Next-gen netbooks to run best under Windows 7

As Windows 7 hurtles towards the finish line we’re seeing more signs that the ‘Vista done right’ OS will knock the eight year old XP off its netbook perch.

First up we’re hearing rumours that Microsoft will permit manufacturers to sell Windows 7 netbooks with up to 2GB of RAM pre-installed. This is in stark contrast to the current XP licensing policy which restricts netbooks to 1GB of factory-fitted RAM effectively hobbling the netbook’s performance even in running software such as Microsoft Office.

Intel’s latest netbook platform which partners the Atom N280 processor with an upgraded GN40 graphics chipset will also rely on Windows 7 to deliver the enhanced graphics and hardware video decoding for improved HD video playback.

Following lacklustre graphics results for some XP netbooks sporting the N280+GN40 combo Intel has confirmed that for optimum performance the GN40 relies on DirectX 10 and DXVA 2.0 (DirectX Video Acceleration 2.0). These are baked into Windows 7 as well as Vista but are absent from Windows XP.

As XP rather than Vista is the OS of choice for almost all of today’s netbooks latest models with the GN40 are unable to make good on the silicon’s promise of smoother HD and 3D graphics effects. Nor has Intel provided its Clear Video drivers for XP to support the GN40’s native decoding of MPEG4 H.264. Windows 7 on the other hand will unlock the full potential of the GN40 and undoubtedly the second-gen Atom ‘Pinetrail’ platform.

Netbooks fitted with solid state drives should also enjoy more consistent performance without degradation due to defragmentation according to Matthew Kohut Lenovo’s Worldwide Competitive Analyst.

Speaking with APCmag last week Kohut described Windows 7 as being “SSD-aware” compared to XP or even Vista.

“As you use a solid state drive over time it can become internally fragmented just like a standard hard drive. With a hard drive Windows knows where the sectors and the bytes are allocated and that’s why the defragmentation works.”

“With a solid state drive as you read and write those individual cells over time it tends to wear out because there’s a finite number (of write operations) and there are certain files like the Windows page file that get hammered all the time” Kohut explains.

“If you were to physically have that data on the same spot on the solid state drive you’d get ‘hot spots’ where the cells wear out faster. So under the covers the SSD is constantly moving data around to spread out the load putting all the different bits wherever it sees the drive slows down over time.”

“But Windows today has no idea where the data is. Windows 7 recognises a new ‘trim’ command that’s been being added to the ATA set so it becomes aware of what’s happening with an SSD. It can try to more intelligently allocate files or try to keep things contiguous or know that if you put a file here it could start causing issues.”

The trim command reduces the amount of data to be deleted in order to extend an SSD’s lifespan; it also deletes garbage data in advance so as to speed up the writing of data which is the activity where SSDs are slowest.