OS Mobility Explored

by Jarred Walton on September 21, 2009 6:00 PM EST

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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  • PrinceGaz - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    When surfing on my iTouch, I find that the vast majority of websites display almost the same (complete with images) despite the lack of Flash, and Java as well for that matter (it does at least support JS). There are just the odd undisplayed areas which in most cases are where I know ads would be normally. A very few websites use Flash for navigation and content display without any alternative version of the site available, but the overwhelming majority of sites display fine.

    That being said, I would prefer to have the option to enable Flash and/or Java if I wished, but would probably leave Flash off most of the time given the likely impact it would have on battery-life and overall responsiveness.
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Is there a way to force a mobile version of ESPN that still displays all the links that are flash on the main site?
  • emboss - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    For day-to-day browsing I have flash turned off. Even on Windows it speeds things up, and as a bonus kills most of the ads that try and get around ad blocking. Excluding YouTube videos, I maybe have to enable it once a month or so to use a site that's broken enough to require it.

    Then again, I use the internet for information rather than entertainment, and things like MSDN don't require flash :)
  • sc3252 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Flash isnt really a part, you can view most sites without it. The only sites that really need it are those crapy sites you really dont want to be at.
    Another nice point to make is how poorly optimized flash is for GNU/Linux. I am not surprised when using firefox without blocking flash you get such lower battery life since there is almost no acceleration on GNU/Linux. With a 3.2ghz core 2 I can't watch fullscreen flash without skipping and jerking on Debian testing.
  • pcfxer - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    With my 2.9GHz Athlon X2 5000+ BE, 4GB RAM on PC-BSD 64-bit (with the stock nvidia drivers), I am able to view full screen HD flash without a hint of trouble. This is handled via binary emulation of Linux running Firefox linux with linux flash plugins.

    Perhaps, anand could test a REAL Unix-like OS and try out PC-BSD. It is MORE "free" than Linux (GPL).
  • pcfxer - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I realize that some people may mistake this "REAL Unix-like" for seriousness, it is a joke btw. That said, I am serious about testing PC-BSD - I am a tester for them anyhow ;).

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