Windows 7: A New Chance for Old Computers?

There’s an old adage that the only sure things in life are death, taxes… and that new operating systems from Microsoft will require more powerful computers. (What?  Your grandparents didn’t tell you about that last part? 🙂 )

A (Brief) History of Microsoft Operating Systems

Many people (myself included) grow weary (and poor!) from endless upgrade cycles: each new software release seems to require an additional investment in a new, or upgraded, computer. Look at Microsoft’s absolute bare minimum system requirements for their most recent operating systems:

Operating System Min. Processor Min. RAM Real-world Equivalent
(by today’s standards)

XP Home Edition (2001) 233 Mhz 64 MB Boombox with cassette deck
Vista Home Basic (2007) 1000 Mhz (1 Ghz) 512 MB Bookshelf stereo with single CD player

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that running Vista (even the Home Basic version) on a computer with the minimum requirements is not be an ideal experience. I also don’t think its controversial to say that many people have stuck with XP because Vista’s purported benefits do not outweigh the costs, an obvious one being that you must have a fairly new and powerful computer for it to work as well as XP does on an older machine.

Shortly after releasing Windows Vista to a muted customer response, Microsoft announced the development of Windows 7. It was my assumption that Windows 7 would require even beefier system resources than Vista.  According to Microsoft, though, the requirements are:

Operating System Min. Processor Min. RAM Real-world Equivalent
(by today’s standards)

Windows 7 (2009) 1000 Mhz (1 Ghz) 1 G Bookshelf stereo with multi-CD player

Not that much different from Vista! And, I’m now hearing reports that Windows 7 was built not just with new, powerful computers in mind, but also lighter-weight netbooks, which offer less raw computing power in exchange for a lightweight, portable package. In summary, Vista seemed to be focused on improving the visual experience. Windows 7 seems to have been built to maximize performance, even when the computer’s resources are limited.

Windows 7 and Less Powerful Computers – A Match Made in Heaven?

Since the release  of Windows 7, there have been reports from the far reaches of nerd-dom that Windows 7 is lighter on its feet than Vista. In some cases, on older computers, Windows 7 not only beats Vista in terms of performance, but also Windows XP. Let’s look at benchmark test results from the experts themselves:

  • John Breeden II, lab director for Government Computer News, says in an article titled “Can Windows 7 Resurrect Ancient PCs” (emphasis mine),
    “For a laptop PC running Windows XP with a 900 MHz Pentium M chip and 512M of RAM, the benchmark score was 155. Once we upgraded to Windows 7, that score increased to 184 — a significant improvement. In general, the laptop PC seemed to work more efficiently with Windows 7.On older systems, the performance increase was even more noticeable. On a Pentium II MMX desktop PC running Windows 98, we piled on memory to get it up to 2G. The first benchmark score was an abysmal 56.8. Upgrading to XP didn’t do much: The next score was 68. However, the jump to Windows 7 increased it to 83, and it wasn’t just an improvement in benchmark numbers — programs opened noticeably faster.”
  • Ed Bott, industry expert and blogger for ZDNet, writes, “Windows 7 uses less RAM and disk space than Vista…With identical configurations, Windows 7 was dramatically faster at starting up and shutting down than Vista, and some routine tasks that would grind the Vista machine to a halt completed without incident on the Windows 7 machine.”

The systems tested by the above-mentioned authors are somewhat extreme cases, of course, and both of the authors noted serious challenges trying to install Windows 7 on really old machines (lack of DVD drives and old, non-supported video cards being two of them).

But for those of us who have computers more than a couple of years old, Windows 7 looks like a much better option to stay current than Vista was.

Here are some other resources on Windows 7:


  1. Andy Hunsucker

    I can speak from experience, that the full version of Windows 7 runs smooth as silk on a Pentium 4 with 2 GB of RAM. (A Dell GX620, which is a 4 year old computer). Keep an eye on our blog for a first look at Windows 7.

  2. Scott Hardy

    sorry typo please delete last entry

    I have Win 7 running on a Dell M70 Laptop and an Atom 330 System both run decently although the media center on the M70 Pauses for several minutes. So I beleive it will depend on what you want from Win7. I also have noted the in Win7 I can sync my IPAQ 2210 which I can not in Vista

  3. zhengxing

    I’m not familiar with that Nvidia card specifically, but I looked on the Nvidia support page, and it looks like they have driver downloads there for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 too

  4. rhett

    2003 compaq persario runs windows 7 ultimate much better than windows xp home! It even runs windows media center smoth for its age!!!!!! RAM 512 mb. Hardrive 160 old noisy one!

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