Running Windows on a Mac (Part 1): Lion vs. Win7 performance shootout

Tempted by the beautiful Mac hardware? Need or want to run Windows? This 3-part series is your ultimate guide to running Windows on a Mac.

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Shutdown: Mac OS X wins hands down

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Yes, Lion shuts down my MacBook Pro in about three seconds, while Windows keeps on ending services and processes before finally shutting down after about nine seconds.

OpenGL and CPU rendering performance: CineBench

Based on Maxon Cinema 4D, CineBench is one of the few reliable benchmarks available on both Windows and Mac, that accurately measure the rendering performance both on the CPU and the GPU.

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Rendering seems to be nearly as fast under Mac OS X and Windows. The small variations may just be a drivers issue; nothing you'd notice under real-world circumstances.

Audio conversion: iTunes

Audio conversion is one heavy CPU intense task.

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To find out if either the OS handles the processor more or less efficiently than the other, I converted a 35 minute long MP3 audio track (roughly 32 MB in size) into Apple's AAC format. Now, this time, I was in for a surprise: While the Mac OS version of iTunes needed roughly 34 seconds to perform the conversion, Windows 7 took nearly twice (!) as long -- the conversion finished after about 57-59 seconds, no matter how many times I ran the test. I know that iTunes is a poorly written piece of software (especially on the Windows side of things), which lags under the even most basic tasks, such as switching between playlists. So I repeated the same step under Windows, but this time I used another audio converter (Ojosoft Audio Converter) to do the job.

Ojosoft is nearly twice as fast as iTunes doing the same task on the same machine.

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Portal 2: An easy win for Windows

I suspect that many Apple users use Boot Camp just for gaming, since the library is still somewhat limited. To test gaming performance, I signed up for Steam and bought a copy of Portal 2. Using the Steam client, I downloaded the Mac and the Windows version and installed them on the same machine.

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Then, I grabbed the chamber 7 demo file and ran a timed demo five times in a row on each machine, to get an average FPS. Here's what I found:

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Windows 7's gaming capabilities beat Mac OS X hands down; I didn't even upgrade the stock NVIDIA 260-series driver that came with Boot Camp 4.0 (which is dated January 2011). After I upgraded to the latest 280-series drivers from LaptopVideo2Go, I could even squeeze another 3-4fps out of my machine.

Folder duplication

My final tests involved a duplication of a 1.93 GB folder that contains over 1000 smaller files (smaller than 10 KB) and about 200 larger files (10-50 MB).

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Duplicating the same folder on Windows vs. Mac: Don't let the stats fool you; Windows simply counts all the hidden files and uses different metrics.

By duplicating these folders, I get a good evaluation of the read/write performance both for larger sequential reads/writes and smaller random reads/writes.

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It took nearly 34 seconds longer to duplicate these folders on Windows 7 vs. Lion. Duplicating the larger files took the exact same time on both operating systems, but the missing AHCI under Windows had a big effect on smaller random reads and writes -- and that's especially sad on SSD drives, since this is where flash memory usually shines.

Bottom line

There are some performance losses when it comes to battery life and hard disk speed on the Windows side, and even the stellar gaming performance doesn't quite make up for that. Still, this is something you rarely notice in real life. The read/write speeds are plenty fast for launching applications and Windows, but it's still worth keeping an eye on.

Can this situation be improved? In parts 2 and 3 in the series, I'll discuss some usability quirks and how some simple hacks will help you get the most out of Windows on your Mac. Stay tuned.

Now read: Running Windows on a Mac (Part 2): The good, the bad and the ugly

This article, "Running Windows on a Mac (Part 1): Lion vs. Win7 performance shootout," was originally published at ITworld. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

Sandro Villinger is a contributor to ITworld. For more by Sandro, see: 15 incredibly useful (and free) Microsoft tools for IT pros and Windows won't boot? Try these tips.

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