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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  • Kibbles - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    If all you have is a killawhat meter then that'll be pretty inaccurate. Not just because of the 1W accuracy but also measuing at the outlet you are also including the inefficiency of the powersupply.
    However I do agree that using the battery is throwing an extra variable into your equation. How big is it? I don't know. But I do know they don't always charge to the same capacity, and their capacity changes overtime.
    I don't know if it's possible, but I would think the best option would be to have a DC source modded into the battery connection. Then measure the #W-h used. You would probably need a good variable DC supply and voltmeter to do this (maybe borrow it from the powersupply setting team?). Even then I don't know if you can do that, I think my laptop has like 6 pins on the battery. There's probably some connection for charging, some for battery status, and then the discharge connections.
    The second option I see is putting a voltmeter on the DC-out side of the powersupply going into the laptop. You could run the benchmark without the battery for an equivalent duration and see if the W-h is close.
  • n0nsense - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Power savings in Ubuntu are far from optimal.
    I was more than surprised to see that even very basic features may or may not work.
    For example on my Gentoo box each core frequency scaled separately.
    On Ubuntu some processors are not supported. After all I thought that engineers at Canonical have better kernel understanding than me.
    As for the tests, dim option is helping with battery life.
    I don't remember such difference in battery life from my experience. Both Linux and windows where capable of ~3Hr on my laptop.
    From my very personal point of view, Ubuntu is sluggish. I compared Ubuntu, XP, 7, Debian and Gentoo performance on IBM X31 with 1GB ram.
    It started without Gentoo (It takes a while to setup fully optimized Gentoo box). Ubuntu and 7 where (IMHO only)the slowest. Debian and XP where just fine. But since I wanted more, i did the Gentoo thing. It was more than worth it.
    With Ubuntu it was overall sluggish feeling (some tests will show much better performance under it than in windows). But feeling is important when you use something. Even more important than some numbers.
    7 ... Same sluggish Vista with facelift and few tweaks that can be manually done.
    Watching icons drawn few seconds after menu displayed was more than enough. It is more stable, can work longer without reboots, but nowhere faster than XP.
    Debian with Gnome was nice so was XP. Anyway I'd stay with Linux since it's more customizable and have few useful things that make me feel handicapped in Windows.
    Gentoo once again convinced me that it worth each second (it took more than 2 days on X31. should be much faster on any dual/quad core CPU and/or using distcc). But, not everyone can do it. Even "experienced" Ubuntu/Fedora/Suse (or whatever mainstream distro) may find that his understanding of "how staff works" is not on the required level.
    Anyway it's quiet a change to see Linux participating in review.
    Good job guys :)
  • lordmetroid - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I'll be running Arch Linux on my nettop, I tried gentoo 4 years ago from stage 1 and that was a nightmare to get installed. Maybe I should try it again but Arch Linux seems to be more interesting at this point as it had many of the packages I want in its repositories that I couldn't find in gentoo.
  • stmok - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Running Arch Linux here on my ThinkPad T43...Much better than Ubuntu.

    Ubuntu feels bloated. Heck, even Xubuntu feels bloated.
  • void2 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    30..40 seconds to boot WinXP on modern CPU? That's sad. I get 7..8 seconds (boot menu to desktop, add your machine POST time yourself) on a comparable CPU (Athlon 64 X2 3800+). Clean OS, no SSD, no messing around with disabling services etc. How? Use Boot Cooler (www.bootcooler.com). It is free.
  • lyeoh - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    Why should anyone use bootcooler? The website doesn't even say what the program is _supposed_ to do, and how it achieves it. I don't see much on the web that describes or tests what it _actually_ does (as opposed to just claims), the limitations etc.

    It could be a trojan for all we know.
  • void2 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    If you haven't noticed, the website is under construction. Detailed explanation of how Boot Cooler works is included in readme.txt (in short - disk reads prefetching). And of course there are no reviews yet - the project is still in beta.
  • orionmgomg - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I love antech - waiting for the radeon hd 5870 info to hit - looking at this artical - something about your battery lasting longer on your lap top...

    WHO CARES!!!

    Give me a brake - you spend so much time on analizing minutes of extra juice it a fly is in the room or not! WHO CARES?

    Plug your lap top in the wall - dont expect it to last any longer than it does when you have a full charge and it runs out of juice.

    Once you know how long it lasts - realize your screwed - or should I say attached to the power cord!

    Oh - did I mention - who cares?

    Thanks for all your other articals!

  • orionmgomg - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    I love Anandtech*^
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    If you haven't figured it out, I'm the mobile reviewer at AnandTech, and my articles are about mobility. Writing articles about laptops doesn't mean I'm delaying any CPU or GPU reviews -- unless they happen to be mobile CPUs/GPUs. If you don't care about laptops, you don't need to read most of my articles, but please don't make the mistake of assuming no one cares. When people use a laptop on the road and don't have a chance to plug in, articles like this are very useful. If you never use a laptop, great; some people do and that's my target audience.

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