Windows 8 is nearly finished. A near-final version called the Release Preview will be available to try out in the first week in June. There’s been a lot of discussion about the new Metro Start page, the missing Start button and what will and won’t work on new Windows RT tablets with the same ARM processors that are in iPad and Android tablets. But there are a lot of improvements in Windows 8 that should make a difference on today’s PCs.
In preparation for the Release Preview, we ran a battery of tests comparing the current Windows 8 Consumer Preview and Windows 7 on the same PC. We deliberately didn’t pick a particularly high end machine; this is an original Core i5 HP notebook from 2010 with UEFI firmware, basic Intel integrated graphics, 3GB of memory and upgraded with a fast SSD from Kingston (the 128GB SSDNow drive).
Not only is Windows 8 not finished, but this version has ‘debug’ code in to gather information if there are problems. It’s far too early to know what the final performance of Windows 8 will be like, but even this early on it’s clear that Windows 8 is faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware. If you try it on your own PC – setting up both operating systems side by side so you can dual boot rather than trying it in a virtual machine which makes it run more slowly – you should be able to notice the difference yourself.
The first difference you’ll notice is boot time. Booting from SSD is fairly fast in Windows 7; it’s much faster with Windows 8. Partly that’s because instead of shutting down services and drivers when you turn off your PC, Windows 8 saves a copy of the current state of services and devices to disk; like hibernating your PC but without saving the details of applications and open files. Reading that copy and reinitializing the drivers is faster than loading it all from scratch, and if you have a processor with more than one core Windows uses all of them to boot with, not just one. Even with the time it takes to launch the desktop from a Metro tile, your PC is ready to do something faster.
When you boot using this new fast startup in Windows 8, Windows doesn’t take the time to discover and start up every device attached to your PC; it assumes you have the same devices as the last time you used it. Reinitializing the drivers checks that all the devices are still there. Windows can unload drivers for any that are missing and any new devices will be detected and set up, but you’re not waiting while Windows finds all the devices connected from scratch every time.