Windows 8 vs Mac OS X Mountain Lion head-to-head review

A comprehensive look at the UI, software, security and business features to see which OS is top dog.

Performance

Apple designs and makes all its own hardware and is more ruthless when it comes to cutting off hardware support compared to Microsoft. Only devices that run OS X 10.6 or above can upgrade to Mountain Lion, which means nothing released before 2007 can officially use the latest OS. The forthcoming Mavericks release will be compatible with the same hardware.

This approach theoretically guarantees a base-level of performance when running OS X, and we've never experienced sluggishness when using Apple gear. The latest MacBooks and iMacs have all been beefy enough to handle intensive applications, and OS X has been consistently smooth.

The operating systems were designed with different performance goals in mind.

Battery life depends on hardware, but MacBook owners should take longevity into account if they're planning on dual-booting a machine with OS X and Windows using Boot Camp. While battery life is about what we'd expect in OS X, it drops dramatically in Windows: our last MacBook Pro review saw an OS X battery life of 10hrs 34mins drop to 4hrs 32mins when running Windows on it.

Mavericks won't be released until the Autumn, but we've no doubt it'll run as smoothly as Mountain Lion. Features already announced include the ability to "sleep" apps that aren't being used and compress RAM data from inactive apps to free up memory for use elsewhere.

Microsoft has worked hard to make Windows 8 run at acceptable levels on a huge variety of devices, and the versatility of the new OS is commendable. However, the sheer number of products with varying specs using Windows 8 means that it's not always a smooth experience. The Start screen judders when it's using weak processors, and low memory makes search and navigation feel slow.

It's a close-run thing between operating systems that are designed with different performance goals in mind: Windows 8 is built to work on everything from low-powered ARM and Intel's Atom chips to the beefed up Core i7s and for the most part it works well, despite occasional performance hiccups. OS X is only allowed near the fastest Core i5 and Core i7 parts and is often given a helping hand by high-end graphics cards and SSDs.

Apple's software is slick and responsive, but Microsoft should be equally applauded for building a system able to run across such a wide variety of devices. It's a draw.

WINNER: Draw

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