Windows 7 Performance
Most netbooks available as of this writing ship with Windows XP. The few models that offer Windows Vista have performed sluggishly in our tests.
Microsoft, however, stresses that Windows 7 will run perfectly fine on netbooks. In fact, Microsoft now gears Windows 7 Starter Edition toward netbooks (Windows Vista Starter was available in only "emerging" markets). Though Windows 7 Starter Edition isn't quite as crippled as its Vista counterpart was--hooray, no more pesky three-application limit!--it still arbitrarily disables certain features. (No ability to change the desktop background? Lame!) If you own a netbook, you might want to consider purchasing a less-hamstrung (translation: more expensive) edition of Windows 7 instead.
On the other hand, you may want to stand pat with Windows XP. For our "Windows 7 Performance Tests" article, we tested Windows XP Home Edition and three editions of Windows 7 (Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium) on a Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 netbook with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, and we discovered that Windows 7 ran slightly slower than XP did. Windows 7 Starter, intended for use on netbooks (or as Microsoft puts it, "low-cost small notebook PCs"), managed to reach a score of 31 in our WorldBench 6 test suite, while the other two Windows 7 editions topped out at a mark of 30. By comparison, Windows XP on the Lenovo earned a score of 33.
A three-point decline in WorldBench 6 score on a normal laptop isn't much of a drop, but on a netbook it represents a difference of roughly 10 percent. So while it looks as though Windows 7 will run on a netbook, you may want to take the OS for a spin on a demo netbook at a store before you decide to upgrade.
For more information about Windows 7, sign up for PC World's Windows News and Tips newsletter. And for comprehensive, straightforward advice and tips that can help you get the most out of the new operating system, order PC World's Windows 7 Superguide, on CD-ROM or in a convenient, downloadable PDF file.