OS-level general performance improvements are hard to come by these days. Typically, when Apple or Microsoft unveils a new OS, they tout improved performance or power efficiency in specific scenarios. The shift to hybrid processors has evidently opened up some new opportunities to improve the user experience for both Apple and Microsoft.
In Apple’s case, we know that the company pushes background workloads to the IceStorm “little” cores, to free FireStorm cores for maximum responsiveness. Not as much is known about Microsoft’s approach, yet — the version of Windows 11 currently available probably isn’t the RTM version — but there’s evidence of performance uplift in hybrid scenarios.
This news is from Hot Hardware, which spent some time testing Windows 11 on Intel’s Lakefield processor. Lakefield is currently the only x86 hybrid CPU on the market and it combines four Atom CPU cores (based on Tremont) with a single Ice Lake CPU core. Lakefield is not a high-performance core — it’s designed for power efficiency — so any effort that can improve its performance is welcome.
According to Hot Hardware, the performance gains from Windows 11 over Windows 10 are between 2 percent and 11 percent. Some applications pick up a bit of multi-threading performance (GeekBench) while others gain in single-thread (Cinebench). Browerbench Speedometer 2.0 is the big winner, with a 10.8 percent performance jump.
Keep in mind that everyone is running Windows 10 drivers on Windows 11, so it’s not impossible that some software updates will improve things further.
These kinds of gains are important for a few reasons. They show that Microsoft has been putting effort into improving performance in the scenarios users are likely to encounter going forward. Alder Lake will be the first mainstream platform for hybrid cores, but we expect AMD to offer its own chips in the next few years. It’s possible these gains will come to Windows 10, but we suspect not. Microsoft will want to use them as a way to goose adoption.
We won’t know if Windows 11 is more power-efficient than Windows 10 until final drivers and software versions are available, but this news looks good. A 3-6 percent performance improvement in these scenarios suggests that Windows has gotten better about dropping workloads on the proper cores for the job.
Keep in mind that the speed of a system and its responsiveness are not the same thing. Apple’s M1’s feel fast partly because they shift background work to small cores and leave big ones available at all times. If Microsoft does something similar, Windows 11 might feel faster relative to Windows 10 than its benchmark numbers would suggest. We evaluated Windows 11 ourselves last week, but we were running it in a virtual machine and could not test performance.
We’ll find out more at Microsoft’s Windows 11 event on July 24.
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