Windows 11 is here, though it remains an optional upgrade for anyone on existing desktops and laptops that are eligible for it. New PCs will increasingly begin shipping with Windows 11 pre-installed, so adoption rates will gradually rise in 2022 and beyond. If you’re tempted to try Windows 11 on a supported PC you own, or will purchase a new machine with Microsoft’s latest OS soon, you may be wondering if and how it will affect performance with the apps you use every day.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. Whether Windows 11 offers superior, reduced, or the same performance as Windows 10, we wanted to put some empirical data behind this speculation. To that end, we tested a laptop before and after upgrading to the new OS, running the same set of tests on Windows 10 and then Windows 11, to judge the impact of the upgrade.
Dell Inspiron 14 7415 2-in-1(Photo: Molly Flores)
Of course, some of the efficiency improvements for Windows 11 that Microsoft sunk time and effort into don’t show up in pure performance tests like these. Microsoft claims improvements made to web browsing speed, smaller Windows Update files, and added security, but those don’t play straight into raw productivity power. Consider those aspects of Windows 11 the special user-friendly sauce on top of the base UI and any potential performance gains.
The Laptop We Used, and the Benchmark Tests
The laptop in question for this Windows 11 experiment is the Dell Inspiron 14 7415 2-in-1. This machine isn't a productivity workhorse, but an everyday general-use laptop representative of the kind that the average user will log in to at home each day. We specifically chose it because it is an AMD Ryzen-based system, equipped with a Ryzen 7 5700U processor and 16GB of memory.Early on in the launch cycle for Windows 11, Microsoft warned about diminished performance with Ryzen processors on Windows 11, but it has since pushed an update meant to fix that issue. Based on the numbers here, it seems to have worked. (More on that in a bit.)
At $999.99 as tested, this Inspiron model not exactly a budget laptop, but it's representative of a good, solid mainstream machine for discerning consumers.
Dell Inspiron 14 7415 2-in-1(Photo: Molly Flores)
Our usual laptop-review testing explainer will tell you in depth which benchmark tests we run and how they stress a laptop, but a quick rundown should be helpful. PCMark 10, Geekbench, Cinebench, and our Photoshop plugin from workstation maker Puget Systems(Opens in a new window) are tests that replicate real workloads (synthetically in the case of the first two, or using the actual apps in the second two) and produce a proprietary score. PCMark 10 simulates a host of real-world office and productivity actions and programs (video calling, spreadsheet work, and the like), while Geekbench and Cinebench are CPU-crunching trials, with the latter simulating a CPU-based image render in Maxon's software. The PugetBench plug-in runs Adobe Photoshop CC through a series of typical Photoshop actions (resizing images, applying filters, and so on).
All four of these tests generate proprietary performance numbers specific to that test, higher being better. These scores have no meaning in isolation, but they can be compared directly to one another within the same test-results set to show performance differences.
Our last test, Handbrake 1.4, meanwhile, is a test run of a real-world tool. In it, we encode a specific 4K video file(Opens in a new window) and time how long it takes. (The render times are the scores, and lower times are better.)
You can examine that methodology at the explainer link above, or jump right into the results below. Also check out our separate review of Windows 11, for many more details on the advantages and features Microsoft’s newest OS is supposed to bring.
The Results: Steady as She Goes
We ran the sample Inspiron laptop through our testing regimen in Windows 10 with the most current updates, then took up the Windows Update tool's offer to push the system to Windows 11. Once that was done and the Windows 11 OS was fully updated to the latest pushes, we ran the full benchmark suite again.
The chart set below has this laptop’s results for those tests on Windows 10 and 11. (Hit the arrows or dropdown menu to see the results from the five different tests.) So without further ado...
There’s a clear takeaway here, and put simply, it’s that we didn't see much performance difference between the two operating systems. There is not a ton of nuance or complexity to these tests or this laptop (for example, no software-based special high-performance modes, like you see with some gaming laptops or mobile workstations). The benchmark tests are straightforward and have been run on well-nigh 100 laptops in our labs this year, so we know them well. So you can mostly take the numbers at face value.
Here's a summary of the differences presented as percentages...
The Windows 11-versus-10 differences may be small, indeed mostly within what we would consider margin of error. Indeed, anything under 2% we typically regard as possible run-to-run variance. But let’s take a closer look at the results anyway. The Windows 11 results mostly edge out the Windows 10 numbers, even if not by much. The PCMark 10, Geekbench, and Photoshop scores are all higher on Windows 11, to varying degrees.Some of these are slightly outside the normal, smaller margins of error that normally occur from one run to the next, so there’s likely something to the OS difference here. Consider it a minor win for Windows 11 performance.
The exception is Cinebench, which posted a higher score on Windows 10 by 200 points. None of these margins in either direction means a lot for practical real-world use, at the end of the day—none of the 200-point gap on Cinebench, the 132-point gap on PCMark 10, and especially not the 5-point difference on the Photoshop PugetBench measure will be noticeable in regular use. At most, it’s mildly noteworthy that the span of differences is so consistent (around 2% to 3%, in four of the five cases), even if they are practically the same. But as it stands, the edge goes to Windows 11.
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Also worth repeating: This is a Ryzen-based system, and based on early returns we'd have expected to see a major difference here, if we were to see one anywhere. On the Intel side, there's a major factor we can't confirm on laptops just yet. Intel's newest chip generation, Alder Lake, delivers baked-in efficiencies that bring its performance to the next level. Chief among these is a system utility called Thread Director, a Windows 11-specific scheduler controlled by a new microcontroller on the CPU that helps direct processor traffic and power more efficiently while working through tasks. Microsoft has no plans to introduce Thread Director to Windows 10.
In our review of the powerful Intel Core i9-12900K Alder Lake flagship desktop CPU, we were impressed by the difference in this chip from past generations (not solely due to Thread Director, mind you), finally pulling Intel level with AMD's top-end consumer Ryzen silicon on content creation tasks. (Lots more about that at the link.)
We look forward to being able to see Thread Director in action (and put it to the test) on Alder Lake-based laptops when they are available, but they haven't been released yet, nor have Alder Lake mobile chips even been announced, though Intel has confirmed that they are indeed coming. It's these type of everyday and productivity workflows that should benefit. Of course, Alder Lake mobile CPUs will presumably ship only on laptops with Windows 11 pre-installed, not 10, so the point may be moot.
So, Should You Upgrade?
Based on these results, there’s no reason to hold off on the upgrade to Windows 11 on a purely performance basis. There are plenty of other considerations around whether you want to update (for example, your opinion on the UI changes that 11 brings). But concern over a potential performance drop is not warranted based on these results, even with this Ryzen-based laptop.
There may be a bit more variation at top-end performance tiers, where any Windows 11 efficiencies have more chance to flex their muscles. Specialist media and productivity machines like that, though, are going to boast high-end hardware, anyway, much more dependent on which particular processor and other components they’re employing. However, these users may also be beholden to the specific version of Windows they’re allowed to use for work by their IT departments, or because of software version compatibility.
Our recommendation for those drawn to the new OS, and who don't have any specialized needs tied to 10, is to go ahead and upgrade if you were hesitant about the performance aspect. You won't gain much, if any, perceptible speed, but you'll get access to the OS changes and conveniences that Windows 11 brings to the table. If you’re still unsure about the OS itself, however, even in light of these results, read our full review of Windows 11 and our rundown of its new features.
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