Windows 8: performance
With Microsoft deciding to push “full fat” Windows onto tablets, the operating system’s performance is going to be critical.
The company had already stated that the system requirements for Windows 8 would be no greater than those of Windows 7. Now it claims to have improved on the performance of its predecessor.
“We’re using considerably less memory in Windows 8,” claimed Gabriel Aul, director of project management for Windows fundamentals, who showed the Task Manager for Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines running side-by-side, with the latter using between 10-20% less RAM with the operating system sat idle.
Aul also claims CPU optimisations allow the processor to stay in “a lower power state for much longer”. So what does this mean for Windows 8 battery life?
Our early tests – albeit using far from finished code – suggests Windows 8 is going to lag far behind Android and iOS tablets when it comes to battery life. Our test tablet is an 11.6in Samsung device, with a Core i5-2467M processor running at 1.6GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. From almost the moment we pressed the power button, the tablet’s fans kicked in and the back of the tablet became warm to touch – providing far from desirable levels of noise and heat. Within only three hours of relatively light use, we were forced to plug the device into the mains. The iPad 2, by comparison, lasted for almost 14 hours in our battery tests.
In Microsoft’s defence, there is an element of comparing apples to pears here: Windows 8 is a more fully featured OS than Apple’s iOS, and our test tablet is running on Intel’s relaitvely power-hungry processor, not the more energy efficient ARM processors that the iPad does and Windows 8 will, so don’t draw too many conclusions from these early tests.
It’s also worth noting that Microsoft has introduced a new power state, called Connected Standby. In this mode the device is almost inactive, turning itself on occasionally to update web apps with new data. As a result, Microsoft claims standby times will be measured in days rather than hours.
Fast boot times
One area where Microsoft definitely isn’t lagging behind is boot times. From a completely cold start, Microsoft demonstrated Windows 8 laptops booting to the new Start screen in less than eight seconds. It’s even faster when shutting down, switching off in less than four seconds in one demonstration. We’ve recorded similar times on our test tablet, too.
There’s more good news for people plagued by Windows Updates kicking in when they try and rush out of the door in a hurry: if an update requires a reboot users will be granted a “grace period” allowing them to choose when the update should be applied.
No version of Windows – even one primarily pitched at tablets – would be complete without a Task Manager. Microsoft has completely revamped the Task Manager for Windows 8. The default screen shows only the running applications, allowing users to quickly kill a stalled app.
The more detailed view, however, provides a pleasing level of detail for techies. There’s now a heatmap of resources, with applications consuming more than their fair share of memory or CPU cycles shown in a darker shade of yellow, allowing you to easily identify the resource hogs on your system.
The new Task Manager also reveals how the new Metro Style are pushed into “suspended” state when they’ve been pushed into the background. In this state, they can still retain data in memory, but don’t lock up any CPU cycles.
It’s also now possible to prevent applications from running on start-up from the Task Manager, making it easier to kill the harmful effects of manufacturer-installed crapware.
Microsoft has also delivered a couple of new features for when things go horribly wrong with your PC. The new boot-up sequence includes an option to restore your device to factory settings – a process that Microsoft demonstrated taking less than five minutes.
There’s also a new option to “refresh” your PC. This retains all your files, data, favourites, and applications downloaded from the Microsoft Store, and lays them on top of a fresh installation of the operating system – again, in around five minutes. Microsoft claims this will be particularly helpful on occasions when a rogue app takes command of file associations, and will also help cut the workload of IT support desks who are often called on to re-image a misbehaving PC.