Microsoft Windows 7 Test Drive, Part 3
Back again with Microsoft Windows 7 tests. I received the 64-bit Windows XP system hard drive from Puget Systems I mentioned earlier this week and ran my comparative tests. I'll include the test descriptions (again) for those who jumped directly to these results. If you've already read the Windows Vista vs. Windows 7 results from earlier, you can just focus on the tables.
I tested the Adobe Creative Suite using both synthetic and real-world tests. The synthetic tests started with a 3:30 DV project with a range of effects, including chroma key, slow motion, and color correction, along with a superimposed logo and timecode. Outputting to the presets shown in Table 1, Windows 7 proved about the same for H.264 and VP6 output, but 22 percent faster when outputting Windows Media, a disparity that I also saw when outputting Windows Media Video with Sony Creative Software Vegas Pro.
Next, I tested with a range of HD source formats. The HDV-source video was a 1-minute multicam project with one base track and a half-sized picture-in-picture (PIP) floating from upper right to lower left with one 360-degree rotation. I output all HD formats to the H.264-Apple TV 720p preset. As you can see in Table 2, rendering with Windows 7 was 7 percent faster than that with Windows XP.
The AVCHD and DVCPRO HD-source projects were both 1-minute long with three clips on the timeline, a single base clip, a static half-sized PIP, and another half-sized PIP panning from upper right to lower left with one 360-degree rotation. Windows 7 was 5 percent faster than XP in the AVCHD trials and 2 percent faster in the DVCPRO HD trials.
The Red Digital Cinema Red One source project was a variation on the same theme, with one static background track and a spinning, panning PIP. I rendered a 34-second chunk of the project, and Windows 7 proved 15 percent faster than Windows XP.
Next I rendered two real-world projects with the two operating systems. The first was the 53-minute second act of a ballet production shot with two HDV camcorders and edited using Adobe Premiere Pro's multicam feature. Effects included color and gamma correction, with about 2 minutes of rolling credits at the end of the video. I output this to widescreen MPEG-2, and Windows 7 proved 6 seconds faster than XP, a meaningless differential.
The second project was a 10-minute, single-camera widescreen DV concert shoot rendered to YouTube widescreen SD format. Here, Windows 7 proved 6 percent faster than XP.
I tested the 64-bit version of Vegas Pro with an AVCHD-based synthetic test about 6 minutes long. As with the Premiere Pro projects, the project had two tracks: one static base track and a half-sized PIP that panned from the lower left hand corner to the upper right hand corner with a 360-degree rotation thrown in for good measure. Effects applied to the base clips included color correction, Gaussian blur, light rays, and film grain, with a millimeter logo overlay and timecode insertion atop.
I rendered using the output presets shown in Table 4. Windows 7 was 5 percent slower when producing H.264, 2 percent faster when producing MPEG-2, and 30 percent faster when producing Windows Media Video. As with Adobe Media Encoder, Microsoft really has seemed to boost the encoding speed of WMV files on the new OS. Otherwise, the differences are insignificant.
My working hypothesis coming into this project was that XP was the speed demon, Vista the performance laggard, and Windows 7 a compromise between the two. As it turned out, XP was the slowest performer on nine of 13 testsso much for perception as reality.
Microsoft is to be congratulated for speeding up the once-slow Vista and for making sure that Windows 7 didn't suffer the same kind of initial performance woes. While you won't see a significant performance boost with Windows 7 unless you're producing Windows Media Video files, you likely won't see a performance drop off, even as compared to Windows XP.
When I requested my test system, the folks at Puget Systems advised me that 64-bit Windows XP is getting harder to find in the reseller channel. After these results, I'm convinced that there's very little reason to look for XP for new computers, and certainly I would choose Windows 7 over Vista because it's more usable. On the other hand, there are few compelling performance advantages to be gained by upgrading your existing XP or Vista computers to Windows 7 unless you're a heavy Windows Media Video producer.
As you've read, to test the three operating systems, I used an eight-core Intel Nehalem-based Genesis II computer from Puget Systems, configured with three system drives that I could swap in and out at will. This proved exceptionally convenient, and since the system has the latest Intel CPUs and plenty of RAM, the tests are very relevant to editors seeking the optimal editing configuration.
For the most part, I've consistently tested with computers from large companies such as HP, Dell, and Apple for my tests, and I was curious how a smaller company such as Puget Systems differentiated its products from those of the large companies. So I asked Jon Bach, the president of Puget Systems, who started the company back in 2000 using a ping-pong table in his parent's basement.
His response was illuminating. Basically, his company targets power-users, gamers, and home enthusiasts, and it is now starting to target postproduction facilities. The company has a high-touch sales cycle that often takes 30 days or so, with multiple back–and-forth conversations regarding the optimal configuration for the buyer. After ordering, you get a steady stream of emails detailing the status of your computer, with such niceties as the thermal-imaging shots that check heat dispersion and benchmark test results, and a QA chart that identifies the testers by name.
Puget Systems assembles the systems out of off-the-shelf parts, and it includes a plastic bag full of screws, nuts, bolts, and other detritus removed during installation. That way, if you later decide to modify your configuration, you should have all the spare parts that you need. Overall, if you're a relative newbie, it's a comfortable way to acquire a computer, with lots of education and hand-holding along the way.
Where Puget can't match large company offerings is in certification for third-party applications such as PTC Pro/Engineer. Because the company works with off-the-shelf components, including the case, the Genesis can't match the acoustic characteristics of computers such as the Mac Pro or HP Z800, which are both noticeably quieter, or the custom look or serviceability of these units. Puget also doesn't offer the extras available from HP, such as videoconferencing solution SkyRoom or Remote Graphics Software, which allows users to access other workstations on a network. Finally, Puget doesn't offer the onsite support options available from other Windows vendors such as Dell and HP.