Windows 7 and netbooks: A bad mix

The Lab tests Windows 7 on streamlined notebook computers, only to find that the new OS reduced performance benchmarks substantially.

Some of the comments on my Windows 7 review and follow-up piece suggested that I try the new OS on a netbook. As it happened, we recently had that opportunity, as Greg Crowe was preparing a roundup review on netbooks that will appear early next month.

Greg also has posted an excellent article about the horror that was the netbook, and what exactly one of those things was, and is today.

Basically, a netbook is a tiny notebook without an optical drive. Almost all of them have Intel Atom processors. And all of the netbooks that we brought into the lab for the review ran Windows XP. Given that Windows 7 is supposedly designed with these stripped-down machines in mind, it made sense that we might see some performance gains on those systems.

And in one area we did. The install times were significantly faster than we experienced before. One netbook had the new OS ready in just 37 minutes. The other was even quicker, and was up to speed in 35 minutes.

However, the same performance lag we found moving from XP to W7 on desktops was also evident with the netbooks, only to a much greater extent. Case in point: A netbook with an Atom N270 processor running at 1.6 GHz got a respectable 246.4 on our Passmark Performance Test benchmarks version 7.0 with XP. But after the W7 install, this dropped to 188.8. That’s a 58 point drop, meaning the poor netbook runs 24 percent slower than before. Users will definitely feel that.

The second netbook had an Atom N280 processor running at 1.66 GHz. With XP, it got 259.4 on the benchmark, which is not surprising given that it’s a slightly faster processor than the N270. However, it also dropped big time once W7 came on board, to 214.2. So you can expect an 18 percent drop in performance if you move that system from XP to W7.

There will be those who jump all over this, saying that we hate Windows 7 or Microsoft or that we are 33rd degree Masons involved in some conspiracy. But we merely report the facts, and the numbers can’t lie. The truth is that while W7 does seem to install faster on these tiny powerhouses, it also bogs them down compared with XP. If you really want to get the best performance out of your netbook, XP would be the OS of choice.

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