It's fair to say that Windows 8 didn't get off to a great start in our testing, as it was outperformed in every one of our media benchmarks. Though the difference was negligible in the video encoding test, Windows 7 proved to be 5 per cent faster in the GIMP image editing test and nearly 11 per cent faster in the multi-tasking test, which is particularly worrisome as an operating system's ability to multi-task is a crucial part of its performance.
Our Skyrim graphics test threw up some interesting results. Our high end Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 2GB card went from a 60fps minimum frame rate in Windows 7 to 55fps in Windows 8, which is a significant drop in performance. However, the mid-range AMD card, the Radeon HD 7850 2GB, actually saw an improvement of 4fps in the same test. We repeated the tests multiple times to be sure, so it suggests that currently, at least, the AMD Windows 8 driver is currently better than Nvidia's.
Click to enlarge - Windows 8 now features apps such as Weather
At both 1,920 x 1,080 and 2,560 x 1,600, performance in The Witcher 2 was uniform in both operating systems for the AMD card, with neither the minimum or average frame rate increasing or decreasing in the new OS. The Nvidia card, however, dropped 2fps from its average frame rate at 1,920 x 1,080 in Windows 8 (although its minimum remained at 59fps), and lost 2fps from its minimum frame rate in Windows 8 at the higher resolution. This again suggests that AMD cards currently have a performance advantage over Nvidia ones in Windows 8.
It's worth noting that we were also hoping to run Crysis 2 benchmarks on both operating systems. However, try as we might, we simply could not get it to run on the Windows 8 system, even with the WHQL certified drivers installed, which is rather troubling.
Click to enlarge - The search function now has its own screen
Reboot times were very impressive in Windows 8, with the system able to perform a full reboot in just over 20 seconds. The Hybrid Boot feature appears to do its job well, as Windows 8 was able to reboot 5 seconds faster than Windows 7, being faster at both shutting down and booting. SATA performance, on the other hand, was slightly slower in the new OS as our ATTO test showed a 5MB/s drop in read speeds and a 7MB/s drop in write speeds in Windows 8. This could well be due to limitations of the current Windows 8 SATA drivers, however, rather than an inherent problem with Windows 8.
All in all our benchmarks suggest that performance does take a hit when upgrading to Windows 8. The multi-tasking performance degradation is a particular blow to Windows 8, but one which the faster boot times do soften somewhat. That AMD was able to maintain or improve performance with its Windows 8 drivers is promising however, so let's hope Nvidia is able to do the same with future driver updates.
Click to enlarge - The desktop Charms menu is annoying to access with a mouse, particularly at high resolutions
Personally, we're happy to admit that some of the new features are great, especially File History, the new Task Manager, and the improved multi-monitor support and boot times. However, we're still choosing not to upgrade, as these benefits don't outweigh the performance drawbacks and the frustration caused by the new UI. It doesn't scale well to large monitors, often proves frustrating to use with a mouse and keyboard and things that were once simple to access like shutdown options and the Computer overview are now hidden away in unintuitive places.
Ultimately, whether or not you choose to upgrade will depend on if the new features are worthwhile for your needs. Windows 8 may not be the disaster that Vista or ME were, but it's also only a relatively minor upgrade to Windows 7, which has solid performance and stable user base. With many people still continuing to use Windows XP, now 11 years old, and with Microsoft having quietly extended support of Windows 7 to 2020, it's easy to see a future where Windows 7 remains the main OS of choice, especially for users of non-touchscreen devices.