This week's book giveaway is in the OO, Patterns, UML and Refactoring forum. We're giving away four copies of Refactoring for Software Design Smells: Managing Technical Debt and have Girish Suryanarayana, Ganesh Samarthyam & Tushar Sharma on-line! See this thread for details.
Whether copying is significantly faster than new depends entirely on how complex the object is. Furthermore, copying can get you in a LOT of trouble if you don't think things through.
For example suppose you have an object that creates a database connection - an expensive operation. If you clone that object, both the old and the new will have a reference to the SAME database connection - just imagine how that will work out! It might look great until two separate Threads try to use the connection "at the same time".
Personally, I would never touch cloning as a performance improvement option. Too many chances for unexpected interactions. Object creation by new has been improved in speed as Java has evolved.
The jvm does a lot of magic under the hood. For example a new can be highly optimized so a 'true' OS memory allocation never occurs. Here is a great well written document that talks of garbage collection, but also touches on memory management in general.
As you will see from the garbage collector descriptions below, in many cases there are large contiguous blocks of memory available from which to allocate objects. Allocations from such blocks are efficient, using a simple bump-the-pointer technique. That is, the end of the previously allocated object is always kept track of. When a new allocation request needs to be satisfied, all that needs to be done is to check whether the object will fit in the remaining part of the generation and, if so, to update the pointer and initialize the object."