The Best Free Compression / ZIP program: a comparison

A Zip/compression program is an essential fixture on any computer. There are so many excellent free compression apps that I am always astounded when someone asks me if there is a good ‘Winzip’ alternative out there. But the real question is: which is the BEST free compression/archiving program available.
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We set out to test what we thought to be the best free compression programs in a head-to-head QUANTITATIVE comparison, where we collected actual compression and extraction data on different system.

We also took other, qualitative aspects into consideration, such as the features, the appeal of the interface, etc. What we’ve found: three programs are in a league of their own; HaoZip, 7Zip, and PeaZip. Our preference for these is in that order, respectively.

The best free compression program illustration

Table of contents:

  1. The list of programs that were selected
  2. The verdict: giving an opinion upfront
  3. Assumptions and Priorities: why we made the decisions we did, and what we cared about most.
  4. Context and variables: more complicated than we thought.
  5. System Specs: the environments we used to test
  6. The tests: extraction and compression
    1. Compression ZIP: Best overall compression performance for ZIP format
    2. Extraction time: multi part UnRAR
    3. High compression ratio performance (7Z format)
  7. Feature Comparison
  8. Formats Supported
  9. The Raw Data
  10. Credits

1. The list of programs that were selected.

We tested the following versions of these programs on 32bit and 64 bit environments.

WinRAR 7-Zip Haozip Peazip IZArc Arcthemall TUGZip Iceows Hamster
v4.01
(not free)
v9.20 v2.4.7228 v4.1 v4.16 v4.6.1 v3.5 v4.20b v2.0.0.16

Note that WinRAR is NOT FREE; however we included it in our tests for benchmarking purposes, since it is considered by many to be the archiving program of choice. Why did we choose these and not others? See assumptions and priorities below. Download links: click on the links below for the program home pages.


2. The verdict: giving an opinion upfront

The answer to the question “which compression program is best” depends on what you care about (see the section below)”. However, if I must give a recommendation I will say that my personal choice would be HaoZip, 7Zip, (tied for first place), and then Peazip. Here’s a comparison table for the three: note that the rating scale differs per each item based on how much weight I think it should have.

Criteria HaoZip 7-Zip PeaZip
Overall performance for ZIP (savings ratio + processing time) 9/10 10/10 8/10
Extraction time multi part RAR 10/10 10/10 7/10
High compression ratio performance (7Z format) 5/5 5/5 4/5
Offers all features you would expect in a modern archiver (multi part archive creation; self extracting archive; etc.) YES YES YES
a good looking interface; YES YES YES
Offers a dedicated 64 bit version YES
(in a single download)
YES YES
Excellent performance on both 32 bit and 64 bit; both low spec and high spec systems (something not to be taken for granted; btw) YES YES YES
Context menu support for both 32 bit and 64 bit. YES YES YES


3. Assumptions and Priorities: why we made the decisions we did, and what we cared about most.

Assumptions: Here’s an overview of some of the decisions we made in our test and evaluation.

  • Why we chose the programs we did: we wanted to include all ‘serious’ archivers that were 100% free. We preferred programs that had had recent releases and/or were still in development, but anyway ended up including programs that were not updated in a long time. We excluded Jzip, a program that we liked when it first came out, because it sneakily installed toolbars and crapware by default and buried the option not to do so in the ‘custom’ install option.
  • Why we looked at the formats we did: we looked at ZIP, 7Z, and RAR for WinRAR only. This is because ALL programs (save WinRAR) supported these two formats, so we could compare them. We included RAR for WinRAR in the tests for benchmarking purposes. We are aware that the selection of ZIP and 7Z may have played a role in determining the eventual ‘winners’ (esp. 7-Zip), but we estimate that these two formats (and RAR) are the most popular on the internet anyway.
  • Why we chose a multi part RAR for the extraction test: we extracted an extremely large multi part RAR archive. Why RAR? because extremely large multi-part RAR archives are the most prevalent type of archive, found all over the internet, and we wanted to know what programs were best at handling these.
  • What is meant by “overall performance”: this is a concept that is meant to gauge the most efficient trade-off between savings ratio on the one hand and time to process on the other. For example, I would consider a 14.7% savings ratio which takes 300 seconds to finish to be a better result that a 15.03% savings ratio at 700 seconds (the difference for the 1.32 gig basket of files is a couple of megs extra savings). I understand that this is a CHOICE, to say the former is better than the latter; others might have different prerogatives, and may evaluate the data differently.

Priorities: here’s what we cared about most These are the priorities we considered that this analysis will prejudiced by. Those who have different priorities can nonetheless read this article according to their different point of view; I hope that all the data and analysis are clear and easy to work with.

  1. Compression ZIP: Best overall compression performance for ZIP format. I.e. delivers the most efficient trade-off between compression ratio and time taken for ZIP output format, as explained above
  2. Extraction: best extraction time of large multi part RAR archive. I.e. performs best on extracting large multi-part RAR archives
  3. Features and interface… has the features you would expect in an archive program, a nice, user-friendly interface, set and good context menu integration in Windows Explorer.
  4. Compression 7Zip: Best overall compression performance: delivers the most efficient trade-off in creating a high-savings ratio 7Zip archive, and time taken to do so.
  5. Supported formats: this we cared about LEAST. The reason: all of them extract a huge range of formats; however, if you want to COMPRESS using a specific format that is not ZIP or 7Z, then you will have to shop carefully to find an archive program that delivers what you want.
  6. Whether it’s still in development: and whether there is a dedicated 64 bit version.

4. Context and variables: more complicated than we thought.

At first we wanted to test each software’s speed of compression, speed of extraction, and variations in size savings. However, we soon discovered that matters were much more complicated: each program had several compression ‘profiles’, and different compression formats. Moreover there were large differences in performance between 64 bit and 32 bit environments, and between more powerful and less powerful machines (particularly in 32 bit). Below is the list or relevant variables.

  • 32 bit or 64 bit
  • Extraction vs. Compression
  • Format used: we only looked at ZIP, 7z, and RAR for WinRAR
  • Profile used (typically called ‘max’, ‘fast’, etc). Refers to how much ‘work’ the program will put into the compression process. See “what the bleep is a profile” below.
  • Whether the PC was powerful or not (specifically, how many CPU cores were at play). Some programs performed admirably in a high specs configuration but miserably in less powerful machines.

The sizes and compression times were all over the map for different profiles and compression formats. Coming up with an answer to the question ‘what is the best freeware compression program’ was not going to be easy, and would largely depend on the user’s priorities. But I do have an answer to the question, albeit with caveats. What the *bleep* is a profile?Every program has multiple compression profiles depending on the compression level and format. The essential tradeoff here is time: you determine just how much the program should try to compress, and it will implicitly take longer in processing. Typically, each program will offer 3 to 6 ‘profiles’ per each format. The screenshots below illustrate two examples of what we mean by profiles (for HaoZip, Hamster).

HaoZip ProfilesHamster Profiles


5. System Specs: the environments we used to test

We tested on 3 configurations. For 32 bit we ran virtual instances of Win 7 32 bit on VMware, since we did not have access to a physical machine running Win 7 32bit. All ran on the same (7200 rpm) hard drive, which is where all testing operations took place.

64 bit 32 bit-1 Low spec 32 bit-2 High sepc
OS Win 7 Win 7 running virtually on VMWare Win 7 running virtually on VMWare
CPU Intel core i7  q740  @1.73ghz (8 processors) Intel core i7 q740 @1.73ghz (1 processors) Intel core i7 q740 @1.73ghz (4 processors)
RAM 5GB 2256 Megs 2125 Megs

The difference between 32 bit-1 and 32 bit-2 is that the latter had more resources / CPU cores available to it. We found that for some of the programs we were testing, this made a huge difference.


Click here to go to page 2 of this article (for test results, feature comparison, etc)



 
 
 
Samer Kurdi

Samer Kurdi

Has been reviewing software since 2006 when he started Freewaregenius.com

Pages: 1 2

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  • http://mchal.azok.org MCHAL

    9/10 overall performance (savings ratio + processing time) for Haopzip? Have you considered the fact that you may have unknowingly set it to automatically Test Archive after compression?

  • Samer

    @ Mchal: thanks for your comment. We in fact did NOT unknowingly set it to test archive.

  • Dan

    I used to use IZArc until I found out that it doesn’t encrypt file names in 7z archives (only content). That’s a deal breaker for me since some of my secret file names are very, uhm… incriminating.

    Now I’m happily using Haozip since its UI is similar to WinRAR.

  • Mr FR

    Great article, thank you very much for all the data and statistics presented.

    PS: haozip also has a portable edition, good for us, the usb rat packs.

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  • http://mchal.azok.org MCHAL

    Thanks for the info, Samer. By the way, have you ever heard about Bandizip – http://www.bandicam.com/bandizip/ ? Might be worth a review.

  • http://www.freeware-guides.com Freeware

    Download all of the three programs and Haozip works the best for me. It has a much simple user interface. However, 7-zip has smaller compressed file sized. Thanks for your great work.

  • http://www.area404.nl Grolo

    7-zip has a little bit more COMPRESSION formats than only 2/3 ZIP, 7Z, TAR, WIM

    • Samer

      @ Grolo: those four formats are the ones that presented themselves in the Z-Zip console itself.
      However, you are right in that the website states that it compresses the following: 7z, XZ, BZIP2, GZIP, TAR, ZIP and WIM.

      Not sure how to reconcile this.

      • Samer

        @ Grolo: ok, so it seems that 7Zip indeed supports those seven formats (7z, XZ, BZIP2, GZIP, TAR, ZIP and WIM). Interestingly, only four of them show up in the 7-Zip console when you attempt to compress a folder, and all seven show up when you attempt to compress a file.

        In any case, the addition of these does not change much, although I will fix the table.

  • http://kawangeek.com/ EddyGeek

    how about including kuaizip – a winrar clone. with .kz format it make compression greater then 7z / rar

  • nsaxiom

    I like 7-Zip but it is missing a basic function – open folder after extraction. Even Window’s built in compressed folder zip handler will do this. After I decompress an archive, I want to start working with it right away. I don’t want to spend the extra time trying to find where it was extracted. Most other archivers have this option. 7-Zip doesn’t. Why?

  • File Whisperer

    My favorite feature of Haozip that I’ve seen in NO other is the ability to copy files in the compressed folder to the clipboard. Sure you can always extract files to a particular place and then copy them elsewhere but this feature makes the process MUCH easier. Try it and you’ll see what I mean

  • Mark

    Hi Samer, fantastic work.

    While checking the reviews, saw kuaizip and decided to check out the website. It’s got some pretty big claims… Hope you could do a review of it. Perhaps just add it to the amazing one which you just did..

  • http://www.e-rgonomy.com Dani

    Best article I ever read about freeware compression.

    I sent a post in my blog about it (in Spanish):
    http://danicasati.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/comparativa-muy-completa-sobre-programas-de-compresion/

    Great work!

  • Toni

    That’s an impressive article, thanks for all the work!
    I have been using Pea-zip for some time now. Always did a good job, but I’ll check out Hao-zip, mainly to see if it has a better user interface.

  • Alan

    I liked the article the bit’s that I read, However I have been using ZipGenius for years and it hasn’t let me down so I won’t be changing.

  • jegg

    I am not so concerned with compression or extraction of rars. I wanted a program that would easily extract all zipfiles in a directory at once, so I use ExtractNow.

  • John

    A BIG problem for me with 7-Zip in Windows is that Picture Viewer can’t open image files stored in a compressed file on the fly. That’s why I’m using PeaZip instead.

  • name1

    according to Raymond’s article [http://www.raymond.cc/blog/unable-to-view-pictures-in-archive-with-7-zip/] one user commented that 7zip 9.25? show correctly pictures inside archive.
    Raymond itself has tested it and it is working..I didn’t test it myself but to let you know…

  • Gerold Manders

    Hi,

    The absences of RAR as compression format in free archivers is easily explained. Licensing costs. To be able to compress in RAR format, one has to pay license fees to the owner of WinRAR.

    Most other compression formats are free to to use, give a a better compression ratio etc. so which formats would you expect to be supported in freeware?

    RAR is only popular on the internet because after one has downloaded a multi-part RAR archive and you find out that one or more parts are broken, it is easy to repair the broken parts by using PAR files (created from the original files) to reconstruct the broken parts.

    This saved a bunch of time and bandwidth in the days of internet access by telephone lines and modems.

  • dikbozo

    @John:

    Haozip allows you to view images from within without extracting them, even a full screen slideshow.

  • Al

    Put me down as another Peazip user / fan. The differences in features and performances aren’t very large but my main reason for using is it that it is cross platform i.e. Windows, Mac and Linux so I have the same program no matter what platform I use. A great benefit and very important these days.

  • Ross Presser

    @Samer: Gzip, bzip2, and xz are by definition single file compression formats. There is no internal directory structure — the format is simply a single compressed stream. That is why they do not show in the context menu when you are compressing a folder.

  • Sal84

    Nice test. Of course this is what an “average” user may look in a zip program, but there are many special needs that may bring users to use one software or another, e.g. if you absolutely need to create RAR files you will go for WinRar, as the format is proprietary, if you want an advanced password manager and two factor authentication you will go for PeaZip, if you want maximum compression you will go for PAQ, and so on (you may be the type of person that trusts only Open Source Software, you may need to work with an arcane format for some reason…).
    There are so many spots of interest in zip programs that IMHO many users will look for them in first place, and only after go for a weighted comparison of pro and cons for each software.

  • Sal84

    Nice test. Of course this is what an “average” user may look in a zip program, but there are many special needs that may bring users to use one software or another, e.g. if you absolutely need to create RAR files you will go for WinRar, as the format is proprietary, if you want an advanced password manager and two factor authentication you will go for PeaZip, if you want maximum compression you will go for PAQ, and so on (you may be the type of person that trusts only Open Source Software, you may need to work with an arcane format for some reason…).
    There are so many spots of interest in zip programs that IMHO many users will look for them in first place, and only after go for a weighted comparison of pro and con for each software.

  • Anonymous

    i think winmount free version is a good choice too. it is fast and has the ability to mount archives up to 20 mb

  • ECrapton

    You left out jZip. Has a nice user interface, works well.

  • http://sohoweekly.blogspot.com EJ Hill

    They all suck, compared to Bandizip ;-)

  • Bruce McNally

    I used to use 7-zip until it became problematic – do a search for ‘7-zip context menu’ – a lot of users are having problems (even with freshly installed OS’s); and it seems that if 7-zip’s context menu is problematic, then it can create other context menu problems (even if 7-zip is uninstalled); the author is aware but nothing seems to be done at this point.

    I have move to Haozip – excellent program!

  • http://mincraftclassik hudson

    i lick mincraft

  • http://www.bitser.org PJ

    You might also want to consider Bitser. (http://www.bitser.org)
    Its freeware and has a lot of nice features.

  • AXXO

    free arc is the best!! bttr dan 7zip.. way bttr

  • Static

    Where does one find the portable edition?

  • Stat

    I meant where can I find an official portable edition of Haozip if it exists?

  • Rob

    7-Zip’s context menu problem stems from the fact that 32 and 64 bit Windows versions have separate handlers. This also causes problems with Adobe Reader integration. The solution is to ensure installation of the correct version (namely, 64 on 64).

  • Lael

    Surprised Zip Genius is missing. Fast, and has the ability to view the folder structure within the zip file before you extract it – something very helpful, and missing from a lot of the others.

  • http://www.unipi.gr/faculty/dep_en.php?dep=jparav John Paravantis

    Stay away from Bandizip, if you use unicode characters in file names. As of August 2012, it does not store such names correctly despite the fact that has an on/off unicode option.

    Haozip has worked very well for me so far, although it’s “best” compression still lags behind 7-zip’s “ultra”.

  • portman

    Hey guys,
    freearc is best compression software i ever seen.
    Pros:
    1. 2-5 faster than winzip, winrar, NCH Epress Zip, 7Zip
    2. I have Tested 60.3 MB file containing most of the word and HTML files, The result was:
    Freearc – 60.3Mb to 1.6Mb
    Win RAR – 60.3 Mb to 28.3 Mb
    Win Zip – 60.3 Mb to 28.6 Mb
    NCH Express Zip (Rated No 1 by TopTenReviews.com) – 60.3 Mb to 28.8Mb

    3. Its Free open source

    Cons:
    1. User Interface is not good as compare to Win RAR

  • MountainKing7

    Haozip RIPS OFF a huge portion of its UI from Winrar. Samer just check out a post I created…
    http://mountainking7.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/china-ripping-off-software-design/

  • Kevin Langdon

    I just tried to download 7-zip but it wanted to install the Yahoo! toolbar. I need another toolbar like a hole in the head.

    • Muad’Dib

      Welcome to the internet

  • Nick B

    I need to get away from paid winzip, i’m looking at alternatives. I felt that the context menu customization was lacking and the GUI was underdeveloped in 7zip. I’m currently evaluating Haozip, and I’m impressed so far. Question for anybody: does Haozip allow for a password protected self extracting exe?

  • S.

    I had been using 7zip for a while and was disappointed with its UI. It doesn’t let you do basic things like Copy Paste from within the archive.

    I’ve since switched over to HaoZip and am happy with it. I don’t really care about high end compression abilities or small differences in performance – it’s not like there are order of magnitude differences. A 1GB file is going to take a long time to extract no matter what method, and will always be done ‘in the background’. Meanwhile HaoZip is better at day to day tasks like opening small archives conveniently.

    • David Ned

      Hi,,

      Try our SysTool Compress PST software and forget your entire anxiety, like how to compress, and reduce oversize data files (.pst), archive files, safely? Also improve the slow speed and completely clean up the deleted item space. http://www.en.compresspst.com/

  • DDRAMbo

    Do you really think that 7-Zip has an attractive interface? I beg to differ! That is one of the ugliest GUI’s I’ve ever seen. Why would someone care to save a few seconds or even a minute of time using this app and have to look at such a visual atrocity? Why use an OS with graphics capabilities galore and expect less from the apps that give it purpose? Sheesh, am I alone here in thinking this?

  • eatme

    fu you weird looking mothafucker