Microsoft plans to release a big feature update for Windows 11 later this year. Version 23H2 is expected to introduce many quality-of-life improvements and new capabilities, including a File Explorer redesign. Although there are concerns about performance and bugs, in this article, I want to focus on the positive side and look closely at one of the best new features the redesigned File Explorer will introduce: native RAR, TAR, 7Z, and other file compression format support.
Before Windows 11 version 23H2, ZIP was the only natively supported archive format. Therefore, users had to opt for third-party apps to work with RAR, 7Z, etc. Even though there is no shortage of free and premium file compression apps, native support is always better for the average consumer—you do not need to look for a program to extract a single randomly downloaded archive.
Still, the change raises a question: Can the updated File Explorer replace WinRAR, 7Zip, NanaZIP, and other dedicated apps for those frequently working with archives?
To answer the question, I decided to test the updated File Explorer versus WinRAR, arguably the most popular app of its kind (which is honored by the change), and NanaZIP, a great fork of 7Zip for Windows 11. I downloaded Microsoft”s massive 24GB free Windows 11 virtual machine and packed its files into three previously unsupported formats: RAR, 7Z, and TAR, with a 50% compression rate. Now, it is time to unpack the archives and measure the time it takes for Windows 11″s File Explorer, WinRAR, and NanaZIP to complete the job.
Each app went through three tests to get the average result on my desktop PC with the Ryzen 5 2600 (I will upgrade to 5600 in a few days), 32GB DDR4-3200, NVIDIA RTX 4060, and Samsung 980 SSD 500GB. Then, I repeated the process on my laptop with the Intel Core i3-1125G4, 16GB DDR4-3200, and a 500GB NVMe SSD.
Keep in mind that my goal was to see the performance difference between apps, not to find another reason to upgrade my computers, which I did anyway since the Zen+ architecture is starting to show its age, and I need a better CPU for the upcoming Forza Motorsport release.
Testing… Attention please!
The experiment revealed that File Explorer had no problems extracting TAR archives and could keep up with WinRAR and NanaZIP: all three finished in about 80 seconds.
RAR was next, and it immediately tripped File Explorer, causing it to complete the process in almost six minutes, more than three times slower than WinRAR and two times more than NanaZIP. Oof!
7Z added insult to injury: File Explorer took nearly nine minutes to extract, while WinRAR and NanaZIP finished in about one minute.
Tests on my Intel-based laptop showed virtually the same result, proving that third-party apps are much better and faster at decompressing files than the upgraded File Explorer.
Is it a problem? Hardly, if you rarely need to extract a RAR or another previously unsupported file type. However, those frequently working with archives are unlikely to ditch WinRAR, NanaZIP, 7Zip, and other applications. And it is not all about the inferior performance—File Explorer is significantly less convenient. For example, it does not display a proper status bar (good luck guessing how much time is left to finish extracting your “homework”), it cannot open a password-protected archive, and ZIP remains the only supported format when you need to pack a bunch of files into an archive (not to mention numerous other features like splitting files, adjusting the compression ratio, etc).
Although Microsoft could have made archive support slightly more convenient, we probably should not crucify it for the current implementation. It will be enough to make Windows 11 better for your average Joe without putting WinRAR and other companies out of business. Indeed, WinRAR, this is fine.