Windows 7 Release Candidate First Look

By Mike on 10:00 pm

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It's not often I talk about operating systems and such because quite frankly, they're boring. Still, anybody running a tech site cannot help but get caught up in the Mac vs PC debate. We've all seen the commercials as both sides try to get the upper hand on each other. The truth for Microsoft is that Windows Vista, the anticipated successor the the venerable Windows XP, was a disaster when it first came out. It was and largely still is plagued with software and hardware incompatibilities and required significantly more computing power than previous generational jumps did. I'm not saying Vista is necessarily a bad OS but it's not a good one either. Microsoft spent a great deal of time playing catch up to Mac OS X and Linux in terms of features and ease of use, but the end product felt incomplete and more difficult to use than it should have been. After only about a year, Windows 7 was announced as the successor to Vista and it will release on October 22nd. Microsoft is promising there won't be the hiccoughs this time. Buyers of new systems will, as usual, have Windows 7 forced onto them. The questions are whether it is something that can rival OS X and XP and whether it's actually worth upgrading to. For this review, I'm using the Windows 7 Ultimate Release Candidate 64-bit version.

Benchmark: Memory Foot Print

I could drone on about new features but what people are really interested in is performance. I've compiled a brief benchmark looking at memory usage. Here we have two test systems, both with fairly similar configurations that balance each other out.

Windows 7 Test System
Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ "Manchester" 2.00ghz
Motherboard: ASRock 939Dual-SATA2
Memory: 2gb (2x 1gb) DDR-400 PC3200
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 3850 256mb GDDR3 PCIe
Audio: Creative Labs Soundblaster X-FI XtremeMusic
HDD: Maxtor 7200rpm 80gb PATA (Win 7), Samsung 7200rpm 80gb SATA (XP), WD 7200rpm 500gb SATA
Optical: LG DVD+RW 16x Multi Drive, LG 16x10x40x CDRW
Operating Systems: Windows 7 Release Candidate 64-bit, Windows XP Home SP3 32-bit

Comparison System
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 "Penryn" 2.00ghz
Motherboard: Apple Macbook (Late 2008)
Memory: 2gb (2x 1gb) DDR3-1066mhz
Graphics: nVidia Geforce 9400M 256mb shared DDR3
Audio: nVidia integrated
HDD: 160gb 5400rpm SATA
Optical: Apple Superdrive
Operating Systems: Windows Vista Home Premium SP2 64-bit, Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.7

Idle Memory Usage:
Looking at how much memory an operating system consumes is one of the best judges of performance and it's simple to test. Both test systems have the same amount of memory. What we're interested in seeing is how much each operating system consumes, notably whether Windows 7 uses less than Vista as claimed. Both systems are left at idle on the desktop with only an antivirus program (all Windows systems are using the same version of Avast) and task manager running in the background. Areoglass was set to maximum and three widgets were open. Mac OS X was run with just the desktop and eight Dashboard widgets open.

Windows 7: 34% or approx 696.2 MiB in use
Windows Vista: 45% or approx. 806.5 MiB in use

Mac OS X Leopard: 20% or approx. 409 MiB in use
Windows XP: 28% or approx. 574.9 MiB in use

I'm sure nobody is surprised by the Windows results. Vista has the largest idle memory footprint in it's stock configuration than any other operating system, using nearly half of the 1,792 MiB available for it. Windows XP uses the least amount of ram, using just over a quarter of 2 GiB. Windows 7 sits in between the two, using a respectable 34% memory footprint, so indeed Microsoft has leaned it out considerably. It also shows how bloated Vista actually is and why most Vista systems today ship with a minimum 2gb. To give you some idea, 2gb largely still is the standard for XP based gaming systems while Vista needs double to perform the same task. The Mac OS X Leopard results are interesting though. OS X seems to fluctuate on idle from between about 360 MiB to about 460 MiB; with around 409 being the average. Activity Manager seems to calculate this as being a division of the whole 2gb available, meaning a 20% memory foot print. Even if we calculate this by taking out the RAM allocated to graphics, it's still a respectable 22.8%. Arguably OS X is tailor-made for specific hardware but even so, it is considerably lighter than all Windows operating systems while providing similar visual styling and the same functionality. OS X wins this round but Windows 7 shows a major improvement over its predecessor.

Note: 1 MiB = 1024 kilobytes, 1 MB = 1000 kilobytes

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