Lenovo is staking an early claim to potentially key turf in the Windows 7 gold-rush: the PC vendor boasting the fastest boot-up and shutdown times.
ThinkPad notebooks and ThinkCentre desktop PCs for businesses will boot Windows 7 up to 56% faster than when loading XP or Vista, says Lenovo.
Meanwhile, IdeaPad and IdeaCentre consumer PCs certified for "Windows 7 Lenovo Enhanced Experience" will load 33% faster and shutdown 50% faster than non-certified-but-otherwise-identical hardware.
In some cases, said Howard Locker, director of new technology at the Chinese PC maker, "we went from a 1 minute boot-up to 30 seconds, and took shutdown from 20 seconds down to 10."
Locker, who also holds the title of "master inventor" at Lenovo, credits this "unbelievable job" to three years of engineering work by Lenovo's Velocity team, in close collaboration with Microsoft, during which the two vendors literally "timed every single driver and app."
Some specific things Lenovo did to fine-tune Windows 7:
- Fixed the drivers of on-board hardware components that were cumulatively causing massive delays. For instance, Lenovo discovered a driver for a "popular wireless device" had been written to pass worst-condition certification specs and thus would grab 4 MB of continuous memory from the system in 4 KB chunks, said Locker. That added five seconds to the time it took for a PC to go to sleep. After getting the third-party vendor to fix the driver, Lenovo cut the driver's overhead to just 200 milliseconds, Locker said.
- Tweaked the BIOS phase of startup to temporarily hide some devices from Windows 7, so that the OS only loads the drivers after the boot is finished.
- Tweaked Windows 7 to delay the loading of non-essential services and applications until after startup. Those include automatic-updating apps for Adobe and Microsoft, or even Windows features. While users can try to fiddle with Windows themselves, Locker warns that do-it-yourselfers likely won't achieve the same improvements.
- Rewrote its power manager to be easier to use. It also includes an extra chip in its notebooks to more precisely measure the remaining battery life than Windows 7's, and help you "stretch" it out as long as possible.
Independent analyst Jack Gold applauded Lenovo's work with Windows 7, saying that customers were fed up with Windows' slow boot-up time even before Apple and Google used it as a talking point to score points against Microsoft.
"It was Vista that screwed it all up, as boot-ups took twice as long as XP," Gold said. "It was just ugly."
It's not clear, however, that Lenovo has done more work than its rival PC vendors or is merely "branding it better," he said.
"HP does this, Toshiba and Dell, too," he said.
And what about the tendency of Windows to slow down over time as applications, hardware and service packs are added to it? Lenovo will try to stem that by keeping its Velocity team in North Carolina busy testing drivers of popular devices against Windows 7 and its hardware, Locker said.
With Windows 7, "Windows rot is less of a problem than in past versions," Locker said. "But only time will tell."
Lenovo says the Enhanced Experience label also connotes other guarantees. For example, IdeaPad and IdeaCentre PCs with the sticker will be able to output stutter-free HD video up to 1080p HD quality, and support Microsoft's DirectX 10 APU for advanced gaming and graphic features.
Certain Enhanced Experience tablet and notebook PCs will also support Lenovo's recently-introduced SimpleTap multi-touch technology, which recognises up to four fingers at a time. That potentially enables more complicated and precise touchscreen commands than conventional two-finger multi-touch.
Despite Lenovo's embrace of multi-touch, Locker said that Lenovo's iconic red TrackPoint, debuted 17 years ago and available on all ThinkPads, probably won't go away anytime soon.
"The TrackPoint has a lot more precision, and you don't have to move your hands off the keyboard," he said. "People still really love it."