The Smartest OS for Netbooks

Windows 7 promises to run smoothly on small netbooks. We wanted to know whether it’s actually good enough to displace XP and Linux

Smartest OS for Netbooks

Netbook sales have stayed up even as all other types of PCs have slowed down in the past year. Netbooks are suited for simple daily tasks, but they have never had a customized operating system that helps users get the best out of them while managing with limited hardware. Microsoft famously faced the problem of Vista requiring too many resources to run satisfactorily on netbooks by allowing XP to live on way past its expiry date. And after initial experiments with Linux, most manufacturers decided that the good old Windows XP was what people wanted. Now, with Windows 7, Microsoft wants to eliminate this flaw in its offerings and finally get in on the modern as action with little netbooks., but how well does it perform in the real world with a netbook’s limited resources? I decided to find out the answer, and compared the performance of Windows 7 against its competition XP and a distribution of Linux especially created to for this device class, Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Other interesting versions of Linux include Easy Peasy (www.geteasypeasy. com) which is based on Ubuntu, and Moblin (moblin.org), which has been co-developed by Intel, but Ubuntu is the most likely Linux candidate as of now. Soon there will be other contenders including Google’s Chrome as, which will require another comparison to be conducted in the future. For now, we found two versions of Windows 7 interesting: the “Ultimate” version which has every possible feature, and the minimalist “Starter” edition. We wanted to know whether using the more Spartan version resulted in any performance advantages. Starter Edition sacrifices the 3D Aero interface, nearly all visual effects, and the Media Center. This also means it has no support for playing DVDs out of the box.  Windows 7 is lighter and quicker on notebooks and PCs

Resources: XP runs the fastest

The hardware components of current net books are basically identical: they run on a slow Atom processors, have 1 GB of RAM, and an onboard chip takes care of the graphics. Linux works with the lowest resources, does not occupy more than 200 MB of RAM at idle, and requires only about 2 GB of disk space. Ubuntu Netbook Remix is unique in that it was designed for exactly this kind of hardware. Windows: XP needs at least 250 MB of RAM, and Windows 7 gobbles up 440 MB-irrespective of whether you’re using the Starter or Ultimate editions. Both XP and 7 are level, occupying approximately 7 GB of disk space each .But it turns out that small does not always mean fast. Linux loads fewer services and threads in the background, but needs more time than Windows systems for booting. But for real-world tasks such as copying large file quantities between partitions is concerned, the time differences are hardly noticeable. In addition, we also measured the performance differences between the Windows versions with the standard benchmark PCMark OS-though it sadly does not run on Linux. XP clearly wins the PCMark test by a margin of over 150 points. This is not very surprising since one of the major innovations in Windows 7 is the sharing of processing operations with the graphics hardware, such as displaying programs on screen for instance. Windows XP generally loses out to 7 here on powerful computers, but this is not true for netbooks which have poor graphics hardware. Even the fact that window effects are reduced in the Starter Edition helps here. The result for Starter Edition is not significantly better than that for the Ultimate version. We checked through the entire system to see how well standard applications (Internet, multimedia and file compression) run on each operating system. What really caught our attention was the difference in Firefox 3.5-the Linux version is way behind in JavaScript benchmarks. The Windows versions give a better fight even in case of the CSS test page on local disks, and Windows 7 was especially good here.

Multimedia: problem-free onWindows7

We played HD trailer!; as well as normal resolution MPEG films in VLC Media Player for the multimedia tests. MPEGs played smoothly every time, but the CPU utilization under Linux was more than 30 percent, whereas it did not even reach 20 percent on average in Windows. The Starter Edition was ahead, since the Aero interface of the Ultimate Edition needs additional resources. Netbooks aren’t really expected to work well with HD videos at resolutions of 1920 x 1080 or higher-their hardware is just not sufficient for that. The picture was not smooth at all and the films resembled slideshows of still frames. A minimum of 8 percent of frames were dropped on every system. Windows 7 was less problematic than XP, and in fact it already has an in-built H.264 decoder for HD films with the latest Windows Media Player. The HD trailer was jerky here as well, but it at least ran more smoothly in Windows Media Player. MPlayer is the alternative for Linux, but it did not manage to perform like the decoder in Windows 7. We used the free tool Handbrake to transcode films, and tried to convert an MPEG film to a smaller resolution fit for cellphones. Handbrake uses x264 as its encoder, and managed just over 8 frames per second in Linux; all the three Windows versions manage more than 10 frames per second. XP was just a little ahead in video transcoding; and this was also the case when we tried compressing files, for which we used the command line tool bzip2. XP needed just over 4 minutes for a 240 MB file; it took about 30 seconds longer in Ubuntu. In addition, we used WinRAR for compressing in Windows and the built-in RAR tool in Linux. Linux clearly fared badly in this comparison: zipping 1,360 files in the RAR format took almost 16 minutes: WinRAR in XP on the other hand was done in just 12 minutes. Overall, the tested applications run somewhat better in Windows even though Linux uses fewer resources. However, Windows 7 in particular may face more problems on devices with only 512 MB of RAM, and other weaker features. Linux on the other hand would not complain with such hardware.

Security: casual with Linux

Malwares target Windows, the operating system family with the largest number of targets in circulation. Linux users can relax a bit in this case. In addition normal user accounts do not have any administrator rights. In Ubuntu, the user can only install a new program if he has the root password. However, the frequency of password requests is kept within limits in Linux, unlike Vista which irritated users. Programs are also installed using a central software management system; one password prompt is enough for several installations here. With Windows 7. Microsoft has improved its user account control behavior. Windows now also protects RAM against the dangerous effects of a buffer overrun. Hence, Windows 7 is at the moment able 0 hold its own with Linux in terms of security. On the other hand Xp is simply outdated from this point of view. it does not even offer an integrated tool for data backup. no backup tool is loaded when installing Ubunt notebook remix either, but one can be obtained later manually. In the end, we chose the one which presents the best compromise.

 

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