Windows XP is now 20 years old, Vista, 14 and 7, 11 years old. But for a retro gaming machine, which is best in overall speed?

Introduction:

XP, Vista and 7 all have their strengs and weaknesses, but for performance, which is the best?
Today we take a look at which OS would fare the best performance for what era via synthetics, and the tradeoffs they all have. Strap in as there is a LOT to unpack! Or just skip to the conclusions and skip all the test data. 🙂

Summary:

  • Windows XP
    Best compatibility but rather out of date, some people are still updating their custom installation images.
    Best hardware compatibility of all three but limited in the modern age like web browsing. What if you want to look up cheats or need to use XP for programming?
  • Windows Vista
    Offers a much more sleek design, DirectX 10 support and a generally more up-to-date experience. Still limited by the neglect it has gotten over the years and it shows in support. Primairly web browsers, just like XP.
  • Windows 7
    The new XP? Fast, decently lighweight, Steam is still supported and so are modern browsers. Both architectures of drivers may work and some XP drivers can even be loaded in 7 if you need them.

Testing:

We will be testing primairly with 3DMark and PCMark, which all can be found here. 3DMark 2000 to ’06 for XP, and 3DMark Vantage is used to compare Vista to 7. All benchmarks are activated with licenses from the page mentioned before.

  • All settings of the OS installs will be left at default, so Windows XP will have its default theme and Vista/7 will have Aero running. Other settings will not be touched unless the benchmarks do so.
  • No overclocks are applied, the system will run at default settings with no further changes. Only the SATA controller is set to native.
  • No background applications, each variation counts on the score!

You can download each result file for the benchmarks with the exception of 3DMark06. This gives more detailed information compared to the scores on the Excel sheet supplied in this article.

Version differences:

3DMark has the following features for each version, which can also be found at the Legacy Benchmarks page,, such as:

3DMarks is purely for 3D performance, whereas PCMark tests overall system speed, 3DMark was and still is the go-to synthetic benchmark software for PC’s.

  • 3DMark 2001:
    3DMark 2001 tests DirectX 8.1 using vertex and pixel shaders, also offering full scene anti-aliasing but is fairly processor dependant on its speed.
  • 3DMark03:
    3DMark03 uses a DirectX 9 engine created by Futuremark. It was the first 3DMark to include CPU tests and compared to 2001 leans much more on graphics power then processor.
  • 3DMark05:
    With new support for DirectX 9.0c and up to 2 million polygons on screen compared to 2003.
  • 3DMark06: 3DMark06 builds on 3DMark05 with Shader Model 3.0 effects and new CPU tests using PhysX.
  • 3DMark Vantage: Vantage introduces DirectX 10 support and is made especially for Windows Vista.

PCMark is no different, it also has many improvements over the years.

Thus PCMark 2002 was designed for Windows 2000 and 98, where PCMark04 took the same new design as 3DMark03 with the coming of Windows XP. PCMark05 further improved said new design.

PCMark tests things like interface speed, scrolling, your themes performance, video de/encoding, image speed and much more. The things that would make a PC good for all day use, and not per-se gaming only.

Results:

The benchmarks results were all run 3 times, averaged out and compared afterwards. The full excel sheet is available on the bottom of this article.

3DMark:

Averaged test result in 3DMarks, (the results score). These are for 3DMark 2001 to 06. Vantage does not support Windows XP. We will first share the scores obtained over all 3 tests for each version, then the conclusions and summary.

3DMark200320052006
Windows XP42938,3317829,6714163,33
Vista42492,0017665,0013946,00
Windows 742650,6717530,3313931,00
Benchmark results for 3DMark, scores displayed each an average of 3 runs.

PCMark:

Windows XP:

PCMark WinXPScoreGraphicsCPUMemoryHDDAverage
2002N/AN/A11045,0033352,001956,3315451,11
2004N/A22371N/A10829,335335,3312845,22
20058731,339985,338131,674831,006771,007690,07
PCMark scores for Windows XP, scored displayed each an average of 3 runs.

Windows Vista:

PCMark VistaScoreGraphicsCPUMemoryHDDAverage
2002N/AN/A10935,3334681,672080,3315899,11
2004N/A18405,67N/A10715,334777,3311299,44
20059381,3313360,009041,334153,006108,008408,73
PCMark scores for Windows Vista, scored displayed each an average of 3 runs.

Windows 7:

PCMark Win7ScoreGraphicsCPUMemoryHDDAverage
2002N/AN/A11031,6735250,672649,6716310,67
2004N/A18440,33N/A10706,004744,6711297,00
20058650,6713078,009085,006156,675501,338494,33
PCMark scores for Windows 7, scored displayed each an average of 3 runs.

Conclusions:

So there are many things I have come to notice along the way, but lets first look at a summary table:

PCMark Averaged Scores:‘Score’Diff. To XPVista vs 7Average Loss.
Windows XP:11995,47
Windows Vista11869,10-1,05%-1,37%
Windows 712034,000,32%
3DMark Averaged Scores:
Windows XP:15228,56
Windows Vista:15025,28-1,33%0,01%-0,58%
Windows 7:15024,44-1,34%
Both Averaged Systems:
Windows XP:14150,86
Windows Vista:13973,22-1,26%-0,38%
Windows 7:14027,63-0,87%
Summary tables for all resulting benchmarks.

Conclusions from the data:

Now here one can easily see which operating scored the best overall and how much difference there is compared to Windows XP. With a total of 189 benchmarks run, there are a couple things that jump out from these results. Such as:

  1. Windows XP remains the fastest in all tests done, but only by a small margin. Way less then believed by many.
  2. Furthermore, the difference between Vista and 7 is only 0.58%, where it should more matter which system you, the user like to most to use.
  3. High framerate tests, formerly 3DMark03 crazy enough scores the best when running on Vista!
  4. Graphics performance seems to greatly improve when upgrading to Vista and 7 compared to XP in many-typed tests, formerly PCMark2005 shows a big jump in overall rendering speed.
  5. PCMark’s scores test not only graphics but image speed, interface speed and much much more, where it can be seen that Vista sometimes comes out ahead!
  6. Yes, Vista is slower in the majority of tests but only by so little where it does not matter THAT much, unless you want to break records of course.

There is a common saying that “Putting XP on any system instantly makes it fly”, where if you would look at the benchmark data that can actually HURT performance more then it does good! But lets look at that in detail:

Ups and downs:

That being said, Vista and XP share the biggest fate, support. They both got neglected really fast, Vista espcislly with its image of being slow and crappy. But that is where the ups and downs come in, where you should really think of first.

Windows XP has not many things going for it in 2021, where software support has only stayed with enthusiasts.

XP & Vista:

  1. XP has no ‘official’ browser support, where nowadays backported and fan-built projects come in to play.
    Primairly Basilist/UXP and MyPal. They are both ports of Pale Moon, which in itself is a Firefox ‘version’.
  2. Long dead Steam support.
    Steam, the popular game launcher and store has long since stopped supporting XP. The tricks used previously like replacing older files and other tweaks also fail to work because login is now impossible to pull off.
  3. No security updates, which could leave your system HIGHLY vunerable, and a good anti-virus to combat that can cost a lot of money.
  4. Windows XP is the most compaible, yes, BUT only in the most extreme cases would games that run on XP not work on 7 in my experience.

Vista has had the same fate as XP, no Steam and modern browsers, and sketchy anti-virus support.

Windows 7:

Whereas those two were left in the dust, Windows 7 is still a very viable platform.

  1. Modern browsers still work and get updated, this article was even written on Windows 7 using the latest Firefox! (88)
  2. Updates and anti-virus support remains rock solid, if updates seem a bit lacking. But it is a LOT safer to use then Windows XP and Vista.
  3. Steam still works!
    If you have a Steam account with lots of new/old games you can enjoy them on Windows 7, right on your old rig!
  4. Windows 7 in itself does not eat much RAM either!
    With a fully working and up to date installation, even with Aero running task manger only saw around 400MB of memory at use sitting on the desktop. (Will depend on how many drivers your system needs!)
  5. But it is not all happy times, if you need EAX surround you will need to stick with XP, or use a wrapper just like on Vista.

Thus, the tradeoffs with Windows 7 should make it the modern de-facto standard. I would recommend anyone with a Core2Duo or Core2Quad to upgrade. Faster, the compatibility can be fixed with patches for most games or even Compatibility Mode!

Notes:

3DMark:

Note: 3Dmark 99 and 2000 did not work across all installations so was excluded from the tests, they would test DirectX 6 and 7. 2001 did run on XP but failed to run on Vista and 7.

PCMark:

Note: CPU and System tests have been exluded from PCMark2004, because the Windows Media 9 encoder did not work. This prevents PCMark from giving a CPU score and PCMark score. Thus it is not recommended to use them as a comparison point. Only Graphics, Memory and Hard Disk Drive scores were taken.

Requirement: PCMark05 requires the installation of Windows Media Encoder 9 (wmencode.exe) to function properly. WMEncode64 worked on Vista but not on Windows 7, so use the x86 version for Windows 7 if the x64 package does not work.

Note: PCMark Vantage only gives results online, if you finish the benchmark with no internet access it will not give you the results! Activate the program before you run anything because the online parts seem completely broken. It was run, but after 3 hours of waiting to get scores, and the scores were not even useful I gave up on it.

Bugfix: To run PCMark2002 on Vista, run each session new, not one after another. Also, run as administrator or HDD access may crash the benchmark.

Note: All Windows versions had the latest drivers installed for the tested Radeon HD card. 14.4 for XP, 13.2 for Vista and 15.7.2 for 7.

Bugfix: PCMark2002 does not see any OGG encoders and decoders on Windows 7 by default. Set PCMark2002 to XP compatibility mode, and thats seemed to fix it. If not, download the files here and put them in the Program Files folder where you installed PCMark2002.

Excel Sheet:

You may either, download the XLSX file, or view on Google Sheets here.

Final Conclusion:

The difference in performance and the gains in usability are so little and better on Windows 7, with this article I hope I have shined a bit more light on my take that Windows 7 should become the new XP. Its old, has much better support and the performance loss is only around 1% at max! Using more modern hardware will only help decrease the difference as well.

My take? Windows 7 all the way, XP should really stop being used due to its many modern flaws and dangers, or even Vista if you MUST.

All this work took an entire weekend to complete, and in total 189 tests were run. I hope you enjoyed the findings as much as I did. Thanks a LOT for reading!

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