Win7 Review- viable upgrade from XP on old systems/netbooks?

Our "pub" where you can post about things completely Off Topic or about non-silent PC issues.

Moderators: NeilBlanchard, Ralf Hutter, sthayashi, Lawrence Lee

Post Reply
hybrid2d4x4
Posts: 310
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2007 1:45 pm
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Win7 Review- viable upgrade from XP on old systems/netbooks?

Post by hybrid2d4x4 » Wed Feb 04, 2009 11:47 pm

(Note: if you are only interested in performance, feel free to scroll down to that section and skip the scenic tour)

Since the beta's "leak" and official release, I've read a few preview articles and "news" pieces about it- pretty much all of them favorable. What really piqued my attention were the claims that this new OS was lean enough to run on netbooks... I don't have access to one of those, so I can't test that claim, but like many others, I have an older system that runs XP Pro perfectly but (probably) not quite up to the task of running Vista at a speed of my liking. So with some free time, I made a separate 20GB partition and gave it a try...
Keep in mind that I'm only in a position to judge it's performance versus WinXP Pro on this specific system, not Vista. Having said that, I also use Vista x64 on a different machine, so I will comment on similarities/differences, but nothing in terms of performance (subjective or otherwise).

System Setup
Celeron 2.2GHz (400MHz FSB, 128kB cache, Netburst architecture @ 130nm)
Asus P4S533-MX w/ SiS 651 NB/962 SB
2x 512MB PC2700 RAM @ 2.5-3-3-7
WD 160GB
6600GT passive, underclocked to 300MHz core / 660MHz Mem
Nova DVB-S
Viewsonic VX2235 @1680x1050 + Panasonic 53" 1080i CRT-projection HDTV underscanned @ 1768x992
Windows 7 Ultimate x86 Build 7000

Installation
Things looked promising at first- installation was a breeze and was very quick (to be fair, I was playing Lumines on PSP during most of it, but it probably didn't take more than 30mins). My first issue came up during the "Completing installation" phase when my monitor went into standby- just like during a Vista RC2 I tested a few years ago on a near-identical hardware setup. I "gave feedback" about the issue of arbitrarily assigning the primary display(in my case to the TV which is off most of the time) when there is more than one attached, and submitted feedback again, probably to no effect. The issue isn't major but I could see a typical user getting stumped and calling tech support over something like this.
Also, I really wish they'd allow you the option to "uncheck" unwanted features rather than forcing you to install the whole thing...but no such luck here.

Win7 didn't have any drivers for my 8-9 year old onboard LAN or sound, but was fixed by a quick trip into device manager and pointing to the folders where I keep backup drivers for XP x86.
I normally would disable it, but this time I ran Windows Update and was pleasantly surprised that it didn't have a mess of fixes or updates, just one fix for the MP3 issue, and very conveniently, drivers for my video card and TV tuner.

An Overview of Changes/Noteworthy Features
After the install, you are greeted with something like this (sans the Firefox and Winamp icons):
Image
They were going for a cleaner look and I'd give that one to them.
After installing Firefox and Winamp, this is what my OS+app drive looked like:
Image Image

My Win7 Ultimate x86 install takes up 6.68GB with a ~1322MB swapfile. I disabled and deleted the 786MB hiberfil.sys file used for Hibernation. The second screen above shows some the contents of the C: drive (oddly, it completely ignores/blocks the original C: which has XP on it, and still assigns the classic C: to the partition I installed it to). You might notice a bit of shortcut clutter (including some that point to legacy paths that no longer exist)... tsk, tsk.
Vista users will be familiar with the look of the Windows Explorer, and I have very few issues with the layout of it, although it's performance could be much improved (more on that in a bit). Other than that, my biggest disappointment on the whole side of file browsing/management is the default location that Windows Explorer starts at:
Image
I guess this wouldn't be an issue for people who mostly use their PC as a media player (and keep their OS and files on the same drive/partition), but I personally like my file browser to assume I'm going to look through the contents of my hard drives and manipulate files, and point me to someplace useful such as [my] "Computer". And there doesn't seem to be a way to change it, either. It might seem like splitting hairs, but I see it as a common theme in this OS and to a lesser extent, Vista, where it takes more user input to perform tasks than in XP (even if it is an extra click or 2).

Moving along, here's the "new" start menu:
Image Image
On the left picture is what it looks like when you first open the start menu. To the right, you can see what happens when you move the cursor over an item it in the left column: a list of recently opened/saved documents is shown. The left half of the start menu was originally populated with the top 4 or 5 items you see in the screenshot, but it seems to dynamically change the contents according to what is used most often. I rarely use the start menu, so it gets little exercise under my regime. I suppose this may give you back a few of those extra clicks you waste navigating other parts of the OS, but what happens if you use a greater variety of applications than the column can display at once? I suppose there's the "search" function, but I don't like unnecessary background processes running, so it becomes useless with indexing disabled.
Unlike in Vista, the option to use the "classic" start menu is not there. Don't get me wrong, I've grown to accept the new start menu and for my humble purposes, it's perfectly fine- what I don't appreciate is the one-size-fits-all approach.

Next item, the taskbar:
Image Image Image
The far left pic shows the taskbar and explains the subtle visual cues that convey information about which applications are running, the number of instances of each, and what hovering the mouse over one reveals. In the middle is an example of a context-menu associated with the taskbar icons (summoned by right-clicking or dragging a left-click upwards).
The best way to describe this new taskbar is that it seems to be aesthetically derived from the quicklaunch toolbar from previous Windows versions, and in addition to functioning as a quicklaunch bar itself, it condenses the traditional labelled rectangular slots in the old taskbar into uniformly-sized quicklaunch buttons. (Or more cynically, they ripped off an aspect of OSX). At any rate, it's something you'd have to see for yourself and get used to, but it's not cumbersome unless you have many instances of the same application running (ie: multiple windows of web/file browser). This time around, you DO have a choice of whether or not to "stack" instances of the same application and lose the labels (see the rightmost picture above).
At the end of the day, the new style's popularity will probably boil down to personal taste, and while it sometimes trades efficiency for minimalist aesthetics, it's probably a compromise most users won't mind.

The "Extras"

-The Media Center is identical to Vista's. The layout is good, but performance is horrendous (relative to MediaPortal for example, other than in startup time). Idling in the MC eats almost as much CPU cycles as SD-resolution XVID-encoded video playback in Windows Media Player Classic HC Edition. Playing said video files in either MC or Media Player (which comes with Win7, shown below) was unwatchable due to a mfpmp.exe process (DRM-related) using 30-80% of the CPU. I've since got rid of that file, and the regular Media Player was once again usable. The Media Centre is still a CPU hog. Configuration options are very limited. It's good enough for average users on a modern system, but enthusiasts are better off with something more versatile and efficient. To me, the new Media Player is a step backwards in aesthetics and layout. It has two very distinct modes: playback mode (left picture below) and Library mode (below, right). Overall, these media "extras" look a lot like afterthoughts.
Image Image

-Paint got a facelift, but is still pretty useless for anything more than the scribbles of a small child.
-Sticky notes seem like a practical, convenient feature. I haven't used them yet, though.
-IE8 feels quick. It starts up a lot faster than Firefox, but I stuck with the latter due to convenient plugins.
Image
-One HUGE improvement I noticed on this system over XP (although probably identical to Vista's) is the sound subsystem. In XP, unless maybe you have specialized hardware/drivers, everything is resampled to 48kHz, mixed, then either outputted via digital outputs or sent to the DACs to output analog out. In Win7(and I'm pretty sure Vista too), you can specify what bit and sample rate to use for the "common" mode, but leaves the possibility of apps having exclusive-access and overriding that default. I use the digital coax output on the mobo to feed a mid/high-end AVR, and compared to the feed from XP (which also was tainted by some SoundMax driver-level "optimizations" I've never been able to get rid of), the same music played in Win7 has so much more clarity you'd think you were wearing a wool hat covering your ears in XP. The absence of the idiotic driver-level bass enhancement present in XP helps a great deal as well. In Win7, I got the possibility of passing along a LPCM signal to my reciever at the source file's sample rate, with no processing whatsoever (another bonus seems to be slightly lower winamp.exe CPU usage during playback in Win7) and it sounds phenomenal. In XP there is also a bit of clipping and pops/crackles during playback while running other applications, but in Win7 it has been 100% perfect so far. This alone makes me want to keep this on this HTPC, as I have music running 90% of the time.

Performance (mostly subjective) VS XP

I timed the startup from the moment the power button was pushed to the time it gets to the desktop and the hourglass/spinning-circle cursor goes away (a fair indicator of when you could actually start using the pc). My 6mo old WinXP Pro install (nLite'd to slipstream SP3 and gutted out stock drivers/features I didn't want) with a few apps s/a OpenOffice, Paintshop Pro, MediaPortal, etc. boots in 47.7s. Windows 7 did it in 66.3s. Measurements are probably +/- 2s. To be fair, WinXP has the benefit of being on the fastest region of the HDD, while Win7 is on the inner 20GB, but WinXP probably has some fragmentation. Not off to a great start, but then again this OS does have an install footprint several times larger than XP's.

Speaking of footprints, here's a screen of the task manager to give you an idea of how many processes are running, memory being used, etc. The screen was taken with Winamp playing MP3/FLAC constantly and some file browsing shows up on the CPU usage chart as the few peaks.
Image

Earlier on I mentioned performance issues with the file browser. Here's what I mean: In XP clicking on "My Computer" brings you the file browser in a quarter to half-second, for all intents and purposes, it feels almost instantaneous. Same thing in Win7: 1.25-2s, and you can see the disconnect between your click, the momentary lag, then a near blank window comes up, and then the (4) icons and the folder hierarchy in the left column appears. A similar delay is experienced whenever the file browser is summoned within other applications such as during "save as" dialog boxes in Firefox or paint.
More annoyingly though, if I browse to a folder that has a lot of files in it, there's a noticeable bit of lag in displaying the contents, and when scrolling, the CPU usage spikes to 100%, scrolling itself is visually very choppy and there is lag between mouse scrolling input and the on-screen feedback.

Fortunately, if most of what you'll be doing is surfing the web on a low-spec machine such as a netbook or old pc, you'll be happy to hear that Firefox runs every bit as smooth as on XP, even if it takes an extra second to start. I didn't spend much time with IE8 since it doesn't have ad-block or no-script plugins, but it launches a lot faster than Firefox 3.0.5.

While it doesn't really tell you much other than give us an idea of whether MS is going to get into another "Vista-capable" fiasco, I ran the built-in "benchmark" and got these results:
Image
I might be more nit-picky than the average user, but running this OS on this caliber of system is borderline intolerable {EDIT: That's probably overly harsh. After all, I'm still choosing to boot this one over XP even though the novelty has more or less worn off} and yet it still scores surprisingly decent in most categories. I don't know how the lower-clocked Atoms compare to my Celeron 2.2, but I'd recommend a healthy dose of skepticism to go along with the idea of running this OS on one of those machines. If OEMs pack on the usual amount of bloatware in the systems they ship with this OS, I predict there will be many frustrated netbook owners...
Supposedly, the version that will ship on those will be gutted out, and lack the aero interface, but on this machine, turning off the visual extras doesn't make a significant difference (not surprising as a 6600GT is somewhere between two and three orders of magnitude better than the Intel 945 graphics bundled with Atoms). The bottleneck is clearly the CPU as shown by the long 100% usage peaks, and even the aforementioned built-in assessment tool. I'm not sure netbooks will fare much better, especially with the worse video and (in most cases) HDD throughput.




All in all, I have to say I like the new Windows, even if it's not as lean and quick as the expectations being formed with all this netbook-compatible hype and even if some of it's features seem half-baked... <cough>Media Center<cough>
Is it a justifiable upgrade from XP on older and low-end systems? That depends on what you value more: performance or aesthetics/security/(slightly more)reliability/(new features you like)
As for me, all I'd have to do is spend 5 seconds in msconfig to go back to XP, but I haven't been compelled to do it yet.

If you have any request of things to test/show (within reason), feel free to ask.
Last edited by hybrid2d4x4 on Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

psiu
Posts: 1201
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2005 1:53 pm
Location: Plymouth, MI
Contact:

Post by psiu » Thu Feb 05, 2009 8:50 am

Did you have the full aero-interface going?
I really liked the part where you have multiple windows of the same app open and it shows the thumbnails of each window and you can click on one to go to it.
Much better than the vista "mouse over and click on the 3d tiles thing, mouse back up and click on what you hope you want".
I have to say after using the beta for a week, that going back to Vista feels like a significant downgrade.
Supposed to have a special version with limited interface in the "starter edition" I believe they are calling it.
Locations aren't all to my liking, but it did seem to put me where I wanted to be a lot more than Vista does, and Vista often leaves me with no way to navigate elsewhere.
Built in iso burner in 7 also.

Definitely better than Vista, and actually a lot closer to OS X and in some ways I liked it more (though a faster cpu, more ram, better graphics, and bigger screen help with that :D).

hillkitler
Posts: 44
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2008 7:36 pm
Location: The 208.

Post by hillkitler » Thu Feb 05, 2009 9:16 am

Its power saving settings are glorious as well. I installed the beta on my laptop and it increased my battery life from an abysmal 1 hour (fully charged) to 2.5 hours (fully charged). That's a 150% increase in battery life. I thought I was seeing things, so I sat there and let the battery run itself dry. Lo and behold my battery really did last for two and a half hours. Astounding!

The only thing I wasn't too crazy about was the introduction of "Libraries." They're not exactly confusing, just...inconvenient-- especially if you're intimately familiar (as many are) with the Windows XP/Vista "My Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc." set-up.

Bottom line (as far as I'm concerned): If Vista is like XP on hallucinogens, then 7 is like Vista on really high class crack.

ACook
Posts: 282
Joined: Sat Apr 21, 2007 5:35 pm
Location: In the Palace

Post by ACook » Thu Feb 05, 2009 3:13 pm

great, I'm still not converted to the My Documents/Video's way of thinking of XP, now they're introducing yet another metaphor?

hybrid2d4x4
Posts: 310
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2007 1:45 pm
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Post by hybrid2d4x4 » Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:36 pm

psiu wrote:Did you have the full aero-interface going?
I really liked the part where you have multiple windows of the same app open and it shows the thumbnails of each window and you can click on one to go to it.
Initially I did, but I now run it with all but that one option unchecked. I guess the screen I took for that was after disabling it. I personally find it more useful to display the title of the window, rather than trying to discern it's contents from a little thumbnail preview. Oops, so much for showing off all the new stuff...
Also, I'm not sure if I'm talking about the same thing, but in Vista you can "windows key"+tab (the same way as alt+tab) to flip through the 3D tiles. Give it a try, it may resolve your annoyance.

I don't like the "Libraries"/"My x" organization styles either. I keep my OS and apps on a small C: partition, and all my data on a separate partition. Win7 seems more insistent on it's respective system than any of its predecessors.

hillkitler (nice name) > Out of curiosity what kind of hardware are you running in that laptop and how would you compare its performance to Vista? And are you consistently getting that kind of battery life with the same tasks as on Vista? (assuming that's what you had before)

psiu
Posts: 1201
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2005 1:53 pm
Location: Plymouth, MI
Contact:

Post by psiu » Fri Feb 06, 2009 10:10 am

Oooh that is nice (windows + tab) I will probably like it until some application has a fit with it.

ntavlas
Posts: 811
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2007 2:35 pm
Location: Greece
Contact:

Post by ntavlas » Fri Feb 06, 2009 11:46 am

I wonder if this system running xp+windowsblinds would be faster than running 7.

It`s a little disappointing to see how media player has evolved. The OS itself, while an improvement over vista is still a bit too big. Unlike what many believe, I think Microsoft has produced some remarkably efficient software (office vs open office as an example). I`m sure that if they really wanted, they could make this OS run perfectly smoothly on this old system without sacrificing much in the way of features. Imagine how such an os would run on a modern machine with an ssd..

Rebellious
Posts: 322
Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 12:53 pm
Location: EU, USA

Post by Rebellious » Fri Feb 06, 2009 12:30 pm

What's up with ImageShack? It won't work unless you allow Javascript for 2 domains and then it pops up extra windows.

hybrid2d4x4
Posts: 310
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2007 1:45 pm
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Post by hybrid2d4x4 » Fri Feb 06, 2009 4:28 pm

^ I'm only allowing imageshack.us, and rejecting the other 3 domains with noscript and also have adblockplus in FF, and I never get anything extra popping up.

ntavlas > It's probably been about 2 years since I tried windowsblinds, but from what I remember, it wasn't perceptibly slower than the stock theme. I'm currently running the Royale Noir theme on the XP install. I really like the way it looks, and it also has no performance penalty. Here's some info/screens of it: http://www.istartedsomething.com/20061029/royale-noir/

hillkitler
Posts: 44
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2008 7:36 pm
Location: The 208.

Post by hillkitler » Sat Feb 07, 2009 2:34 am

@hybrid2d4x4 - Firstly, thank you for the comment on my name. It's a Gateway M-1626...Turion X2 TL-60, 4.0Gb Ram, with an integrated (duh) ATI Radeon X1200. The power I'm getting is fairly consistent with web browsing (Firefox) or basic word processing with Word 2007. I don't have an antivirus program running in the background any more, but other than that everything is the same; I was previously running BitDefender 2008, which is incredibly lightweight, so I doubt it makes much of a difference.

Rebellious
Posts: 322
Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 12:53 pm
Location: EU, USA

Post by Rebellious » Sat Feb 07, 2009 5:47 am

hybrid2d4x4 wrote:^ I'm only allowing imageshack.us, and rejecting the other 3 domains with noscript and also have adblockplus in FF, and I never get anything extra popping up.
I'm doing the same with noscript, but I had to allow yieldmanager.com for it to work. Is that a legit domain?

hybrid2d4x4
Posts: 310
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2007 1:45 pm
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Post by hybrid2d4x4 » Sat Feb 07, 2009 10:06 am

^ I just went there and it doesn't look sketchy or anything, so I think it's ok. Strange that you would have to enable that one, though...

blackworx
*Lifetime Patron*
Posts: 601
Joined: Sat Dec 01, 2007 2:04 am
Location: UK

Post by blackworx » Tue Feb 10, 2009 8:04 am

ACook wrote:great, I'm still not converted to the My Documents/Video's way of thinking of XP, now they're introducing yet another metaphor?
:lol: my sentiments exactly. Windows Explorer and the whole "libraries" thing was for me by far Vista's most annoying aspect (not because it's nasty per se but because it gets in the way of basic tasks) and they only went and kept it. Ho hum.

@ hybrid2d4x4: thanks for the tour :)

hybrid2d4x4
Posts: 310
Joined: Mon Sep 03, 2007 1:45 pm
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Post by hybrid2d4x4 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 3:47 pm

UPDATE: For those interested, here's a small followup to the review.

Since writing that review (~1-2 weeks after installing the beta), I still find the OS enjoyable to use for the most part. The few snags I've had so far are:
-one BSOD while copying files from a data dvd to the hard drive (I got a good laugh out of it as I don't think I've seen one on my computers in over 6 years)
-one spontaneous reboot while backing up ~20GB of files from this computer to another over the LAN. To be fair, I can't conclusively point the finger at W7 for the latter, as the CPU/Mobo/RAM in this system are ~8 years old and the occasional hiccup is to be expected (in fact, my parents have a pc built at the same time as when these parts were bought, and theirs is having lots of issues with the mobo not detecting drives, reboots, etc.).
-3 or 4 instances of lockup immediately after booting and getting to the desktop at the point when almost everything is done loading and you'd normally be able to fire up your browser or whatnot. For reference, this is 3 or 4 fails out of probably 200-300 uneventfully successful boots. Not sure what the cause is, but I occasionally get a possibly related issue in XP where the display driver can't be loaded and I'm stuck in VGA mode until rebooting. Once again, it's hard to determine the cause of these kinds of intermittent issues on hardware that's barely hangin in there...

CroSsFiRE2.0
Posts: 26
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2009 12:39 pm
Location: Toronto, Canada

Post by CroSsFiRE2.0 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 7:48 pm

I've been using Win7 on a Dell Inspiron 1300 Laptop Celeron M 1.6 OC'd to 2.2 with 915G graphics. Not a bad experience at all but my only complaint is the lack of WDDM drivers for it. Also running it on my desktop and it's been working like a charm except I messed up an install of AVG when the power went out. Get a BSOD every time I try torepair or uninstall.

FPS in games is a few frames lower than xp but haven't really bothered me since I cranked up the OC on my 8800GS.

I agree with the display auto detecting issue, bit annoying when you disconnect a display and theirs no way to switch back to the main screen without plugging the display into the main adapter or a restart.

Disk transfer is bit better than vista but much slower than XP still.

Also resized the win7 partition and required a repair from disc. Ended up with the vista start up scren now lol, no more fancy glowing MS sign.

Having issues hibernating and sleeping with the 7000 build too, wakes up immediately when I put it asleep

Post Reply