Improving performance is one of Microsoft's design goals with Windows 7, and many early reviewers (including ours) have said that the new OS seems peppier than Vista. But tests of the Windows 7 Release Candidate in the PC World Test Center found that while Windows 7 was slightly faster on our WorldBench 6 suite, the differences may be barely noticeable to users.
We loaded the Windows 7 Release Candidate on three systems (two desktops and a laptop) and then ran our WorldBench 6 suite. Afterward we compared the results with the WorldBench 6 numbers from the same three systems running Windows Vista. Each PC was slightly faster when running Windows 7, but in no case was the overall improvement greater than 5 percent, our threshold for when a performance change is noticeable to the average user.
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The largest difference was 4 points -- 102 for Vista versus 106 for Windows 7 on an HP Pavillion a6710t desktop. Our other two test machines showed similarly minor performance improvements: A Maingear M4A79T Deluxe desktop improved by 1 point (from 138 on Vista to 139 on Windows 7), and a Dell Studio XPS 16 laptop improved by 2 points, from 97 on Vista to 99 on Windows 7.
WorldBench 6 consists of a number of tests involving 10 common applications, including Microsoft Office, Firefox, and Photoshop. On the individual tests, the benchmark results were generally within a few percentage points of each other. One notable exception, however, was Nero 7 Ultra Edition, where Windows 7 made significant improvements, ranging from a 12 percent speedup to a 26 percent speedup, depending on the PC we used in our tests. Although we have yet to confirm it, PC World Test Center Director Jeff Kuta notes that this difference may be due to updated hard-disk drivers in Windows 7. Any improvements to Windows 7's disk support will be more noticeable in an application like Nero, which uses the hard drive heavily. The test involving WinZip, another hard-drive-dependent task, also showed marked improvement under Windows 7.
We also measured a noteworthy 7 percent speed increase in our Autodesk 3ds max 8.0 SP3 (DirectX) test on the HP Pavillion desktop, which had an nVidia GeForce 9300GE graphics board. nVidia's drivers appear to be better optimized for Windows 7 than Windows Vista.
In contrast, however, each of the systems took slightly longer to perform the tests in Microsoft Office and Firefox when they were running the new operating system than when they were running Vista.
Of course, it's important to remember that we performed these tests with the release candidate of Windows 7. Though the operating system's features likely won't change in the final version, Microsoft's engineers may still find ways to tweak the code to improve performance.