Microsoft’s shiny, new operating system, Windows 7, is just around the corner (October 22), and there’s been a lot of buzz around Vista’s successor. For those ready for “7,” here are a number of ways to get this new Windows version:
- The easiest (but most costly) route is to buy a new desktop or laptop after October 22, 2009. The operating system comes preinstalled, making everything nice and dandy.
- You can buy the retail version of Windows 7 on October 22 in your local store, or you can go ahead, buy a PC with Windows Vista now and then get a free Windows 7 disc sent to you by the computer manufacturer. Either way, you’ll end up with two additional choices once you receive a copy of the new operating system:
Clean Install: Save your files, wipe your hard disk (make sure to back up all your important data beforehand), and install Windows 7 on an empty drive. Then reinstall your programs, and set up everything the way you want it.
Upgrade Install: Insert the Windows 7 disc, and let it automatically update your running Vista system and keep all of your files and settings. Important: If you’re using Windows XP, you are out of luck; Microsoft does not allow an upgrade from XP to 7.
Which type of installation do you want (Upgrade vs. Clean Install)?
We have the right answer for you!
The Upgrade Install from Vista to Windows 7 sounds like a trouble-free solution because it might save you hours of configuring and reinstalling programs. But, talk to any expert, and you’ll get one simple answer—Clean Install is the best and “cleanest” option. It prevents any old garbage from ruining your new Windows 7 installation. So, are Microsoft gurus stigmatized from earlier Windows versions, where an upgraded operating system was much slower and more prone to errors?
Advantages of an image-based setup
With Windows Vista and 7, Microsoft introduced a new way of installing the operating system. Instead of copying dozens of files like a typical installer, it simply decompresses a preinstalled copy of Windows onto your hard disk. Then, it adjusts itself based on your user settings and hardware. In theory, this should make the Windows 7 upgrade process a clean one. After this clean, preinstalled copy of Windows 7 has been laid out on your disk, it reinstalls your programs, imports your settings and copies your data. It also performs an automatic defragmentation of the hard disk. This takes hours, and with the following benchmarks and observations, we hope to find out if it’s a process worth enduring.
Finding the typical Vista machine
For conducting our tests, we found a Windows Vista machine that has been running for roughly two years. It was used as a typical family and basic work computer on a day-to-day basis.
The owner never really cared about optimizing or maintaining the computer, which is what we believe to be standard of a typical, home machine. It had all of the basic programs you need: Office 2007, WinDVD 9, iTunes, Adobe Reader and Flash. We also found about 20 games installed, from tiny puzzles to Sims 3. Windows Vista SP2 was installed, including all of the necessary updates.
The performance of this test machine was horrible—it has been bogged down by nearly one hundred installed programs, an overcrowded registry and dozens of processes running in the background. Over the past few months, an additional 75 programs were installed and then uninstalled, leaving dozens of ghost folders under the “Program Files” directory and orphaned keys in the registry. It will be interesting to see just how much Windows 7 cleans up before it installs.
Our benchmarks explained
Without optimizing the system, we ran the following set of benchmarks:
Boot-up time: The time it takes the machine once the power switch has been pressed to finally loading the last automatically running program on the list.
Shutdown time: The time it takes from clicking the “Shut Down” button to actual power down.
Start Outlook 2007: The time it takes for Outlook 2007 to load and display the first e-mail.
Compressing a 1.09 GByte file into a ZIP file: The way the operating system handles tasks that really push the CPU. We used WinRAR in this instance.
Open IE 8.0: The time it takes to start Internet Explorer 8(IE 8). We specified eight home pages in IE 8; however, we did not measure how long it took to actually display the Websites, as that depends entirely on the Internet connection.
3D Mark 2006: A performance measurement with standard settings. Since our test machine only has an ATI Radeon Xpress 1150, we used this older DirectX 9 benchmark.
PC Mark Vantage: A series of benchmark tools designed to test the productivity of the CPU, and read/write speeds of the memory and hard disks. It also tests the machine by automatically performing tasks such as playing multiple video files, editing photos or filling up WordPad with dozens of pages of text. We used the “default run” here, as well.
All of the benchmarks mentioned above were performed on three configurations: the original Windows Vista Home Premium, the upgrade of Windows 7, and the Clean Install of Windows 7. To make sure that nothing interfered with our tests, we conducted each test three times and used the average result. We also made sure that each configuration (Upgrade Install vs. Clean Install) had been used for exactly four weeks before the test drive, and that no Windows feature interfered (See this article for more information on how we conduct our benchmarks.) The TuneUp Blog team wanted to conduct a long-term test to bring you the most accurate results.
Boot-up and shutdown
The original boot-up time of Vista Home Premium was incredibly slow. It took more than two minutes until all of the startup programs were up and running. Even after that, the hard disk kept spinning for another five minutes.
Things got a bit better when upgrading to Windows 7. The upgrade shaved off a couple of seconds, leaving the hard disk spinning wildly for only 30 more seconds. Although some might consider this an improvement, it’s still too long for this machine that used to boot up Windows XP in less than 45 seconds.
No matter what we did, Outlook 2007 needed three more seconds until the first e-mail was displayed—at least using the Upgrade Install. Internet Explorer 8 showed a nice boost in performance—it took only six seconds until the browser showed up and began loading the eight tabs we set as our start page.
Processor, graphics and memory performance
Compressing the video file was only a tad faster with the Upgrade Install of Windows 7— both handled this job, that really pushes the CPU, equally well. This was a big surprise, and yes, we tested it several times on each operating system: The Clean Install of Windows 7 was able to compress the video file in only three minutes.
On Vista, we regularly experienced hiccups during HD video playback; sometimes this was accompanied by audio lags. In Windows 7, thanks to improved HD codecs, all of that disappeared. The HD files all played smoothly, even while opening dozens of applications at the same time.
Synthetic benchmarks (in points)
3DMark 2006 showed only minimal improvements on the Upgrade Install, whereas the PCMark Vantage benchmark showed a huge increase in performance with the Music and Communication Suite tests. This could be due to a newer audio driver that came with 7. However, the biggest improvements came with the Clean Install of Windows 7. The Music Suite test, for example, went from 2121 to 3177 points. From a Gaming Suite perspective, not much changed. 3DMark 2006 did not make a significant jump, because it mostly relies on the graphic card.
Overall performance from the user perspective
This section shows what the benchmark cannot test—the actual responsiveness and overall performance “feel.” For example, how fast can Windows 7 draw windows and menus, or how well does it respond under heavy load?
- Original Vista Home Premium: After a long boot-up time, Vista’s performance was a bit sluggish. It took too long for the user interface to display menus or folder contents. The start menu and programs also needed a long time to start.
- Upgrade Install: After the upgrade, the overall performance and responsiveness improved noticeably. Windows 7 is said to be the fastest-responding Windows version yet; however, thanks to all of the junk carried over from the previous Vista installation, it did not perform as well as the Clean Install. Only while working with lots of applications simultaneously, Windows 7 was able to maintain its performance, whereas Vista was practically unusable.
- Clean Install: Never has this nearly three year old laptop seen so much performance. It boots up extraordinarily fast. All of the windows and menus popped up instantly, while programs needed half the start time. The owners of the laptop felt the increase in system responsiveness.
Time to set up Windows 7
We not only performed benchmarks but also compared the time it took to have Windows 7 fully working. The upgrade from Windows Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 took a little more than three hours, compared to the Clean Install which was finished after about 25 minutes. Since an upgrade needs to collect all of your data, settings and programs and then—after the actual installation—put everything where it belongs, it really needed that time.
After the clean installation, we were required to install the drivers and all of the programs again, run Windows Update and set up the machine as it was. This took us around three to four hours, and keep in mind that we’re quite used to the process. Following the upgrade installation, we were more successful than expected in terms of time, seeing as we only needed a couple of minutes until everything was the way we left it under Vista. Only Windows Live Messenger needed to be reinstalled—which it did all by itself after the first logon.
But were all settings, personal data, files, or even the desktop icon order saved? The next chart shows you exactly if and what settings and files the Windows 7 Upgrade Install was able to salvage:
We were very impressed with the Windows 7 upgrade procedure. Nearly all of our settings, files, and programs were exactly where we left them. Most programs worked fine, with a few exceptions here and there. Windows 7 even remembered the exact positions of our desktop shortcuts and gadgets.
There is no doubt that the Upgrade Install proved to be the most hassle-free solution. Just popping in the Windows 7 disc and letting it do all of the work is very convenient. A conclusion is hard to draw at this point. In some cases, an upgraded Windows 7 will perform faster, while in others, it takes longer than Vista to complete the given tasks. In terms of performance, it is more of a mixed bag. If you can handle this but definitely need to save time and nerves, go with the upgrade installation. You don’t need to copy files, remember settings or reinstall programs. On our test bed, everything worked perfectly, and there were no random errors. Keep in mind: There are literally thousands of programs and configurations out there. There is also a strong chance that, after the upgrade, you will find yourself hunting bugs and errors—and that might cost you more time than a Clean Install.
Reminder: We took a two-year-old Vista PC that had seen its share of crashes, installs, uninstalls, viruses and more. If you just bought your Vista PC, chances are it is not full of garbage. If you’re using a fresh and well maintained installation of Windows Vista, you will be fine to upgrade. The impact on performance will be absolutely minimal.
If you have the time and don’t mind working on your computer for a couple of hours, then we strongly suggest the Clean Install method. By wiping your hard disk and starting fresh, you will leave all of the unnecessary applications from Windows Vista behind. Windows 7 takes only about half the time to boot up and performed 10–30 percent (!) faster than Vista or the 7 upgrade. But, keeping your clean system clean is the key.
What are your thoughts? Did you get better (or worse) results while upgrading? What is your preferred choice?
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