Feature Recap

As we have already covered the bulk of Windows 7’s new features in our look at the Windows 7 Release Candidate, we’re not going to spend too much time here. If you want an in-depth look at the new features, please see that article.

Performance

Vista’s performance was something of a quagmire. Even after SP1 fixed its biggest issues, it continued to be rather RAM hungry and poorly suited for low-end computers and newly minted cheap computers with the performance of older low-end computers. Netbooks made this situation particularly problematic for Microsoft, as their limited performance amplified this issue and resulted in netbooks shipping with Windows XP almost exclusively.

For Windows 7, Windows has been put on a diet in order to perform better on those machines. The most noticeable changes here are that Windows 7 eats less RAM and hard drive space out of the box than a comparable version of Vista did. There have also been some underlying tweaks to SuperFetch (it’s less aggressive on startup) and the kernel to improve responsiveness.

Our own experience here is that Microsoft has come through on this, although whether it’s enough is going to depend on just what someone is looking for. We have a few laptops where Vista was an absolute slug while Win7 runs just as well as Windows normally does. For someone looking for Win7 to perfectly replicate XP’s performance however, they’re going to come away disappointed – you’re never going to stuff something like Windows 7 in to the performance characteristics of an 8 year-old OS that forgoes real security and predates wireless networking.

Also while these changes should percolate to higher-end computers, the impact will be marginal at best. Vista had enough going on that it could bog-down low-end hardware, but hardware that as already capable of running Vista well isn’t going to greatly benefit from changes made to squeeze more out of the low-end. We’ll see this in detail later with our benchmarks.

Media

Windows’ media capabilities have been greatly augmented with Windows 7, primarily through the inclusion of decode and encode capabilities for a number of video and audio formats. While Vista included support for MPEG-2/1 and WMV9 video, Win7 has added support for much more contemporary codecs: H.264 and MPEG-4 (A)SP. Audio support has seen the inclusion of support for AAC and AAC+ audio, commonly found as companion audio streams for H.264 video, streaming internet radio, and portable media players.


Windows Media Player playing a 30Mb H.264 clip entirely in software without breaking a sweat

This gives Windows 7 the ability to play just about everything entirely out of the box, forging the need to deal with codec hell. The only notable things missing here are support for BluRay playback (you’ll need separate software), and some media container types (OGG, Matroska, MOV).

Encode support has been added for H.264 video and AAC audio through the Media Foundation Transcode class. This gives Win7 the ability to encode video on the fly for loading media on to portable media players and streaming to other devices (e.g. DLNA). However the use of this feature is quite limited at this time; only a handful of media players support the level of integration with Windows required to use the encoder. iPods need not apply.

Meanwhile Windows Media Center has seen its own improvements on top of the benefits it derives from greater codec support. At a high level this is a general UI touchup. At a low level this includes adding support for ClearQAM cable tuners, and the user-installation of CableCARD tuners.

Graphics

Windows 7 also brings about some additions to graphics capabilities. The headliner here is DirectX 11, whose introduction is being timed with the launch of Windows 7. DX11 is being released on Vista too any day now, so this is by no means an exclusive feature, but given the timing, it’s one of importance. We’ve already seen AMD launching their 5700 series and 5800 series ahead of Windows 7, so that they can have DX11-supporting cards on the shelves for this launch.

Windows 7-specific changes include the addition of WDDM 1.1, which is a minor update to the video driver stack for better memory utilization. This is accomplished by keeping the texture for a window (when using Aero for desktop composition) solely in VRAM instead of keeping a copy in local system memory too. WDDM 1.1 also brings support for heterogeneous display adapters, something Vista took away.

The GDI graphics stack has also been tweaked for performance reasons. Previously only a single application could write to it at once, making GDI writes a bottleneck. The stack has been changed so that now it’s the responsibility of the GPU to schedule multiple writes, rather than having an application blocked. We haven’t been able to find any performance cases where this is of help, however.


Images courtesy Microsoft

Low-Level

While Windows 7 is not the sizable overhaul of Windows that Vista was, it still has a few low-level changes. The biggest change for users is the official support for the TRIM command for SSDs, which will improve SSD write performance without the need for manual refreshes. The kernel’s dispatcher lock has also been rebuilt for better scaling; previously it effective topped out at 32 cores, now it scales to 256 cores. This will be more felt on the server branch, Windows Server 2008 R2.

Windows XP Mode

Primarily targeted at business users, Microsoft has officially added a derivative of their VirtualPC virtualization technology to Windows 7 in the form of Windows XP Mode. Windows XP Mode is a pre-configured Windows XP Pro virtual machine for running applications that just won’t run natively under Win7, allowing businesses to half-step to Windows 7 as part of a longer transition. It comes as a separate download available for Win7 Professional and higher editions, and no, it doesn’t run games.

Interface

The bulk of the changes in Windows  7 are going to be things that you can see, literally. Various interface elements have received drastic overhauls, and at the risk of slighting all of the other groups at Microsoft, more work appears to have been put in here than anywhere else.


The Windows 7 Taskbar

Chief among these is the near-total replacement of the taskbar. The new Win7 taskbar is much closer to Mac OS X’s dock in appearance and function. Active applications appear on the taskbar as just large(r) versions of their application icon, and icons can be pinned in place so that they can be launched from the taskbar in the future, not unlike the old Quick Links feature. Undoubtedly, this is going to be the hardest thing for new users to get used to, although it’s certainly not hard to grow accustomed to.


The Control Panel Jump List

Along-side the dock taskbar are jump lists, which are replacing the normal right-click menu for items in the taskbar. Jump lists contain application specific commands, standard window manipulation commands, and recently used files for the application in question. Applications need to be coded to make full use of jump lists.

Also added are a pair of new Aero gestures. Aero Snap causes an application to be maximized when it’s dragged to the very edge of a screen, and returned to normal when dragged away. Aero Shake minimizes all other windows when a window has been shaken. Microsoft’s Rolodex-wannabe Flip3D is still here, much to our chagrin.

Other notable changes include gadgets, which have been liberated from the sidebar in order to reside on the desktop, and the classic Start Menu, which has been terminated entirely in favor of the Vista (and later) Start Menu. Finally, the whole default color scheme of Windows has been redone; pea green is out, blue/grey is in.

UAC

Finally, User Account Control, the fundamental underpinningsof Vista’s enhanced security, has also seen an overhaul. By reducing the integrity of UAC slightly so that by default it auto-elevates signed Microsoft programs, Microsoft hopes to reduce the perceived annoyance of UAC without compromising the actual security. As a result, UAC should be less noticeable, particularly when first setting up a computer. However there are possible security consequences of this, which we’ll get in to later

Index What’s New Since Win 7 RC
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  • happymanz - Sunday, November 08, 2009 - link

    Hi,

    I am currently have w7 64bit installed on my comp, but I still prefer to use XP.

    Issues:

    Windows 7 64bit seems to think I have a LCD monitor, and when I go below 1600x1200 everything becomes blurry as if I was running 16x AA in 400x300 res in a non native res on lcd. (only heard of this happening in 64bit w7)

    Windows 7 Has no proper way to disable mouse accel (logitech drivers are an exception). In XP someone made a fix to completely disable it on kernel level. (Microsoft dont care about pc gamers?)

    Monitor hertz: People are having problems, both 32 and 64 bit w7.
    Some people on the ESR forums (quakenerd community site) said that they had to cut pins on their vga cable to be able to set HZ.

    USB hertz: Some people like setting a high HZ on their mice, and its kind of a pain doing this without using a driverpackage that came with your fancy samurai xtreme 8000dpi quadlaser mouse.

    Sound drivers: Why is it that sound is so much better on xp when gaming? In xp my 3d soundstage is excellent, but in vista\w7 it feels as if the soundstage is more limited. (I play using headphones)

    Windows update: confusing, and its much harder to keep track of what updates you want to download (I guess that's why they call it user friendly)

    UAC: big improvement over the old one, but I'd rather be behind the wheel than in the backseat giving directions.

    Icons: EVERYTHING IS XBOX HUEG!

    I didn't pay for my windows 7, since I got a free license (No, I did not pirate it). I'm still gonna stick with my trusty old XP install for now.
    Reply
  • Cank - Saturday, November 07, 2009 - link

    Keep 'em coming... Reply
  • HangFire - Tuesday, November 03, 2009 - link

    "So if Win7 succeeds where Vista failed, it’s going to be because of marketing and word of mouth."

    I disagree. The way Win7 will succeed where Vista failed is that Windows users will no longer put off new computer purchases or backdate to XP. Likewise, Win7 will succeed the same way Vista succeeded, through OEM sales. The primary difference is almost all those sales will continue to run the OEM O/S.

    This user behavior is not just a marketing and word of mouth victory. It is positive user response to good work done by Microsoft. Microsoft has done something earthshaking, for their culture and Operating Systems in general, they have released a new O/S that is not bigger (in disk image) or slower then the last version. Win7 boots up faster and is more user responsive than Vista (something your benchmarks truly don't measure). This is not marketing or word of mouth. This is empirical, even if you failed to benchmark it.

    I watched with bemusement the peculiar vengeance of friends and coworkers either a.) Buying new computers and backdating to XP and/or b.) putting off new computer buys and/or upgrading XP systems to avoid Vista. I'm not talking about Microsoft haters and Linux lovers, I'm talking about died-in-the-wool Windows users who saw nothing wrong with Windows XPSP3 (plenty wrong with older XP though).

    Vista backdating and postponed post-Vista sales may be "edge cases" but they are critical to Microsoft in a down economy. MS needs both OEM sales AND retail sales to maintain market share and profitability. Users maintaining XP licenses ad infinitum are a huge drain as MS has to continue to maintain security on this rather porous O/S without benefit of much new revenue coming in from it.

    Reply
  • PR3ACH3R - Tuesday, November 03, 2009 - link

    The biggest queston, was answered if you read between the lines.

    After a failed OS release, This os makes sense for a new modern PC, but fails at being what we all Desktop users hoped for,a better workstation OS Then XP.

    Truly Disappointing, claiming a performance victory over a failed product (Vista), does not translate to a performacne victory over a decade old product.

    Micsosoft was truly caught offguard about how educated even joe average was, when he said I will not pay for a bloated gui pretending to be a better performing product.

    This is what users voted agains in Vista,
    & to these ears, it sounds like the lesson was not fully applied.

    If I am buying a new car, it can be nicer looking & shinier,
    but it better be better performing as well.

    Somehow microsoft banked against this logic,underestimating it's clients intelligence.

    Yes, we all want a new product.
    but marginally better, at considerable financial & resource expense .. will just not fly with many users
    Reply
  • computerfarmer - Tuesday, November 03, 2009 - link

    I have notice some people are have a problem sharing there printer with windows 7.
    I found the real answer to the windows 7 additional printer driver problem for network sharing. It is in the name windows 7 names the printer. The INF file has it listed as a different name, there for it does not see it as a driver for your printer. You can change this in the INF file to match the windows 7 name.

    My printer is attached to the Windows 7(64) PC and I can now access it from my Laptop Vista x86.

    Example: Windows 7 calls my printer "Canon Inkjet iP4300"
    In the INF file the printer is called "Canon iP4300"
    The difference is the word "Inkjet"

    Open the INF file with notepad and edit it and save then go ahead and add additional drivers.

    My original INF
    ;Windows2000
    [Canon]
    "Canon iP4300" = CNM_0294XP, LPTENUM\CanoniP4300F404, USBPRINT\CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300

    ;WindowsXP
    [Canon.NTx86.5.1]
    "Canon iP4300" = CNM_0294XP, LPTENUM\CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300
    "Canon iP4300" = CNM_0294XP, USBPRINT\CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300

    My Modified INF file
    ;Windows2000
    [Canon]
    "Canon Inkjet iP4300" = CNM_0294XP, LPTENUM\CanoniP4300F404, USBPRINT\CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300

    ;WindowsXP
    [Canon.NTx86.5.1]
    "Canon Inkjet iP4300" = CNM_0294XP, LPTENUM\CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300
    "Canon Inkjet iP4300" = CNM_0294XP, USBPRINT\CanoniP4300F404, CanoniP4300
    Reply
  • Looey - Saturday, October 31, 2009 - link

    There are a few people who visit forums with the idea to knock competitors products regardless of how good they are. When these people invade a forum they leave as much negative information about a product that hurts their own bottom line. I remember a forum that had some bad posts about AMD where the poster was traced back to Intel. It reminds me of TV advertisements from Apple and Microsoft.

    I read some of the comments in a forum with much skepticism. When someone says Windows or Macs blow, then I know their comment is not honest as both if these operating systems are very nice. If you're talking politics or religion, then anything goes.

    Windows 7 is a very nice OS. It works on many kinds of hardware and allows people to easily get a job done. 7 has many updates that make the various UIs easier to use. Ever try to delete several files and have one of them in use in XP? In 7 you will get the chance to skip the in use file and delete the rest with out the hassle in XP. There are many other nice improvements to make your PC session easier and more enjoyable in 7. The same goes for almost any of the systems commercially available. When they are updated there are usually improvements made to make your life easier and eliminate problems.
    Reply
  • ghot - Friday, October 30, 2009 - link

    Windows XP Pro w/SP2
    AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition 125W
    ASUS M4N82 Deluxe nVidia 980a SLI Motherboard
    ASUS AMI 0802 BIOS
    Realtek ALC888/1200 nVidia MCP72 HD Audio
    EVGA 01G-P3-1280-AR GeForce GTX 280 1GB 512-bit
    Corsair CM2X2048-8500C5D Dual Channel [5-5-5-15-22-2T-2.1v]
    SATA WD 300GB Velociraptor
    Seagate 7200.10 250GB
    LG GH22LS30 CD/DVD Burner
    PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W Quad EPS12V
    ViewSonic G90FB Black 19" CRT Monitor
    Generic Altec Lansing (2)
    Logitech Optical M-BT96a

    Coolermaster ATCS 840 Full Tower Case
    3x230mm, 1x120mm, Optional: 3x Scythe S-Flex SFF21G 120mm
    ZALMAN CNPS 10X Extreme CPU Cooler

    OK..that's out of the way...i think we can all agree that this system OC'd to 3.7Ghz for 24/7 operation is NOT a piece of crap.

    I've run Win 7 from the alpha to the RTM on this same system.
    XP pro 32 bit is faster in every game or benchmark I run.

    Not only that, but my Win XP install is now, 7 years old and has been moved (via Ghost 2003) from an nForce 2 to an nForce 5 and now to my current motherboard....ONLY changes to my primary partition image, have been the chipset and display drivers.

    Sure, I've now got XP Pro tweaked for all it's worth....but here's some interesting news....

    I have not had one infection or BSOD (other than due to over clocking) for the past 7 years, running XP Pro. Simply put, if you aren't computer literate, don't blame the OS....any OS. The blame is on the user...period. I CAN get infected on XP, Vista or Win 7 without even trying hard. The Win 7 dock/taskbar is a joke and totally useless, as are the "libraries". As for driver/app compatibility...Win 7 is compatible NOW....but as devs roll out new apps and hardware, Win 7 will suffer just like all the other OS's.

    As for Win 7, I'm going to pass. I don't CARE if it can't run all my household media devices, which it could if I so chose.

    Ms is not in the business of creating GREAT OS's, they are in the business of making money. They screwed up when they made XP Pro, they did it RIGHT! Now they are paying for it.

    If you WANT to be sheep, led around with MS's ring through your nose.....go for it, I won't stop you.

    This comment if for those folks that don't have money to throw around and are being possibly swayed into purchasing yet another MS operating system, with the belief that they won't have problems with it down the road, or that it will be a better OS than XP.

    There's a REASON XP has been around for so long....it works....well!

    Don't anyone waste time saying I don't know what I'm talking about or that I am spreading FUD :/ I know what I SEE when I run these OS's on the same system. No amount of graphs or suspect benchmarks will change what MY benchmarks show me. I've been in the computer business for almost 30 years (from mainframes to PCs to consoles).

    All I'm saying is before you rush out and buy a new OS, wait a year or so then Google: Windows 7 issues....for example. Because that's when the truth comes out. Microsoft can buy off ANY reviewer, and although I'm not saying this HAS happened here, I just want people to realize that it is easily done.

    I'm a long time fan of AnandTech...but these benchmarks are far from accurate. I attribute that more to the fact that this site is more attuned to hardware reviews, and one of the best in that endeavor.

    Again save your time responding to this...I won't be back here to even see them until I'm ready for new hardware again...then this will be the 1st place I go :)
    Reply
  • rs1 - Thursday, October 29, 2009 - link

    I find it borderline ridiculous that in your entire article about Win 7, with its lukewarm conclusion and all, you never once mentioned Homegroups. Having installed Win 7 on several machines myself, I think that this is the coolest new feature in Windows 7, and easily enough to justify making the upgrade all by itself. In case you weren't paying attention, Homegroups let you easily share movies, music, printers, pictures, documents, and whatever else you want between all of your computers. And the great thing about it is that Homegroups just work. This is a major improvement, because although it was possible to get similar results in previous versions of Windows, doing so was a major pain in the ass, and required a fairly long and error-prone intial setup process, and several more manual steps on each machine to set up the shared media once the network was established. Homegroups bring an end to all that, as all you do is give each PC the password, and then they can all talk with each other instantly. Not only that, but the level of integration is superb. Homegroup libraries automatically show up in WMP, and can be easily browsed and searched in Explorer. Gone is the slow and clunky network browser interface of old.

    I love how easily the Homegroup allows me to stream music from my desktop to my laptop when I am working, and how it lets me download a movie onto my laptop, and then easily play it on my HDTV (which is hooked up to one of the desktops), without having to go to any crazy lengths to make it work, and how it finally took all the pain out of getting the networked printed to work. Homegroups take a bunch of features that were technically present in previous versions of Windows, give them a much tighter integration with the UI, and make them much easier to use, and the result is something so completely awesome that for anyone who has multiple PC's switching to Windows 7 from any previous version should be a no-brainer.

    And once again, I am quite disappointed that your article failed to even brush upon this topic. You give Win 7 such a lukewarm reception in your conclusion, but at the same time you've completely neglected to take into account one of its new features that can provide a significant reason to upgrade for anyone who has more than one PC at home.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, October 29, 2009 - link

    I do agree, that it could be a pain in the butt once in a while to setup file sharing in Windows XP. But hardly worth the additional fee to upgrade. Because of this pain in the rear however, we have learned over time how to get things working.

    Since we always used professional HP products for printing, running the install wizard from HP was all that was required to get things working correctly. Sometimes this does require knowing a bit about networks( including your own network ). But if you know this( as you should ), I fail to see how it is a problem.

    Now if this is somehow related to the lack of permissions in XP home; Perhaps I could see your point. This is not what I am seeing you write however.

    Anyways, perhaps the writers of this article share my opinion on the matter ?
    Reply
  • rs1 - Friday, October 30, 2009 - link

    Even if they share your opinion, they should have at least mentioned that the feature is present, and that they don't feel that it adds anything.

    And not everyone has the time or ambition to learn the ins and outs of Windows networking. For them, making it easier/seamless is probably a worthwhile feature.
    Reply

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