Measuring Windows 7 performance

Measuring Windows 7 performance

Summary: For nearly three solid months, I've been running the final, RTM version of Windows 7 on six desktop PCs and four notebooks here, using them for a variety of roles. As part of my evaluation, I've recorded the built-in Windows test scores for each machine. Here's a quick comparison that contains some surprising results.


I saw Windows 7 for the first time on October 26, 2008 at a press briefing just ahead of Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. I had all of a day to use the pre-beta build and then stayed up most of the following night to have my first look ready for publication two days later.

Since then, I’ve personally installed, tweaked, and used beta and Release Candidate versions of Windows 7 on no fewer than 15 desktop and notebook PCs. At any given time, I have also had a dozen or so Windows 7 virtual machines running under three different virtualization platforms, plus a couple of Windows servers (one for business, one for home).

I began using what turned out to be the RTM build about a week before Microsoft officially announced that Windows 7 had been released to manufacturing on July 22. So, for nearly three solid months, I’ve been running the final, RTM version of Windows 7 on six desktop PCs and four notebooks here, using them for a variety of roles.

I’ll leave it to others to measure speeds and feeds for Windows 7 using their favorite benchmark suites. A comprehensive, controlled lab test takes a ton of resources and is an exhausting job. I’m looking forward to seeing who steps up for this job.

There is, however, one performance metric that is common to every Windows 7 system: the Windows Experience Index, or WEI. If you allow Windows to rate your system it runs WinSAT (the Windows System Assessment Tool), which is far more demanding than its Vista predecessor. It produces five numbers, one for each component of a subset of tests, and displays the results on demand, like this:

I recorded the WEI numbers for all 10 systems I’ve been using and arranged the results into the table shown here:

Microsoft’s scale for each test goes from 1.0 to 7.9. The numbers are generally comparable to those on Vista machines, where the top ranking was 5.9. I used Excel to color-code the values on this chart with a simple “greener is better, redder is worse” key. I sorted by the Graphics column, but the results would have been similar with other sort orders.

I didn’t look at these numbers carefully until near the end of my research, after I had recorded all my experiential observations. So I was curious to see how the numbers shown here line up with my experience. Can the operating system keep up with me? Are there hardware configurations that result in noticeable speed-ups or slowdowns in performance? Do any common tasks feel consistently faster or slower than they did on Vista or XP?

I’ll share more details from my lab notes on all 10 systems next week. But I thought this chart was worth sharing as a preview. Here are a few comments to explain what it shows:

  • The oldest machine on this list was shipped in January 2007, just before Vista was publicly released. The newest system (a 2009 model Mac Mini with an NVidia 9400M GPU) just arrived today.
  • Four are notebooks, three are small-form-factor desktops, and three are full size desktops. All of them perform acceptably for the job they've been assigned.
  • None of these machines are particularly expensive. The two notebooks at the bottom of the chart (Lenovo and Sony) are review units, one of which has already been returned. I paid for the other eight out of my pocket. Six of them cost between $600 and $800, including all upgrades. The two that cost over $1000 are Media Center machines with expensive TV tuners (a total of three CableCARD tuners at an average of $250 each).
  • Every machine on this list is upgradable (although the Apple Mini makes the process as difficult as possible). I’ve taken liberal advantage of that capability to add memory, increase hard drive sizes, replace video adapters, and add external peripherals such as fingerprint readers and TV tuners. Upgrading can extend the life of a machine dramatically.
  • All of the systems on this list have Intel Core 2 CPUs. There are no i7 Core machines, nor are there any Atom-powered netbooks. The quad-core CPUs in desktop machines rate highest. The low-power Core 2 Duos in lightweight notebooks do worst on processor scores (but still perform just fine for their intended purpose).
  • On graphics scores, the three worst-performing systems have integrated Intel graphics. The best-performing desktop has a discrete ATI video adapter; the best-performing notebook has an Nvidia combo display adapter with discrete GPU and integrated graphics that can be toggled to balance performance and power.
  • Notebook hard disks can be a real bottleneck. Those 4200 RPM drives in some small notebooks are really slow. Most modern desktop drives, running at 5400 or 7200 or even 10,000 RPM, transfer data at rates that are similar enough to one another and will earn a 5.9 maximum. A solid-state drive is the only one that will rate above a 5.9, as far as I can tell.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ll have a lot more details for individual systems next week to help put this table into better perspective.

If you've got WEI details to share for a system running the RTM version of Windows 7, share them in the Talkback section below.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • my scores

    i have an intel i-940, 9gb, nvidia 9800gt w/1gb, nvidia gts 250 /512 amd 54 seagate 7200 rpm drives.

    processor 7.2
    memory 7.6
    graphics 7.0
    gaming 7.0
    hard drive 5.9
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    "I used Excel to color-code the values on this chart
    with a simple 'greener is better, redder is worse'

    Try doing that with Google Docs ;). Yeah - Excel is
    still better :).

    The Lenovo scored the best in HDD - SSD?

    I don't have Win7 running full time yet, but I imagine
    I'll do good in the CPU and graphics departments.

    My memory is rated kinda low - but that's mostly
    because I went for the large approach rather then the
    fast approach. IMHO the memory rating is a tad
    misleading because it emphasizes speed - but in my
    experience, size matters a lot more than speed when it
    comes to RAM.
    • factors for memory performance

      [i] IMHO the memory rating is a tad
      misleading because it emphasizes speed - but in my
      experience, size matters a lot more than speed when it
      comes to RAM.[/i]

      Ranking for factors on memory performance:
      1. Enough RAM that you don't swap.
      2. Large cache on processor
      3. Memory controller (ports, type, clocking, etc.)
      4. Memory type, speed, and clocking

      Processor cache is very under-appreciated. When choosing a CPU, I'll go for cache size first, then clock speed. If the memory controller is integrated in the CPU (e.g., Core i7), I'll pick for the best memory controller over clock speed.
      diane wilson
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    System: AMD Black Phenom II X4 940 @3.4GHZ, 8Gig Crucial Ballistic DDR2 800 @1066, GTX260 & GT9600 Nvidia video cards, 2X1TB Western Digital Black HDD in RAID 0, Gigabyte GA-MA-790GP-UD4H main board running Windows 7 X64.

    Processer 7.4
    Memory (RAM) 7.6
    Graphics 6.2
    Gaming graphics 6.2
    Primary hard drive 5.9

  • I'd be interested in knowing

    just how nebulous those ratings are. For example, is a
    CPU that gets objectively benchmarked as 25% faster show
    up on the WEI as 25% faster?

    Also, any indication of how an U320 SCSI card with a 15k
    Seagate drive would fare? I should think it would be
    faster than 5.9, since the two responders above my
    comment have relatively fast drives, also rated 5.9 - or
    is this an artificial barrier?
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    I have two computers running Windows 7 Ultimate RTM.
    One is a desktop (custom built awhile back), one is an
    HP dv8000t (notebook over 3 years old).

    Desktop (64 bit):
    Processor - Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.4GHz) - 7.1
    Memory - 4GB DDR2 800 @ 5-5-5-15 - 5.9
    Graphics - GeForce 8600GTS - 6.5
    Gaming Graphics - 6.5
    Primary Hard Disk - Samsung 1TB 7200RPM - 5.9

    Notebook (32 bit):
    Processor - Core Duo T2500 (2.0GHz) - 4.2
    Memory - 2GB DDR2 667 @ 5-5-5-15 - 4.9
    Graphics - GeForce Go7600 - 4.8
    Gaming Graphics - 4.6
    Primary Hard Disk - 7200RPM, not sure the brand - 5.1

    Neither have any problem running the OS, though
    neither had any issue with XP or Vista either (I've
    run XP, Vista, 7, and and different distros of Linux
    on all 3 over the past couple years).

    Personally, the features of the OS mean more to me
    than the WEI, as long as it is responsive and stable.
    I don't mind Vista, but I dislike XP now after using
    it only infrequently for over a year. There are too
    many hotkeys/search/etc I use with the newer OSs that
    save me more usage-time than most marginal performance
  • What about drivers causing changes in WEI?

    Ed, it has been my observation that many a times an updated driver for graphics, or SATA controllers, can change the WEI score. I recently had an HP notebook`s RAM score tumble from 3.4 to 2.7 after a Video Graphics driver update, go figure. So are your observations taking into account this fact?
    • Yes

      I've done my best to make sure that each system is running the best drivers for its hardware. I have seen no examples like the one you cite, though. At least not with RTM.
      Ed Bott
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    Toshiba notebook assembled in December 2006,
    previously preloaded with Vista, now running 7 RTM:

    Proc. 5,1
    Mem. 5,1
    Graphics 4,5
    Gaming g. 4,5
    Disk 4,8

    The first NVIDIA drivers for Vista were, to put it
    mildly, crap - those for Win 7 are on the level of the
    best ever for Vista..
    • Specs

      I'll just add the hardware:
      Core 2 Duo T7200
      DDR2 2GB 266 Mhz
      NVIDIA 7600 Go
      Hitachi Travelstar 5K160
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    Just for the record, I own a 2 years old X61 with T7300 (the non-low power one).
    I get
    4.7, 4.8, 3.5, 3.1, 5.3. Frankly, I have no idea if LXXXX actually makes difference in battery life but I know they suffer in terms of performance.
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    Machine 1:
    Dell Precision 690
    Xeon 5130 2GHz
    14GB FBDIMM DDR2 667
    Nvidia 6600 Graphics
    2x 15K SAS (Raid 1) Primary Drive

    CPU= 5
    MEM= 5
    Graphics= 5.1
    Gaming Graphics= 4.4
    Primary HDD= 6.1

    Machine 2:
    Dell Precision T3400
    Intel Core 2 Duo e6850 @ 3.GHz
    4GB DDR2 RAM
    NVidia NVS 295 Graphics
    160GB SATA 7.2K primary drive.

    CPU= 6.4
    RAM= 5.9
    Graphics= 3.5
    Gaming Graphics= 5.3
    Primary HDD= 5.8
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    Sony Vaio VGN-FZ25G
    CPU - Core2Duo 2.0 - WEI : 5.1
    RAM - 2 GB - WEI : 5.1
    Graphics - NVidia 8400 - WEI 4.2
    Gaming Graphics - NVidia 8400 - WEI 4.3
    Primary Hard Disk : Mechanical - WEI 4.8
  • Lenovo R60

    The laptop is a bit less than 3 years old. It has integrated graphics but is aero capable.

    Processor (1.6 Ghz Pentium M): 3.1
    Memory (1GB): 4.5
    Graphics: 3.2
    Gaming Graphics: 3.0
    Primary Hard Disk: 4.3

    It runs real smooth with Windows 7, it ran smooth with XP too, but 7 manages my RAM and paging a lot better. I run it with Aero on, but no transparency, it gives the best of both worlds in terms of aero effects vs basic perfornance.
  • Lenovo X200 - 64bit RTM 4GB RAM

    CPU 6.0
    RAM 5.9
    GFX 4.1
    Game GFX 3.4
    HD 5.4
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance


    I suggest at least one edit for clarity:
    >> Those 4200 RPM drives in some small notebooks are really slow. Most modern desktop drives transfer data at similar rates <<

    I assume you mean rates similar to each other, not similar to the 4200 RPM drives.

    How about something like this: Those 4200 RPM drives in some small notebooks are really slow. Most modern desktop drives, however, transfer data at rates similar to each other...
    • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

      Dell t7500@2.2 GHz

      64 bit
      7 Enterprise
      Memory (RAM) 4.00 GB 5.5
      Graphics NVIDIA Quadro NVS 140M 3.4
      Gaming graphics 2046 MB Total available graphics memory 5.3
      Primary hard disk 45GB Free (112GB Total) 5.4
    • Thank you

      That sentence bothered me when I wrote it. I made a mental note to rework it but never did. Fixed now.
      Ed Bott
  • RE: Measuring Windows 7 performance

    Machine 1:
    Core i7 920, Asus P6T, 12GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia 9600 GT w/ 512MB, WD 1TB Caviar Black (7200 rpm), Win 7 x64

    CPU - 7.4
    Memory - 7.4
    Graphics - 6.8
    Gaming graphics - 6.8
    Disk - 5.9

    Machine 2
    Dell Latitude E6500, Core 2 Duo P9500, 4GB RAM, NVidia Quadro NVS 160M, 160GB 7200 rpm disk, Win 7 x64

    CPU - 6.2
    Memory - 6.2
    Graphics - 4.3
    Gaming graphics - 4.4
    Disk - 5.4
    diane wilson
  • Don't get the hard drive issue...

    Hey Ed,

    Personally, I think there's an issue with the way that Win7 benchmarks the hard drives.

    I have a Dell XPS M1730. It started with having two 7200RPM hard drives with 8MB cache. That ranked a 5.8, IIRC. I then upgraded it to two 7200RPM drives with 16MB cache in a RAID-0 and I get a whopping 5.9. I don't have stats for the old drives, but the closest I can come is using my desktop which also runs a 7200RPM/16MB drive. According to HDTune, the desktop drive maxes out around 56.1MB throughput and an access time of 21.3ms. The laptop has a max throughput of 141.8MB and a 12.3ms access time. In fact, the only drives I've ever benchmarked that were faster than my laptop is one of the servers at work with five 10,000RPM SAS drives in a RAID-5. If a drive has to be a SSD to rank higher, then the WEI is flawed, period.