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TR's Windows performance comparison

As if you needed another trilogy
— 1:33 AM on November 8, 2001

Get past all that, however, and the first question that comes to mind (to us anyway) is "But is it any faster?" In the past, the tendency has been for newer Microsoft operating systems to run more slowly on older hardware, but offer performance benefits on well-equipped systems. Windows XP offers a new twist in that it's designed to bridge the gap between the 9x kernel and the NT kernel. How does Windows XP stack up from a performance standpoint, compared not only to Windows 2000, but to Windows ME?

Apart from InfoWorld's results, which show WinXP to be much slower than Win2K, not much research has been done one the performance characteristics of Microsoft's new operating system. Since Windows XP stands to replace both Windows 2000 and Windows ME, it seems appropriate to compare the new OS to its predecessors on a variety of tests; simply throwing a couple of Office tests at these OSes won't do them justice. Additionally, given the past importance of hardware on the results, testing on one platform would be inadequate. Therefore, we've compiled a wide array of synthetic and real world benchmarks, on both a high-end and low-end test platform, to determine the ultimate Windows performance king.

Is WinXP a dud? Is the 9x core really that dated? Is there a reason to upgrade from Windows 2000? Read on and find out.

The players
Before we get into the performance benchmarks, it's worth taking a moment to consider the operating systems in question. We've chosen the most recent (pre-WinXP) versions of Microsoft's business and home operating systems to compare to the newly released WinXP.

Using Windows 2000 is a no-brainer here, but the choice of ME might ruffle a few feathers. Some might argue that Windows 98 or 98SE would be a better choice. However, Microsoft (at least their marketing department) claims that WinME is the pinnacle of the 9x kernel and the immediate predecessor to Windows XP. We decided to take MS at their word, which means ME is the best choice to represent the 9x kernel. We don't use 9x-based OSes for benchmarking much here at TR; we're NT snobs, so it's all 2000 or XP. Because XP forever banishes the 9x core from Microsoft's OS stable, it's only fair that we give it one last chance to go down in a blaze of glory.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run three times, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured as follows:

The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1024x768 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

For both WinME and WinXP, the System Restore utility was disabled. Otherwise, the OSes were left in their default configurations with no tweaking. Both XP and 2000 were installed on NTFS partitions; WinME was installed on a FAT32 partition due to its lack of NTFS support.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.