Virtually everyone who has used the Windows 7 RC has come away with positive reactions, especially concerning performance. And few would question the fact that Windows 7 runs acceptably on even low-end netbook hardware, a la Windows XP, but unlike Windows Vista. And yet, now that we have the first credible performance benchmarks in from PC World, some doubt has been cast on these claims. Is Windows 7 really appreciably faster than its predecessor?

Improving performance is one of Microsoft's design goals with Windows 7, and many early reviewers (including ours) have said that the new OS seems peppier than Vista. But tests of the Windows 7 Release Candidate in the PC World Test Center found that while Windows 7 was slightly faster on our WorldBench 6 suite, the differences may be barely noticeable to users.

We loaded the Windows 7 Release Candidate on three systems (two desktops and a laptop) and then ran our WorldBench 6 suite. Afterward we compared the results with the WorldBench 6 numbers from the same three systems running Windows Vista. Each PC was slightly faster when running Windows 7, but in no case was the overall improvement greater than 5 percent, our threshold for when a performance change is noticeable to the average user.

If these test results remain consistent with those for the final version of Windows 7, the news will likely be disappointing to many Windows users.

I guess so. But the thing is, benchmarks don't measure real world performance. What I'd like to see is how real-world tasks--boot-up, resume from sleep, how long it takes from button click to application launch (and under different loads), and so on--really compare between the two OSes. I'd continue this discussion, but ... oh, my. There's something moving in the tall grass. And it might just be Bigfoot! I'm off...