In last week’s blog post, we performed some early performance benchmarks and compared Windows 7 SP1 with the recently released Windows 8 Consumer Preview. While speed improved in some scenarios, other aspects suffered a bit. However, the important thing to remember is, performance doesn’t just depend on the underlying operating system (OS); it also relies on the applications that run constantly in the background.
Third-Party Applications: Still a Problem
I’ve now been productively working with Windows 8 for a couple of weeks! I have been using this OS day in and day out and have installed all of my applications.
While I was surprised by the system’s initial responsiveness, overall speed reduced after installing about 80 programs, which consisted of Skype, Live Messenger, SnagIt and games and office applications. It didn’t slow things down to a crawl, but it introduced quite a bit of lag and noticeably less performance—so I found myself again having to use tools such as TuneUp Program Deactivator, Autoruns, Startup Manager and Windows’ own service tools to turn off certain applications. This isn’t out of the ordinary though. It’s a fact of life, and I predict Microsoft will likely stay away from this department, despite the fact that the company has introduced quite a nice Task-Manager that shows the impact of start-up applications.
Closed Apps Still Run in the Background
Having worked with Windows 8 on both a desktop and a tablet, in addition to switching between a variety of apps, I noticed a bit of a lag when handling apps. First, switching between apps had a delay of between one second and several seconds. Second, the system slowed down in “classic desktop” mode although no applications were running.
Microsoft promised several times on its Engineering 8 Blog that inactive applications would be frozen and couldn’t consume PC resources. When looking at the multi-tasking switcher on the left, I was proven right. Windows 8 actively held about six apps at a time before apparently closing them. What I found instead, however, was a bit frustrating. The so-called frozen applications remain in the background.
While only the most critical of those apps were active in the background (Mail, Messaging, Music, etc.), all other apps just sat there consuming memory. Overall, I had about 500 MB worth of apps sitting in memory and not doing a whole lot. That’s not as bad as some browsers, but it’s still not quite as effective as it could be.
Why is this happening? The memory is actually consumed by the frozen state of the app. This means that once an app is closed (which is done by a swiping gesture from the top to the bottom of the screen), it can be resumed instantly. Even though this is a good feature, most users likely aren’t aware that this instant resume may have a detrimental effect on performance—and there are applications that most people only start once, use for 10 minutes and don’t touch again.
Of course, a restart purges the memory of all app states, but many users go a long time without ever shutting down or restarting their PCs. In fact, Microsoft has designed Windows 8 to be more of an “Always On Standby” experience—they hide the restart and shutdown buttons in the charms menu and encourage users to use their power buttons to go to standby.
Is this really a problem? Well, It all depends on the usage of the user. If you’re just using three or four of your favorite apps, this doesn’t concern you. A hundred MB won’t make a huge difference. If you’re using a wide array of Metro-style apps and switch back to your classic desktop applications, this might affect performance. Having half a gig of apps sitting in memory just waiting for you to start them again is detrimental to performance. I wish apps would actually close if you perform the aforementioned swipe gesture.
Again, it’s very early to talk about these things. Windows 8 is in its Consumer Preview stage, but I am not sure if Microsoft really is considering giving back more control to the user who actually wants it. We’ll keep you up-to-date on this.