By: Lee C. Howley
It is relatively easy to compare different operating systems based on features alone. However, there are not too many ways to truly test how efficient and quick an operating system (OS) is in comparison to all the others. Today we are going to do just that by comparing four OSes based on their file transfer proficiency: Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP1, Mac OS X 10.5.6, and Ubuntu 8.10. Testing based on common file transfer speed will speak volumes for the OS’ efficiency.
For our OS comparison, we will be using the following equipment:
- Adaptec USB 2.0 & Firewire 400 HD Enclosure housing a Western Digital 250GB Caviar HD (WD2500) and connected via a USB 2.0 cable
- Windows Vista Buiness SP1
- Windows XP SP3
- Ubuntu 8.10
- Mac OS X 10.5.6
- Apple MacBook Pro (Model 1.1) with a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 500GB 5,400 RPM Western Digital Scorpio Blue HD, 128MB ATI Mobile Radeon x1600, and 1.5GB of RAM.
In this test, each Operating System will be loaded onto the hard drive of the MacBook Pro (using Boot Camp For Windows) and updated to its latest version using the built in update features.
Once updated, I will initiate a series of file transfer tests from the external 250GB hard drive onto the desktop of the operating system via USB 2.0. The external hard drive will be formatted using the FAT 32 partition type to ensure that all operating systems have the ability to read the files on the hard drive. These file transfers will be timed using a stop watch to ensure accuracy.
Considering that all operating systems are subject to the same hardware and files, the operating system that has been coded the most efficiently to handle file transfers will complete the test the fastest.
TEST 1: SINGLE LARGE FILE TRANSFER
The first of four tests will test the OS’ ability to transfer a single large file from the external 250GB hard drive to the desktop. The clock is started as soon as I move the file to the desktop, and stopped when the file transfer is complete. I chose to transfer a 2.42 GB encrypted disk image; this encrypted image will prevent on-the-fly compression by any operating system. This will help give us an idea of each OS’s ability to transfer files regardless of the compression methods it uses.
And we’re off! Mac OS X strikes first, transferring the disk image file 13% faster than second-place Windows Vista SP1 and 35% faster than last-place Ubuntu 8.10. In the Windows world, Vista was a healthy 12% faster than XP SP3.
The second test will tests the OS’ ability to deal with simultaneous file transfers. This test uses two of the disk images I used in the first test. This test begins transferring the first file, and the second file begins transferring five seconds later. Selecting them both at the same time and beginning the transfer will result in a single transfer where one file follows the other instead of creating two separate file transfers. This simulates copying large files to different locations on your hard drive at the same time.
Vista takes the crown in this scenario, performing the test 8% faster than OS X. Both OSes complete the transfers in about two-thirds of the time it takes Ubuntu and XP SP3, which are in a virtual tie for dead last; the two-second difference between them is within the margin of error.
In our third test the OS’ will copy 460 files totaling 3.03GB to the desktop from the USB-connected external hard drive. Often times, copying a folder filled with smaller files will take longer than a single file that is the same combined size. I choose not to use encrypted or non-compressible files such as MP3s for this test to give each operating system a chance to test its compression abilities.
OS X is back with a vengeance, soundly beating Vista by 11%. Both XP and Ubuntu produce more respectable results this round, ‘only’ trailing OS X by 25% and 30% respectively. While this test is essentially a repeat of test 1, I thought that multiple compressible files might give one of the OS’s an advantage. The results resemble the first test’s results. Transfer rate in MB/s amongst the OSes dropped by roughly 3MB/s in comparison to the first test, save for Ubuntu’s which strangely increased.
This final test is copying two of the same folders we used in the previous test using the same methods. We started transferring the second folder five second after the first and the clock is stopped after both files have completed the transfer. This simulates moving two or more folders of pictures, Tv Shows or documents to different locations on your hard drive.
Vista and OS X are in a dead heat; the two-second difference between them is again within the margin of error. XP leads Ubuntu by a mere 4%, and both of them trail Vista and OS X by about 35%.
It is clear from the results that the big two, Windows Vista SP1 and Mac OS X 10.5.6 are the most efficient operating systems for file transfers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that either of them is better than the others, just that their coding design allows them to move files around faster.
I wasn’t surprised to see XP SP3 near the bottom. Given the fact that it is based off of Server 2000 and NT, the coding is very old. I am sad to see XP go as an operating system, seeing as it will be discontinued soon, but glad to see that Microsoft has made some improvements. I was truly disappointed by Ubuntu, which was dead last in every test and could barely hold its own against XP SP3. Being the closest in relation to Mac OS X I expected it to perform similarly, but was sorely let down. That’s not to say that it is not a great OS; I very much enjoyed using it for the short time it was on my computer. Furthermore, despite having the slowest transfer speeds, it did seem to be the most responsive out of all the operating systems. Did I forget to mention that Ubuntu is a free download? Ubuntu will let you do everything all the others do at no cost; it is free because it is open-source. The basic installation package includes Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and the Gimp image editor (think free Photoshop). You can download Ubuntu here.
When you build your next media center and you want to spend as little time watching that progress bar as possible, consider the above results in your choice for an OS. Choosing a Mac might mean spending more money versus a Vista PC, but we’ll leave you to make that choice based on your own personal preferences.
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