A lot of people are going to be upgrading from Windows XP straight to Windows 7 over the coming months, but not everyone’s going to get a brand new PC to go with their brand new operating system, so how will old hardware running an OS written 10 years ago cope with Windows 7?
According to Microsoft, the system requirements for 7 are a 1GHz processor capable of 32-bit or 64-bit; 1GB RAM if you’re installing the 32-bit version of Windows 7 or 2GB RAM if you’re installing the 64-bit version; 16GB hard drive space for 32-bit, or 20 for 64-bit and a DX9 graphics card. These requirements are almost identical to the stated requirements for Windows Vista, although if you wanted to keep your sanity when running Vista, you probably needed better specs than what Microsoft recommended…
To compare performance of Windows 7 across the board, I tested Windows 7 Home Premium edition (most machines will have Home Premium installed, so it seemed a logical choice) on 4 machines:
- A desktop machine with a 2.4GHz quad-core processor, 4GB RAM and a 1GB DX10 Graphics card
- A 13” Unibody Macbook with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM (DDR3) and NVIDIA 9400M graphics.
- A netbook with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM and Intel GMA 950 graphics.
- A Dell Inspiron laptop with a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron processor, 512MB RAM (I had to upgrade the laptop’s RAM before I could install Windows 7) and Intel GMA 900 graphics.
Unsurprisingly, the desktop machine was extremely responsive with every feature of Windows enabled including full Aero support whilst driving dual 1080p monitors. If you look around, you can pick up a very similar configuration (excluding the monitors) for about £500.
Like the desktop machine, the Macbook also did an admirable job when faced with Windows 7. Again, every feature was enabled and handled no problem by the Macbook including aero. During regular tasks, (web browsing, word processing, e-mail client) CPU usage barely went above 5% and there was plenty of RAM to spare.
No surprises there, but what about the lower spec machines? Before I could test Windows 7 on the netbook, I had to prepare a USB drive to install it with as I didn’t have an external optical drive handy (look out for a how-to on the process soon) and installation took no longer than about 30 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Windows 7 actually booted quicker than Windows XP ever did on the machine, and it was fully functional on first boot, finding most of the essential components to get me up and running. What surprised me most was the inclusion of Aero, which worked flawlessly alongside a very responsive OS on a rather underpowered netbook. The only problem I ran in to was when I was multi tasking with a lot of applications, and I found it to be a good idea to turn aero off when running GPU intensive applications, otherwise the whole experience became slightly more painful. Overall I was very impressed with the performance of Windows 7 on the netbook, compared to Vista it ran very smoothly, and was a welcome improvement over XP.
Enter the old Dell Inspiron with half the RAM of the netbook (512MB) and an older graphics chip. I wasn’t expecting much from the Dell in all honesty, but surprisingly it could handle Windows 7 rather well. Aero was a no go, but the lack of it wasn’t a terrible thing, because I still felt that I comfortably use the machine, which felt surprisingly responsive, without wanting to tear my eyes out. With only 512MB RAM, performance took a noticeable nosedive when using multiple applications, but it was still useable.
All things considered, I’m very impressed with the performance of Windows 7 on the less powerful machines. In most cases, the system was just as fast as Windows XP was and even faster in some areas, so if you want to give that old laptop you have lying around a bit of a facelift, try Windows 7 out — it could give your ancient Dell Inspiron a new lease of life!