Performance results for the Windows 7 RTM build are mixed, but it has a leaner footprint than Vista and a slicker UI than either Vista or XP.  (Source: CNET)
Windows 7's feel is much improved, but actually performance varies

While Windows 7's requirements (a 1 GHz x86 processor, 1GB of RAM for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit, and support for Direct X 9) are similar to Windows Vista, its install footprint is leaner (16 GB for 32-bit versus 20 GB in Vista, 20 GB for 64-bit versus 40 GB in Vista) and its memory usage is tighter (some users have run the release candidates on systems with less than 1 GB of RAM).  All of this adds up to significant improvements over Vista and a modern OS capable of running on most netbooks.

Great graphical looks, touch functionality, and new UI options make the package even sweeter.  However, no matter how nice the ride looks, it's always good to look inside -- for example, the snazzy OS X Snow Leopard may look slick, but is incapable of playing most games and will only run (officially) on Mac hardware.  With that in mind let's look at a recent benchmark by CNET of the Windows 7 RTM build.

Interestingly, the results were mixed.  Boot times, despite dedicated tweaking from Microsoft were slightly worse than in Vista SP2 or XP SP3 (by over a second).  Shutdown times, though, showed much improvement over the slow XP, and even some improvement over Vista.

Since the 7100 build, Windows 7's performance in Microsoft Office and iTunes has improved significantly.  In the Office benchmark, though it still gets beat by both Vista and XP (the overall leader) and it manages to now tie with XP in iTunes (ahead of Vista).  In a final Cinebench benchmark, Windows 7 performance improved between the 7100 and 7600 builds, moving it ahead of Vista and just behind XP.

Gaming results should be coming soon, which should provide more interesting analysis of the new OS's true performance.  In the meantime, though, the verdict seems that despite mixed performance against XP and Vista, Windows 7 holds its own. 

As the experience and feel are much smoother than the previous two OS's, the standstill in performance, normally a bad thing, probably will be sufficient for Windows 7 to see great commercial success.  Windows 7 completes Vista's ascent into a OS X level of user interface polish, while holding its ground in performance, something that has placed Windows ahead of competitors Linux and OS X.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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