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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  • aahjnnot - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I can't see what software was installed on the laptops. Real-world system performance is affected adversely by the installation of everyday software, and it seems highly probable that this would also affect battery life, startup times and suspend / resume / hibernate performance.

    It would be very interesting to see a real-world test to understand whether different operating systems are more or less affected by the cruft of daily computing. I'd suggest including anti-virus, an internet security suite, an office suite, Skype, Windows Messenger, a couple of games, itunes or equivalent, some printer drivers, some backup software and a camera management application.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    The installs were all "vanilla", though I updated DirectX and installed the tested Futuremark suites on the Windows setups. In all cases, there were no Firewalls or AV software enabled. I disable automatic updates, firewall, Defender, indexing, screen savers, and set a static swap file size of 4GB. I do not try to disable any extra services, but I try to avoid any extra apps loading at start up (i.e. system tray icons that serve no real use).

    For Ubuntu, I just did the basic install and then tried to make it work. Easier said than done for a few areas. LOL. I manually added package repositories for Firefox 3.5, some drivers, and the necessary things to get DVD playback working. Far from a trim and speedy install, I know, but it's what Ubuntu uses by default, which means it's what most Ubuntu users will use.
  • aahjnnot - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I can understand why you chose a vanilla installation, but it means that your results are hardly representative of the real world. All Windows laptop users will need anti-virus; most will have a raft of additional software; and few will disable system tray entries.

    I run both XP and Ubuntu 9.04 on my laptop and on a couple of boxes at home. In all cases Ubuntu starts up significantly faster than Windows, and that's because cruft seems to affect Windows more than it does Linux - on my machines, a vanilla Windows installation is fast but unusable as it's insecure and has no applications.
  • stmok - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Which guide did you follow?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    This was the guide I found for the ATI platform:

    If their own BinaryDriver guide doesn't work, I don't have much hope for other alternatives!
  • stmok - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - link

    Hmmm...I see. Looking through the link you've provided leads to...

    Fix Ubuntu 9.04 ATI Driver Issue
    (This isn't a fix...Its merely being accommodating to the closed driver's deficiencies.)

    Essentially, you want to stay away from ATI hardware until the open source community completes their work on the open driver for ATI solutions. ie: Waiting for xf86-video-ati driver to support your video solution. (Which will take quite a while! They're making slow progress.)

    Generally, I research/pick my hardware BEFORE I install Linux. Sticking to Intel and Nvidia based solutions work best. Although, certain Intel IGPs like the GMA 500 is poorly supported. (Intel only provided a closed source driver for that particular solution).

    Of course, one also has to understand that Linux is undergoing a major graphics stack re-write. (They are replacing three old components with one)...The initiative is being led by a few Intel employees and Xorg developers. This will affect recent Intel IGPs like the GMA 3xxx, GMA X3xxx and X4xxx series.

    So I guess something like the Intel GMA900/950 IGPs or Nvidia supported solution are the ones to go for.
  • gstrickler - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Here are the conclusions I draw from this article:

    1. Anand/AnandTech will admit when their testing procedures are inadequate. Always a sign of a good researcher. Thanks, looking forward to updates when you find a more repeatable set of for "internet battery life"

    2. Win 7 drivers may still need tuning for performance and/or battery life.

    3. Win 7 battery life improvements are not likely to be the 30%+ that some vendors are claiming. You might get that much best case, but typical results will be much lower.

    4. Vista sucks. Use XP or Win 7 instead.

    5. Flash sucks. Ok, Flash is actually cool and useful, but it's implementation sucks. Adobe has never been known for small, fast, or efficient code.

    6. Currently, Intel beats AMD in power usage/battery life.

    We already knew #4-#6, and suspected #1-#3. The good news is this confirms what we already knew or suspected. The bad news it that it doesn't give us much new information.
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Well I found a couple things interesting, power profiles matter but not necessarily as much as you'd think.

    And it had never occurred to me that disabling flash would give way better battery life. It makes total sense, but without the article I wouldn't have thought of it.

    Otherwise, I agree with your analysis of 1-6

    I think the actual numbers are pretty questionable, but the author admits that there is a wide variance.

    Otherwise I found the linux results amusing, as well as the comments. We can only hope that people who work for canonical actually read these reviews and work to improve the usability of their products.
  • maveric7911 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Of All linux distributions to use, ubuntu has so much bloat its no wonder its eating battery like that. Please use other distributions out there rather then giving the same old ubuntu bloatware benches.
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    "The minimum processor state is set to 5% and the maximum processor state is 100%; we don't know how this specifically affects CPU clock speeds"

    It's actually pretty simple, and the feature only works with CPUs that have Powernow or Speedstep. The "Maximum Processor state" is how fast the CPU is allowed to run when the system experiences high-cpu load (which would normally increase CPU speed). For example, if you have the maximum set to 50% and you have a CPU that runs at 2.0ghz, Windows will limit the clock speed scaling to what ever multi gets it closest to 1.0ghz. I have my Toshiba notebook limit my 2.1ghz Turion X2 to 50% (1.0ghz) while unplugged to conserve battery power. Note that these percentages are not an exact science, as it's all dependent on the predefined power states (available multi's) of the CPU you're using. It is, however, a way to improve battery life if you don't mind slowing the system down a little. Personally, I don't need that much power while unplugged, but in the rare occasions that I did, I could always change power plans from the battery icon in the taskbar.

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