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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  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    Links please? I'm not a Linux guru by any stretch of the imagination, so if there's a "better" Linux option out there for testing I'm willing to give it a look. Ideally, I need something similar for the AMD platform.
  • prince34 - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    You could always look a UNR(Ubuntu Netbook Remix) as a netbook distro. It's what I use on mine. I've done some comparisons to XP on it, and it seems to follow the trends you are seeing, but not with as much disparity.

  • smitty3268 - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    I'm not sure Moblin is really a "mainstream" linux option at this point, it's more of an Intel "look at what we can do on netbooks" research project. It does supposedly have 5 second boot times. I suspect your tests here are almost completely dependent on the browser and Flash anyway, and the video drivers. All areas that Linux does not excel at - battery and performance testing of Linux + Apache or file serving would no doubt be much better.

    http://moblin.org/downloads">http://moblin.org/downloads, if you really want to try it.
  • smitty3268 - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    Or the LiveCD version: http://moblin.org/documentation/test-drive-moblin">http://moblin.org/documentation/test-drive-moblin
  • smitty3268 - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    Firefox for Linux is well known to be terribly slow and unoptimized compared to the Windows version. It would be interesting to see the battery results from running the Windows version through WINE on Ubuntu, just to see how that compares - I know it blows the Linux native version away as far as javascript performance is concerned, and I'm sure Flash is the same. You could also try Chrome, since I've heard it works quite fast, even though it's still in beta.
  • Chlorus - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    But how could that happen? I thought Linux was the most awesome OS ever? All the people on slashdot said so! Are you saying they lied? M$ SHILL!!!
  • smitty3268 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    If you read what I was saying, it doesn't have anything to do with linux, it's a Firefox problem. They've got performance bug reports that say, "fixed, for windows. we could do this for linux but not worth the effort." They don't even enable profiled compilation, which is good for a 10-15% boost on windows.
  • smitty3268 - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    Also, Ubuntu 9.04 (and other distros released last spring) had a terrible, terrible regression with Intel video driver performance. I'm not sure how much that really affects battery life, but it definitely could. Something to keep in mind, anyway, as you compare the differences between the two laptops.
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - link

    It's true about the intel driver, but let's be honest, if it wasn't the graphics driver it'd be pulse audio, or using 64 bit instead of 32 bit firefox, ext4 whatever... Seems linux get's alot of excuses for it's problems.

    I'm pretty tired of ubuntu and fedora. Releasing half-finished, barely tested, OS's to the masses is not doing linux a favour, but as the answer to everything is it's fixed in svn... you're kinda stuck.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 21, 2009 - link

    I followed a guide on fixing Intel GPU performance in Ubuntu... I don't know if it really worked or not, but here's the reference:

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1130582">Jaunty with Intel Performance Guide. I stayed with the default kernel and the "Safe" configuration, which may be partly to blame for suboptimal results. Then again, the ATI platform fared worse under Jaunty.

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