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How fast is Windows 98?

June 2, 1998
Web posted at: 11:40 AM PT

by Scott Spanbauer

PC World's crack editorial testing team squandered countless hours using the latest release of Windows 98 on a range of PCs, from 66-MHz 486 systems to 300-MHz Pentium IIs. Though the version we tested was close to final code, it didn't have every last tweak in place. Still, weeks of informal testing show the new operating system to be about as stable and a hair faster than Windows 95.

First Things First

Windows 98's first trick, faster start-up, has one big catch. To take advantage of this feature, you need a FastBoot BIOS--and machines that support this system are just beginning to appear. These new PCs skip the long system testing and initialization phase that occurs when you first power them up.

We tested Windows 98's quicker start-up using a FastBoot-equipped Toshiba Tecra 750DVD notebook. Although FastBoot enabled the PC to zip through the initial start-up phase (which happens before Windows begins to load), Windows 98 booted noticeably slower overall than Win 95 on the Tecra, mostly due to the extra time it took to load Internet Explorer 4.0's Active Desktop applet. Since there's no way to uninstall IE, there's no way around this problem.

Quicker Out the Door

Faster shutdowns are another story. Windows 98 noticeably improves on Win 95 in this area, especially for systems connected to a network (including those using Dial-Up Networking). The reason? While Windows 95 waits patiently for network connections to close in an orderly fashion before telling you to power off the system, Windows 98 just pulls the plug. It's a nice innovation that won't cause problems with your network.

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Launch Tests

Most of our testers reported noticeable if not dramatic improvements in application launching under Windows 98. Standard business apps that were woefully inefficient to start with tended to benefit most. Ponderous loaders like Navigator 4.0 and Word 97 started up faster on most systems, while relatively speedy applications like Excel 97 showed comparatively little improvement.

Better Memory Management

Windows 98's last big performance tweak is the toughest to explain and the hardest to measure. DOS and Windows have long boosted performance by using disk caching--keeping a copy of the most likely needed and the most frequently accessed disk files in a chunk of RAM set aside for the job.

Windows 98's caching introduces a time- and memory-saving shortcut dubbed MapCache. Instead of copying files from cache into main memory, Windows 98 treats the cache's contents as part of main memory. The result: Windows doesn't have to copy the file (a time-saver), and consequently it expends only half as much RAM. In Windows, memory equals speed.

Is anyone but a devoted Windows geek likely to notice MapCache's benefits? We didn't, but we'll let you know more once we complete our testing on the shipping version.

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