much slower, lagging behind by a 21% margin.

Chrome and Firefox take a huge lead compared to IE, and on both counts the browsers behave better running on Windows 8.
PCmark7 showed us that Windows 8 was faster than Windows 7 in multimedia type tests and this has been confirmed by the x264 HD Benchmark 5.0 which favored Microsoft’s latest operating system by a 6% margin in the first pass test.
Although the margin was very small when testing with HandBrake, we still found Windows 8 to be 1.5% faster than Windows 7.

Benchmarks: Excel, File Copy, Gaming :

Comparing Windows 8 armed with the new Office 2013 suite we found that it was 10% faster when running our Excel MonteCarlo test against Windows 7 using Office 2010. Even when comparing apples to apples, with both operating systems running Excel 2010, Windows 8 is more efficient using the CPU cycles to its benefit on our MonteCarlo simulation.
The AS SSD Benchmark was used to measure the performance of the Kingston SSDNow V+ 200 256GB SSD. Here we see that Windows 8 and Windows 7 delivered virtually the same sequential read and write performance.
Despite delivering similar sequential read/write performance we found in the ISO benchmark that Windows 7 was 9% faster based on an average of three runs.
Windows 8 features a new Explorer interface for transferring files, which provides more accurate data on transfer speeds and estimated time of completion. It also stacks multiple transfer windows together. The UI is awesome, but on the performance side of things there is little difference when transferring multiple large files together or individually. Windows 8 and Windows 7 deliver similar performance in both situations.
When transferring thousands of smaller files we also found that Windows 7 and Windows 8 offer the same performance.
Finishing up we looked at gaming performance using Just Cause 2, Hard Reset and Battlefield 3. Similar to the previous 3DMark test, this relies on graphics drivers more than anything else. As you can see both operating systems provide similar performance with a very slight edge to Windows 7's advantage.

Benchmarks: Budget System Specs :

We also ran a few select tests on a lower-end system. This configuration uses the AMD Athlon II X4 645 processor with 4GB of memory and a Radeon HD 6570 graphics card.
Whereas previously Windows 8 with Excel 2013 was 10% faster than Windows 7 using Excel 2010, we found that with lower-end hardware this margin increased, Windows 8/Excel 2013 is now 15% faster.
The performance margin in the first pass test has increased from 6% in favor of Windows 8 when using the high-end hardware to 9% using our budget system.
The 3Dmark 11 margin remained the same, with Windows 8 trailing behind Windows 7 by a very small margin.
The PCmark 7 benchmark favored Windows 8 by a 10% margin when using the low-end system, about the same as the 9% margin we observed when we tested on the faster Core i7 system.
There's little to no difference on gaming performance between the two operating systems.

Faster, Slower, Better?

It's often been the case with new Windows OS releases that it takes some time before performance is up to par or above the level of its predecessor. Possibly the most extreme example I can recall was the move from Windows XP to Windows Vista, though that was partly due to immature drivers on the all-new platform, and partly to do with the fact that Vista was a resource hog.

Microsoft seemed to hit full stride with Windows 7, developing a fast and efficient operating system. Thankfully it seems Windows 8 continues to build on that pattern as we found it to be on par with and ocassionally faster than 7.

The improvements that have been made to startup and shutdown times are self-evident, and no doubt a major focus on the new OS' development as this will particularly benefit laptop and tablet users. Another notable improvement was seen in multimedia performance. This was first observed when running PCMark 7 and later confirmed when we ran x264 HD Benchmark 5.0 and our HandBrake encoding test.

Most of the other tests saw little to no difference between the two operating systems. This was especially true for the gaming benchmarks, but most surprising on the IE tests which we figured would have shown a big advantage for IE10, but not so.

Both AMD and Nvidia seem to be on top of their drivers for Windows 8 from day zero, as we were able to achieve the same level of performance in Windows 8 as we did in Windows 7 using the GeForce GTX 670 and the Radeon HD 6570.

From a performance standpoint Windows 8 appears to offer a solid foundation from the get-go. Although there are only a few select areas where it is faster than Windows 7, we are pleased that it's able to match it everywhere else.

Looking beyond benchmarks, Windows 8 appears more polished than Windows 7, even if you plan to live on the desktop and aren't too fond of the Start screen, general usage is smoother and appears to be faster on Windows 8, which I found most noticeable on our somewhat underpowered Athlon II X4 system. If anything, it's a great start, now the Metro/Modern style will have to prove itself as a cross-platform OS that marries desktop, laptop and tablet PCs.

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