While Linux has long been talked about as being a faster operating system than Microsoft Windows, in 2010 is this still the case? It seems every time we deliver new benchmarks of the EXT4 file-system it's actually getting slower, recent Linux kernel releases have not been delivering any major performance enhancements for desktop users, the open-source Linux graphics drivers are still no match to the proprietary drivers, and "bloated and huge" is how Linus Torvalds described the Linux kernel last year. This is all while Windows 7 was released last year, which many view as Microsoft's best operating system release to date. Even after using it a fair amount the past few months in preparation for this about-to-be-shared work, it is actually not too bad and is a huge improvement over Windows Vista, but is it really faster than Ubuntu Linux? We have used six uniquely different systems and ran Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64 and Ubuntu 10.04 LTS x86_64 on each of them with a set of 55 tests (actually, more than 165 if considering that each test is usually run at least three times for accuracy) per installation.
To see whether Linux still is a faster desktop to that of Windows, we have invested a great deal of time and energy in comparing the two vastly different operating systems. In November of last year we announced that the Phoronix Test Suite was coming to Windows 7. The Phoronix Test Suite is our extensible, automated testing framework that we use for conducting our software and hardware benchmarking at Phoronix and is also used by other publications, many software vendors, and practically every major hardware vendor as it can streamline their internal QA, validation, performance optimization, and regression management needs. Read the Phoronix Test Suite web-site for more information on all of its features from verifying statistical accuracy to automated regression testing.
We have been working on the software for years and it already works under Linux, Mac OS X, *BSD, and OpenSolaris operating systems, but Windows support was the last OS milestone there was to reach. It's not been only about being able to compare the performance of Windows to Linux and operating systems, but being able to offer the unique advantages that the Phoronix Test Suite provides to Windows users and while being open-source software -- from centralized test management to automated regression tracking (such as what we do on a daily basis for the Linux kernel) to collaborative testing to being able to autonomously find regressions in a code-base. After taking a sabbatical and investing hundreds of hours in this Windows endeavor, it has now come where we can begin comparing the performance of the modern-day Linux desktop to that of Windows 7 with nearly the same reliability, reproducibility, and ease-of-use that is provided under Linux.
With the benchmarking software in place, for the past few weeks we have been working towards this first article with comparing the performance between Windows 7 x64, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, and Mac OS X 10.6.3. We did not just benchmark with a single system, but a wide array of hardware to try to get a good idea for where the performance of these vastly different operating systems really are running. As PC gaming is often viewed as one of the last Windows strongholds that are holding back more from switching over to Linux or Mac OS X, that was the first area we began exploring. This is especially important as Linux may soon have the prime opportunity to vastly expand its user-base once Valve's Steam Client and Source Engine come to Linux (it's already running), as there will be more of the popular tier-one titles available and one less reason to be dependent upon Windows. However, as we just had the Mac Mini with NVIDIA graphics for testing as a Mac with ATI graphics was not sent by AMD in time, we are holding off on publishing our initial Mac OS X 10.6.3 vs. Ubuntu 10.04 LTS vs. Windows 7 benchmarks. The first of these three-way OS benchmarks may be published as soon as later this week.
We had performed clean installations of Windows 7 Professional x64 and Ubuntu 10.04 LTS x86_64 one at a time onto each of these six test systems. Each operating system was left with their defaults and all standard Phoronix test practices were enforced. In regards to graphics drivers, we installed the latest proprietary graphics drivers for each operating system where applicable, which included ATI Catalyst 10.4 for the Radeon/FirePro hardware and on the NVIDIA side the 197.54 WHQL Windows 7 x64 driver (and the 197.16 notebook driver was needed for the ION setup) and on the Linux side the NVIDIA driver was 195.36.15.
Ubuntu 10.04 LTS was used as the Linux distribution to represent the modern-day Linux desktop since after all it is the most popular desktop distribution available and thus will have the largest relevance on the most users. It is also commonly the first Linux distribution that many Windows users end up trying. As previous benchmarks at Phoronix have also shown, the performance between Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, and other tier-one distributions are not often too different at least with the gaming / OpenGL performance when equipped with similar packages.