OS X vs Windows Vista operating system speed comparison.

Published in Apple

If you compare Apple Macs to low cost non-branded PCs you just might come up with the shocking revelation that you CAN get a faster computer (Windows PC) for less than a Mac. If the components of a computer were the definitive measure of it's speed, then that argument might be enough. But components alone do not measure the performance of a computer. I decided to test the most important part of a computer, the software, more importantly the most important software a computer runs, the operating system to se which of the two most popular operating systems (OS X and Windows) ran faster.


I compared a Mac OS 10.5 (leopard) with windows 7. In order to get an exact performance comparison I installed both operating systems fresh on the same machine, a Dell Dimension 9250 with 1gb of RAM. It was just a simple test, all I wanted to see was: "which system actually ran faster given the same hardware?".

Cynics will say that this is not a good test, Vista was a known resource hog and the machine only had 1gb or RAM. That's true, but don't expect Windows 7 to be so much of an improvement as to invalidate the test. In my experience Windows 7 was only a little better, but by the time it came along, the machines we were running it on had also improved giving a false perception of improvement. It's also the only machines/OS's I had available and I was trying to keep things as scientific as possible (to get some kind of meaningful result). Later I bumped the RAM to 2gb and noted the difference.

Here are the results:
The OS X booted almost 5 times faster than Windows Vista and was usable as soon as the dock appeared. The PC took almost 2 mins longer after the desktop appeared become completely usable (fully responsive to the user) because it was sill starting services in the background.

OS X opened programs way faster than the Windows Vista. On Windows Vista once I opened any significantly sized program there was a noticeable wait. On OS X there no significant wait time, you clicked to open and preceded to use the program. Occasionally with an big adobe program it wouldn't be so fluid, but I still never had time to twiddle my thumbs, and such programs (like Photoshop) also took significantly longer on Windows Vista.

Opening multiple programs was a chore on Windows Vista but a dream on the OS X. On OS X it never seemed to matter how many programs I loaded, despite the 1gb limitation the system hardly seemed to lag. With Windows however, after about three or four big programs running at once not only did program opening times stretch out, but the system slowed. Open yet a few more programs at once and the system became unusably slow. Sure the would have been a point at which OS X also go bogged down

Changing between open program windows Windows became frustrating the more there were open. With a few big programs like photoshop and premier, It was horrible, I really wanted to hit things. It took so long to simply alt-tab from one program to a file window. On the Mac expose (now called mission control) was always a joy to use, all I had to do is 'flick' my mouse to the bottom corner of the screen and I could see a scaled down preview of all the open windows at the time, then flick back and click the one I want to change to. Snip-snap I was there and the more windows that were open the cooler it was to see the fast fluid motion of dozens of programs and file windows automatically present themselves in the blink of an eye. Windows Vista, with the same amount of open windows, ground almost to a halt.

After an extra gb of RAM was added:

After I bumped the RAM to 2gb things change significantly. Even though OS X was already impressively snappy I could noticed a small improvement. I say small because after the 2gb, it was pretty well perfect and you can't get much better than that. Windos Vista was a whole different machine. It wen from being unusable to usable, that was a big jump and it even responded quite well, still nowhere near as good as OS X, but much much better. Still slow to start up and run multiple programs, but acceptable at least.

Conclusion:
From the start I already new it to be true that OS X runs faster than Windows. I know this because I used them both for years. I just wanted to see it with my own eyes in a more scientific test. I'll admit that as an Apple fanboi, any scientist would doubt my results as they (however much I tried not to) will be influence by this.

Also, the relevancy of this test is less valid. At the time of writing, 4gb RAM is appearing in base computer models and we now have Windows 7 and OX 10.7 (Lion). It is known that Windows 7 benefits from improved resource handling and Lion has also benefited of speed enhancements made in Snow Leopard. However I found the experience so convincing I would be happy to simply state that, as an operating system, OS X is definitively faster.

Some would love to jump in and argue that Mac's cost more than PC's so this might make up for it a slower OS and actually, that's why I did the test. People constantly tell me that they can get faster PC for the cost of a Mac. I would argue they are not thinking about the cost of ownership, and that in the end, Macs are cheaper, but more important than that is that the "faster" components are needed in running the system. In the end I would imagine if you spent the same money on a Mac or a PC then the Mac will still come out ahead given how well it handled resources in my tests.