When asked, netCorps staff has recommended purchasing new computers with Windows 7 on them, but cautioned against upgrading older systems until the hardware could be tested. We did some testing in October 2011 to see how well Windows 7 performs on older hardware, and here’s the results!

We took two identical Pentium 4, 2.8GHz machines with 1GB of RAM installed and set up one with Windows XP and one with Windows 7 32-bit. We installed the same software on both machines: Microsoft Security Essentials, Firefox 7, Adobe Reader, and Microsoft Office 2007. We also installed Pathmark’s benchmarking software, which tests and grades several aspects of the system.

As we expected, the Windows XP machine scored higher on the Pathmark tests than the Windows 7 one did. However, we went on to test and time several typical office tasks on both machines as well – turning the computer on; opening a PDF document; loading the Firefox web browser; and opening Microsoft Word to a new document. On these tasks, the Windows 7 machine took roughly twice as long to start, but all other tasks took about the same amount of time or less.

In the automated testing routines done on the Windows 7 machine, the lowest scores – and the largest significant differences – were in video performance. To explore this further, we installed additional memory for this machine, bringing it up to 2GB (although the hardware could have taken more) and tested several add-in video cards. In most cases, we had to scrounge a bit to find Windows 7 compatible drivers for these cards – all were cards no longer in production, and the manufacturer website was not a reliable source of updated drivers. All of the cards improved performance somewhat, although not dramatically, and one had such difficulty with the 3D graphics that we had to disable hardware acceleration entirely to use the card.

With the additional memory and video cards installed, we added two more tests to our repertoire: we opened a large Excel spreadsheet and tested scrolling performance, and we tested the Windows Aero interface. The spreadsheet performance was tolerable with no video card installed, but improved a lot when we ran it with our overall best video card, the nVidia GeForce 6200.

We had done all of our previous testing with a Basic Theme in Windows 7, which disables several of the advanced graphical interface features, such as window transparency. The Basic themes will – and did – produce the best overall performance, but Windows Aero ran with the GeForce 6200 with no complaints.

Our testing suggests that this level of older hardware – Pentium 4, 2.8Ghz machines – can be upgraded to at least 2GB of memory and an add-in video card, and the performance on these machines will be adequate for many non-profit offices. We would still not suggest using these upgraded machines for heavy graphics or video use, but for basic office functions, they will work almost as well with Windows 7 as with Windows XP.

Raw Test Results:

Win XP – Pentium4 2.8, 1GB
Overall 323.3
CPU 504.4
2D Graphics 270.9
3D Graphics 61.5
Memory 397.3
Disk 385.1

Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 1GB
Overall 249.2
CPU 488
2D Graphics 86.4
3D Graphics 48.2
Memory 332.6
Disk 337.9

Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 1.5GB
Overall 264.4
CPU 483.3
2D Graphics 92.3
3D Graphics 55.8
Memory 393.0
Disk 325.3

Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 2GB
Overall 261.3
CPU 498.2
2D Graphics 105.7
3D Graphics 48.0
Memory 352.6
Disk 336.2

Win 7 – Pentium4 2.8, 2GB, nVidia GeForce 6200
Overall 308.3
CPU 494.8
2D Graphics 189.8
3D Graphics 59.2
Memory 459.0
Disk 348.3

Win XP Win 7
Boot to Desktop 35s 58s
Launch Firefox 8s 8s
Launch Word 7s 6s
Open PDF 3s 3s

Windows 7 Benchmark Testing
Tagged on: