XP versus Vista-ish

Update: I measured the times again ( I lost the original results). They were about the same as I remembered.

A couple of days ago I installed Arch Linux on an old PC, with IceWM as the window manager, and made it look like Vista. At the end of the article, I promised I’d compare the performance that PC with that of a PC with Windows XP on it, and post the results.

The XP-machine is a Dell Inspiron laptop. It’s specifications are:

  • Intel Core Duo 1.60 GhZ CPU with 2 MB cache
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • An 80 GB hard disk
  • Integrated Intel Graphics card

The old PC is a combination of parts I found/borrowed/inherited/got as a gift and put together to make the PC of Frankenstein:

  • Athlon XP 1800+ 1.50 GhZ with 256 KB cache
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • a 120GB hard disk
  • (extremely crappy) Nvidia nforce2 integrated graphics card

As you can see, the desktop is very much in a lower league. It only has one, less powerful CPU which seriously lacks in cache, and only half the RAM. Those are serious handicaps, and even with the desktop running Arch and a lightweight window manager, I expected the Dell to be faster.

Keep in mind there’s nothing really scientific about what I did. I measured the times, very accurately, with…the stopwatch on my mobile phone. Every measurement I made only twice, and I compared applications which can’t really be compared. Still, it’s an indication of how snappy the systems feel.

Boot and shutdown:

I booted both machines twice, measuring both startup and shutdown times. Here, I was almost certain the laptop would win. In general, Windows boots faster than Linux. Since XP is pretty much useless without a firewall and virusscanner, those were installed, which of course adds to the boot-times. Arch had to boot IceWM, feh, iDesk, and xscreensaver.


  • Boot 1: 1 min 11.9 sec
  • Boot 2: 1 min 13.7 sec
  • Shutdown 1: 33.1 sec
  • Shutdown 2: 30.5 sec


  • Boot 1: 52.3 sec
  • Boot 2: 51.3 sec
  • Shutdown 1: 12.1 sec
  • Shutdown 2: 12.0 sec

As you can see, the desktop outperforms the laptop by quite a margin, but these numbers have to be put into perspective. There seemed to be something wrong with the BIOS of the laptop: it took 30 seconds before XP could start booting. On the desktop it took only 12 seconds. So, if we deduce the BIOS loading times, we find that Windows boots to a fully loaded desktop in 41 seconds, while Arch does it in 40, despite the hardware handicap.

When it comes to shutting down however, Arch blows Windows away. Granted, not many people wait impatiently in front of their PC until it has shut down, but the difference is nonetheless huge: close to twenty seconds.


I measured the boot-times of Firefox, Explorer/Thunar, Windows Media Player/Exaile and Windows Live Messenger/Emesene.

Like I said before, this isn’t exactly fair. Only Firefox is the same program on both systems. When it comes to file managers, Explorer has many, many functions Thunar doesn’t have. The same goes for Windows Live Messenger and Emesene. Still, the main functions and the general purpose of the applications are the same, so I compared them anyway.

To my shame, I must admit that after carefully measuring every boot-time twice, and duly typing them down…I closed Leafpad without saving. At this moment, I can’t use the Windows XP laptop, so you’ll have to wait until tonight or tomorrow for the exact results. However, I do remember most of them, so I’ll draw my conclusions without facts to back them up (as you have read, this has been fixed). Blogging is fun that way.

  • Firefox 3 rc1

The results here are very different from one startup to the next, because the second time, Firefox is partly preloaded. On the Windows machine, Firefox took 6.4 seconds to boot the first time, and 1.6 seconds the next. On the other hand, in Arch, Firefox booted in 5.5 seconds the first time, but still needed 2.5 seconds the second time. Here, the laptop shows it has more memory. The desktop isn’t far behind though.

  • Explorer/Thunar 0.9

Similar results here. Once Explorer is preloaded, it boots (slightly) faster than Thunar, but the first time, Thunar boots in 2.2 seconds, while Explorer takes a surprising 4.1. The second time, it needs only 0.4 seconds, while Thunar appeared after 0.6.

  • Windows Media Player 11/Exaile 0.2.13

In contrast, there was a very big difference here. WMP needed 1.6 seconds to load the first time, and just 0.4 the next. Exaile needed 12.5 and 9.4 seconds. To put this into context, 7 of those seconds were used to load the database, something Windows Media Player didn’t have to do. That still means Exaile is 4 seconds slower both times, and that’s very noticable.

Maybe it would have been more fair to use iTunes on the XP laptop, but that wasn’t installed, and I didn’t want to clutter my girlfriends’s laptop with software she didn’t want to use. In any case, the Arch desktop lags behind.

  • Windows Live Messenger 8.5/Emesene 1.0

Not the same program, again, but I’d dare to argue that every extra feature Windows Live Messenger has is unneeded clutter, except maybe voice- and videochat. The latest WLM took around 2.4 seconds the first time, and 1.1 seconds the next. Emesene after 2.2 seconds the first time, and…1.1 seconds the second time. No noticable difference here.


I could throw numbers at you all until you feel dizzy, but in the end the main conclusion is that the desktop doesn’t feel like it’s only half as powerful as the laptop. Sometimes it’s even faster, sometimes it’s slightly slower…without a stopwatch, it feels about the same.

Considering that it really is only half as powerful, it’s a remarkable achievement. Even better, it comes with all the advantages a Linux system has, such as added security, and a lower cost. Finally, to me it looks a million times better.

Vista-ish for the win 😉



5 Responses to XP versus Vista-ish

  1. Luke says:

    Very nice blog.

  2. celettu says:


    Thank you 🙂

  3. lefty.crupps says:

    > to me it looks a million times better
    It looks like Vista 😦 which i don’t think is extremely nice looking at all. Not bod, just not amazing. However it does look like you did a very good job in that regard.

  4. celettu says:


    It does, doesn’t it 🙂 Actually, it was a proof of concept…and also because I noticed my girlfriend wanted a more familiar interface.

    That being said, I thinks Vista looks better than XP…but there’s a reason I didn’t make MY pc look like that 😉

  5. epidenimus says:

    What would really be interesting and fair is if you switched the OS/Hardware pairings to compare. If Arch keeps pace with XP despite such a huge handicap, how do they compare when the hardware is switched? If I had to guess, Windoze will get left in the dust.

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