Windows 7: Bad For Netbook Battery Life?

In our review of Windows 7, we tested the OS on three different machines from netbooks to mainstream notebooks: a Toshiba mini NB205-N310, the Gateway NV5807u and the Dell Studio XPS 16. When comparing our usual suite of benchmarks (overall performance, graphics performance, application open times, battery life, efficiency) between Windows Vista or XP and Windows 7, the mainstream notebooks often did very well but the results were more mixed with the NB205 netbook we tested.

The biggest surprise was the loss of battery life. When we ran our standard battery test on the Toshiba NB205 under Windows 7, it lost more than 3 hours. Under XP it got an amazing 9 hours and 24 minutes, but with Windows 7 it only lasted for 6 hours and 15 minutes. Installing new Win 7 drivers from Toshiba only resulted in an extra half hour or so (6:53). We also noticed a bit of a drop-off with another netbook we tested: the MSI U123. This time it was less dramatic: 8:14 in XP vs. 7:41 in Win 7.

The long battery life achieved by netbooks that get more than 6 hours of life is partially due to high-capacity or higher cell count batteries, but also to manufacturer's drivers. Since it's still early days with Windows 7, it's understandable that driver updates are not yet available or as efficient. That does beg the question of whether netbook owners should wait a while before upgrading to this new operating system. 6+ hours is still decent, of course, but if you bought the NB205 with the 9-hour battery life in mind, you may regret the loss of those extra hours.

We did observe snappier performance from Windows 7 on the NB205, particularly in the application open tests and hard drive speed. And the U123 saw an increase in energy efficiency.

By the time the OS is available in October, many manufacturers may have driver upgrades to ensure your netbook is able to take full advantage of Windows 7. Consumers may want to hold off on upgrading until they can download them, especially if battery life is key.

Once you do upgrade, you'll likely find it worth the wait. We were impressed with the improved look and feel, wireless access, UI, and multitouch capabilities. Read our in-depth review of Windows 7 here.