Windows 7's startup time can be snappy with the right storage technology, and this should improve with Ultrabooks due later this year.
Brooke CrothersFormer CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Maybe the biggest piece of Microsoft news this week was about Windows 8 startup times. For good reason. It's one of those nuts-and-bolts issues that affects (plagues?) every Windows user. But Windows 7 startup can be pretty snappy too with the right hardware, and it should improve later this year.
Let me begin by saying I am also a little skeptical of Microsoft's claims of eight-second bootup times for Windows 8 (see: Microsoft promises faster startup for Windows 8). My third-generation MacBook Air with a solid-state drive takes about 16 seconds from power-up to the main OS X screen. And even my flash-drive-equipped iPad 2 takes about 30 seconds from a hard shutdown to startup.
That said, for Windows 7 laptops that I use, startup times can be pretty quick with the right storage tech. (Note that I am not going to address manually tweaking MSCONFIG and other settings here, because the average Windows computer user is oblivious to these settings.)
My Dell Adamo (again, without any software tweaking) running Windows 7 Home Premium boots up in less than 30 seconds. And an HP EliteBook 2560p that I'm using (temporarily) with Windows 7 Professional boots up in about 40 seconds.
The Adamo boots faster than the EliteBook for one simple reason: it has an SSD. How critical is the SSD? The "slower" (but newer) EliteBook has a new Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5 2520M processor but a run-of-the-mill 7200RPM 320GB hard disk drive. The "faster" (but older) Adamo has a dated Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor but a zippy 128GB SSD. Which makes me wonder how quickly the EliteBook would boot up with an Intel 160GB SSD--which is an option HP offers on the 2560p. I'm guessing it would be a lot closer to my MacBook Air's 16-second bootup time than the Adamo.
(And it's not just startup times. The 2009 Adamo often feels snappier on a variety of disk-dependent tasks than the 2011 EliteBook. But, again, that comparison would flip if the EliteBook had an SSD.)
And we can look forward to even faster startup tech for Windows 7 later this year. Intel has a technology, due by the holiday season, called Rapid Start Technology. Think of it as instant-on from hibernation. The terminology, in fact, sounds very similar to what Microsoft blogged about this week. But that can be confusing because the Windows 8 changes are all about emulating a complete shutdown and hibernating kernel sessions (more details here) while Intel's Rapid Start is about Windows 7 hibernation mode and hardware.
Here's how Umesh Shah, an Intel engineer, described it to me in May. Hibernation mode is used today to put a PC in a deep sleep state, which uses very little power and extends battery life way beyond the standard standby mode. The problem is that it can take as long as a minute to bring a laptop out of hibernation. With Rapid Start this can be accomplished in about five seconds--which Shah demonstrated. The system must have either a solid-state drive or an ancillary flash drive that works in conjunction with a standard magnetic HDD.
I'm guessing Rapid Start will be used on more than a few Ultrabooks. This, coupled with the SSD that many Ultrabooks will be equipped with, should make Windows 7 startup no slouch.