Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard: Benchmark performance showdown

CNET's Dong Ngo decided he wanted to pit Windows 7 and Snow Leopard against each other to see which operating system has more horsepower. The results may surprise you.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

CNET's Dong Ngo decided he wanted to pit Windows 7 and Snow Leopard against each other to see which operating system has more oomph. The results may surprise you.

With both Microsoft's Windows 7 and Apple's Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard arriving this fall, never before has there been a better time to try a new operating system.

Dual-boot systems are becoming more popular, and more users than ever are using both OSes in their homes. Boot camp has made Apple's MacBook Pro a good, if ironic, choice for a Windows 7 machine.

But Ngo decided he wanted to pit Windows 7 and Snow Leopard against each other, mano e mano, tit for tat, to see which operating system has more horsepower. So he took a 2008 vintage MacBook Pro (15-in. unibody; 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT), a stopwatch and his eyeballs and got to work.

To get started, Ngo installed Mac OS X Snow Leopard on a stock 320GB hard drive (Hitachi model HTS543232L9SA0) and Windows 7 64-bit, a 320GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue (model WD3200BEVT). Both hard drives are nearly identical, and support a SATA 3Gbps interface, offer 8MB of cache memory and spin at 5,400rpm. This way, he could swap the drives and avoid bothering with partitions and Boot Camp.

The apps he installed on both systems included:

  • iTunes 9
  • Cinebench R10
  • QuickTime (7 on Windows; X on Snow Leopard)
  • Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare

The first two are 64-bit applications.

So how'd it work out? In time-based tests, Snow Leopard "consistently outdid Windows 7."

His results on the basics (graph for this test at top of post):

  • Snow Leopard boot: 36.4 seconds
  • Windows 7 boot: 42.7 seconds
  • Snow Leopard shutdown: 6.6 seconds
  • Windows 7 shutdown: 12.6 seconds
  • Snow Leopard "wakeup": 1 second
  • Windows 7 "wakeup": 1 second

Then Ngo began benchmarking multimedia performance. The results this time:

  • Snow Leopard iTunes conversion (17 songs, MP3 to AAC): 149.9 seconds
  • Windows 7 iTunes conversion: 161.9 seconds

But the tables turned with Cinebench R10, which showed that Windows 7 was "noticeably better than Snow Leopard in 3D image rendering."

Scores for 3D image rendering (higher is better):

  • Windows 7: 5,777
  • Snow Leopard OS X: 5,437

Windows 7 also trounced Snow Leopard in gaming, offering higher frame rates.

Scores for Call of Duty 4:

  • Windows 7: 26.3 fps
  • Snow Leopard: 21.2fps

"Consistently, Snow Leopard was always 5fps to 7fps slower than Windows 7," Ngo writes.

Finally, Ngo measured battery life, and received results that contradicted his expectations.

He writes:

"[Previously,] I said that Windows 7 offered about the same battery life on the MacBook Pro as Snow Leopard. Well, I was wrong. While it was indeed better compared with what it was with Boot Camp 2.1, Windows 7 on the MacBook Pro still has a significantly shorter battery life than Snow Leopard."

The proof? Ngo tested the OSes using his extreme-use "performance" settings -- display and keyboard lighting at their highest setting, speakers turned to the maximum level, Wi-Fi connection active, high-definition movie clip on loop playing in full-screen mode -- and Snow Leopard blew away Windows 7.

  • Windows 7: 78 minutes
  • Snow Leopard: 111 minutes

Ngo writes that he believes drivers are to blame for the discrepancy, but the differences are clear: If you've got a MacBook, run OS X; if you're a gamer, use Windows 7, even on Apple hardware; for basic users, you'll be happy with either system; if you've got money to burn, buy a Mac so you can run both OSes.

To get the full story, read Ngo's full benchmark results and explanation here.


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