Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Review

by Rafael Hernandez on November 19, 2009 · 1 comment

Windows 7 Ultimate Review

Its been a long time coming. As of October 22nd you could pick up your very own copy of the polished good stuff. Microsoft’s Windows 7 has promised to make your computing usage a kinder, gentler experience and it has the shiny icons to prove it. But with the “dark cloud” Vista hung over the Windows brand can they get their house back in order?

We’ll be taking a look at Windows 7 and how it handles the day to day rigors of PC usage. Its changes are many but no matter how you use your computer there are improvements to be found for all users.

Face it, Windows XP is long in the tooth. Sure it’ll run on most hardware made in the past ten years and it’s been tested and refined and patched enough times where things are running quite smoothly — thank you very much — but the fact is it just won’t cut it moving forward.

Microsoft’s initial attempt at weening people off of XP, Windows Vista, was seen as a flop by the general public. Its SuperFetch feature tended to hit hard drives a bit much leading to overall system slowness while UAC’s constant pestering made computing something of a chore. Sure you could disable those features, even minimize their impact, but you can’t expect most users to dig through documentation to find the fixes to their woes.

So Vista’s reputation wasn’t completely deserved but such features weren’t exactly implemented in the best way possible.

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Ah what a welcoming introduction to the Windows 7 experience. Microsoft has taken considerable effort in order to make sure you have a fine selection of wallpapers to go along with your shiny new operating system… But that’s not what you’re interested in now is it?

Windows 7 is based heavily on Windows Vista but there are enough changes where you can consider it a fresh take on the Windows platform. The company went back under the hood and made countless numbers of tweaks which will improve on system performance and integration with the peripherals you use every day.

How did they figure out what and where to tweak? Well Windows 7 had one of the largest Beta testing programs for any Windows operating system to date. Over 8 million beta testers used the OS so the company had plenty of feedback from automated sources and actual requests from users.

Listening to customers? Absurd!

Getting started with the operating system is a breeze. Windows 7 packs in an insane selection of drivers for peripherals so you can get your PC up and running without the usual driver hunting that occurred with Windows XP and Vista. Thankfully hardware manufacturers also seem much more willing to create stable software for their products from the start so Vista’s nightmare driver scenario hasn’t been repeated.

As far as choosing the 32-bit versus 64-bit versions you’re better off going for the 64-bit version, unless you’re running an early Intel Atom processor which might not support it. Your computer will be able to support much more than the 4GB RAM limit 32-bit Windows 7 is limited to and a number of applications enjoy a performance boost with the move which we’ll explore in a future article.

The Aero user interface has received a few new tricks most notably the snap function which allows you to drag a program to the edge of your screen and the OS will automatically resize the application to take up a portion of the screen or enlarge it fully. It’s a handy feature that makes resizing windows less of a chore.

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(Xvid support out of the box is quite nice)

Windows 7 comes bundled with Media Player 12 which can handle many more file formats than before so that codec downloading ritual on a fresh install is a thing of the past. Windows Media Center also benefits from a bit of tweaking with support for the HomeGroup file sharing feature and general responsiveness improvements.

New to the Windows lineup is the Device Stage which allows you to interact with your cell phone/smart phone, digital camera, and any other device that would otherwise require drivers and separate applications. It all depends on hardware vendor support, but it’s a single interface from which you can sync files and change settings on your gadgets which cuts down on the amazing amount of applications you’ll need to keep your gear up to date.

The added features are great perks to owning Windows 7 but you’ll no-doubt notices a few applications haven’t made it into the default OS install. Applications like Outlook Express, Messenger, and Movie Maker were rolled into the company’s Windows Live Essentials pack which makes for a more streamline install and keeps users up to date.

Seeing as how Vista presented a bit of a performance issue for many users, the tweaks Microsoft implemented in Windows 7 is what will make or break the OS. SuperFetch on 7 has been toned down a notch and should keep the disk thrashing to a minimum leading to a quicker system startup.

DirectX 11 is a key feature that will have gamers, and well everyone else, excited over the prospects of improved GPU performance and memory management while its DirectCompute functionality will extend a graphics chip’s powerful processing capability to tasks like graphics manipulation and video transcoding.

Power management has also been revamped with automatic display dimming and smarter resource usage. Unused ports are powered down and services that aren’t needed won’t be enabled. While it might not sound like much small power savings here and there add up over the long run leading to longer battery life on laptops and desktops that soak up less energy overall which is quite the benefit in a business office full of PCs.

Going a little green was never easier.

So the myriad of performance tweaks, including the ones aimed at HyperThreading capable processors (Intel Core i7), amount to seeking speed here and there for overall system performance. The outright speed gains aren’t going to be jumping out at you but the way Windows 7 handles multiple applications simultaneously, be it web browsing and multimedia viewing to office applications and image manipulation, is an impressive feat. Apps co-exist nicely and using the OS is a much smoother experience compared to previous versions.

Our test system as follows:

AMD Turion 64 X2 TL60 2.0GHz
2GB Memory
Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS

Test Software:

Windows XP Sp3 32-bit
Windows Vista SP2 32-bit
Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit

CrystalDiskMark 2.2
Maxon CINEBENCH R10

Windows 7 manages to pull off quite a feat on hard drive performance besting Windows XP and Vista by 7-10% in sequential read/write and random read/write performance under CrystalDiskMark. When handling a large number of files, or even large files in general, the speed boost is much appreciated.

As far as CPU performance is concerned 7 does a good a job as Vista and XP when it comes to offering up full access to CPU time when an application calls for it. Maxon’s CINEBENCH R10 renders a complex 3D scene that pegs CPU usage which, aside from XP’s lower single-core CB performance, evens out the playing field. As for less demanding applications Vista’s habit of spiking CPU usage can lead to lower system performance.

System power usage was also measure with a trusty Kill A Watt. Windows 7 comes in with the lower overall system power usage idling at a comfortable 32Watts, while XP manages a respectable 35Watt idle rating, and Vista would seemingly take third place with a close 37Watt reading but it consistenly spiked to 50Watts which will do a number on laptop battery life. Power usage was pretty much even across the board with the system’s processor pegged at 100% CPU usage. Windows 7’s overall efficiency and features like auto-dimming displays should mean considerable battery life and energy savings.

On the system timing front Windows 7 manages to eek out a few wins here and there when it comes to resuming from hibernation and system shutdowns, a distinct improvement over Vista’s performance. Its system start up time from a restart or cold boot does lag behind a bit which could be due to network access attempts at boot but, whatever the case, it lags XP by a decent chunk of time on our testbed.

Conclusion

In testing, Windows 7 has proven itself to be the most robust operating system from Microsoft to date. The only real bloat to be found is its massive assortment of drivers that conveniently supports a wide swath of hardware, meaning your PC is pretty much up and running once it’s installed. It’s not-so-stringent media playback means you can get around to enjoying your videos out of the box with fewer hassles.

Microsoft’s nips and tucks have lead to a slick looking Windows OS with less of the hitching and much better responsiveness on its own end. Rogue applications are better corralled by Windows 7 which should make for a more stable environment for your PC as a whole.

If you have a multi-core PC with 2GB of memory it’s, in our opinion, a highly recommended upgrade. If you own an older PC you may just want to upgrade to a new PC featuring the OS. In either case, XP will be but a distant memory soon enough.

Pros:

  • Responsive OS helps you to get things done quicker
  • Windows Media Player 12 supports Xvid, MOV files, and more out of the box for a better multimedia experience out of the box
  • DirectX 11/DirectCompute will change the way graphics cards are used…for the better
  • Impressive amount of built-in driver support means you’re up and running quicker

Cons:

  • A small learning curve if you’re moving straight from XP

Disclaimer: Windows 7 Ultimate was furnished by Microsoft.

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