For the past couple of weeks, we've been running tests on a few laptops to investigate how various factors impact battery life. Our first article looked at browser battery life, and the results were interesting to say the least. Most browsers were relatively close, but the use of websites with Flash content tended to tip the scales in favor of Internet Explorer. We have more tests in store today, this time looking at battery life with different operating systems along with other aspects of day-to-day OS use.

Representing the Microsoft camp, we have the venerable Windows XP SP3, our current standard of Windows Vista 64-bit SP2, and the up and coming Windows 7 64-bit RTM. Not too fond of Microsoft operating systems? We've got you covered there as well, with benchmarks using Ubuntu 9.0.4, although it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that we encountered some difficulties getting Linux configured properly. We'll have more to say about that in a moment. This isn't a Linux/Ubuntu review by any means, as we're just looking at the out-of-box experience with as little tweaking as possible. If you're running Linux on a laptop, though, the results will be… enlightening.

Our two test laptops from Gateway make another appearance, the AMD-based NV52 and the Intel-based NV58. These are both entry-level laptops, but more importantly they both use integrated graphics so battery life is actually reasonable. If you have a high-end laptop with discrete graphics, changing your operating system isn't likely to make nearly as big of a difference. We've already compared performance of the two Gateway notebooks, so the focus here is going to be on how much of a difference the operating system can make. We did use the same settings where possible, so you can also make comparisons between the two platforms if you so desire. However, our general opinion hasn't changed with the use of different operating systems.

If your focus is on battery life and general performance, the Intel-based NV58 is clearly superior. On the other hand, AMD's integrated graphics are typically twice the speed of Intel's GMA 4500MHD, so users interested in gaming/graphics and video decoding might be better served by the AMD setup. Then again, if you want the best of both worlds - high-performance and improved gaming performance without compromising on battery life - you might be interested in spending more money. We have a review of Dell's Studio 14z in progress, which uses an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics paired with an Intel CPU. Yes, it's more expensive - potentially a lot more expensive! - than both Gateway system, and it doesn't come with an optical drive, but it provides better performance than the NV52 and NV58 and similar battery life to the NV58. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Besides looking at battery life, we are also going to provide a few quick benchmarks under the three Windows operating systems. These are not comprehensive benchmarks by any means, as we simply ran the various Futuremark 3DMark/PCMark tests suites, but they do provide a point of reference. In addition, we'll be looking at common day-to-day OS tasks like the time to boot/shutdown, hibernate/resume, and sleep/wake. If you're curious about which OS is the fastest and best suited for use on a laptop, this article should provide some answers - and perhaps a few new questions as well.

Test Setup
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  • orionmgomg - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    You are right - I did shouldn't have been so brass on saying who cares - it is a very well written artical and I am sure you spent a lot of time puttinmg together very accurate data for the people who actually do care.

    Sorry for being thoughtless to say the least.

    I always love anandtech and I love all the articals and the diversity of reviews and studies.

    I just had a knee reaction to this because every time I buy a lappy - and test the battery for the first time, I realize - yes battery performance gets better and better - even though ever so slightly, but I also realize with great frustration that you really can not rely on battery power for the most part - it will get you out of a jam for sure - but to base any computing time on battery power is futile - that has been my expreiance and so I made those comments more out of my own frustration than anything...

    Thank you for all the hard work, good articals and being the very best tech web site!
    Reply
  • Fox5 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Ubuntu may be released on a 6 month time frame, but by the time a version comes out, the software in it is 6 months out of date. Since Linux is finally getting some real development attention, it's advancing very quickly, and being 6 months to a year out of date represents a large change in features.

    Hold off on any future Ubuntu comparisons until Ubuntu 9.10 (fresh install only). It switches to the ext4 file system which fixes some firefox performance issues and should decrease boot times as well and should have more up to date drivers. It's also the next long-term release I believe, which is kind of scary considering how much new stuff they're adopting in that version.

    I'm surprised you couldn't get the latest ATI proprietary driver installed though. I've used both ATI and nvidia cards in linux, and ati by far had the easier install process. If I recall, it was as simple as sudo ./atiinstaller and then hitting enter a few times. Then again, I've also heard ati integrated chipsets have horrible driver support under linux, so they may not be supported, though I'd think the hd3200 igp would be since it's still fairly recent.

    The intel drivers may also get a big boost in ubuntu 9.10. There's some new video driver (or just 3d?) framework being introduced and the older Intel drivers have all but been abandoned to work on the new framework, so a lot of issues that need fixing aren't even being considered for the current drivers in use.
    Reply
  • themissinglint - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    This reads like you guys don't know your way around GNU Linux systems well enough to get what you could out of them. It reads like you did the minimum to get it running, which is, from a perspective, fair, since that was probably more work than you put into the Windows OSs.

    It's also a small sample because you're only using one/two set ups. Laptops like these are optimized up and down for Windows. Of course that is also true for most computers people buy.

    Overall, I am glad to see Ubuntu included at all-- it's usually absent from these sorts of tests. The more you include it, the more experience AnandTech will have running Ubuntu (and other Linux systems), and the more you'll be able to get from it. Also, Ubuntu in particular is quickly becoming more out-of-the-box (as more and more people contribute to development on more and more machines). In the next couple years you'll be testing Linux systems that will blow Windows away in some places.

    But: Kudos on including Ubuntu... where's OS X? Couldn't you get it to run on a Gateway machine?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Not going to try OS X on a hackintosh... at least not yet. As for the ATI drivers, I went through the manual install procedure multiple times and was greeted with a failed driver message. It was so bad that I couldn't even get back to the original Ubuntu ATI fglxr driver and ended up just going back to my previous Ubuntu image. I did it three times following various instructions and it failed each time. :(

    If someone has specific experience with getting an optimized driver for the HD 3200 working, point me at some instructions. The experience right now unfortunately was horrible. All the DVD playback programs I tried on Ubuntu crashed when using the latest "stable Ubuntu Jaunty" driver package, sometimes after five minutes, sometimes after 60 minutes. If you weren't at the PC when the DVD playback froze up, the system would eventually enter a completely locked up state (a la the lovely BSOD, but with no error message).

    I still have the laptops and will test out other options if any of you want to point me to guides that are of reasonable quality. I got just a brief glimpse of what Ryan experienced over the past year with Ubuntu, though, and I didn't want to get sucked in any further. I have plenty of other reviews I need to get done!
    Reply
  • smitty3268 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I think that crash during video playback is fixed by turning off redirected rendering when full screen apps are active (it's an option in Compiz somewhere). Or you could just turn off desktop compositing completely. It seems like the newer drivers have fixed that, but I'm not running fglrx and I don't remember for sure. Reply
  • Fox5 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Agreed, the desktop effects, besides wasting battery life, interfere with the ATI's drivers video acceleration and should have been off during the test.
    Of course, you could then ask why Ubuntu enables something buggy by default.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I did disable Visual FX on both systems - is that the same thing? The ATI setup was pretty much a complete no-show with DVD playback before I did that. It would stutter and fail withing seconds. Sorry I didn't mention that. Reply
  • nofumble62 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Intel battery life at least 1 hour longer.

    AMD boot up time 50% longer.

    Those are the two most important things for me.
    Reply
  • jodomcfatty - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    If you look at the specs, he's comparing a Intel 4500 graphics chip with an AMD 3200HD(which while integrated, will seriously destroy the 4500 in gaming tests) but that will ALSO completely affect battery life since it can't just be turned down to 4500 usage levels. This thing alone eats up significant battery power while expelling a lot more heat.

    He did this before and I completely lose respect for him for talking battery life while using totally different setups.

    I would agree that equal systems the Intel will most likely be better, but no where near by this much.

    This article is more about the OS but even there he knows little about linux but I will say he's willing to do more testing....just seems crazy to me that he couldn't just get a AMD with a 4500(harder to find but not impossible)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    What's a better IGP for AMD than the HD 3200? You're being completely obstinate to suggest that it's not a fair comparison.

    The fact is, AMD can't do any better power-wise than what I've got in the Gateway, can it? An X1270 IGP is similar in performance to the 4500MHD, and power draw is similar to the HD 3200 (because it's on an older process).

    As for finding an AMD setup with a 4500, either you're talking about an AMD HD 4500, which would be even WORSE on power draw than the HD 3200, or you're suggesting it's possible to run an AMD CPU with an Intel chipset. It's not, as HyperTransport isn't an Intel feature and that's what AMD CPUs use.
    Reply

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