There’s several reasons your cycles render looks bad in comparison to the BI one. First of all smooth shading on the cylinder and Cone make the lighting too smooth on the sharp corners. The Cylinder is easily fixed with an edgesplit modifier. the Cone is more complicated, there’s no real good way to fix it to be smooth in one direction yet have a sharp tip. These are smooth shading artifacts because of the way normals are interpolated. This is also visible in the BI render but in cycles it has a much bigger impact, because the bounced lighting is dependent on the normals.
You should also disable AO in cycles, there’s only additive AO which in my oppinion does not look good (I prefer multiplicative, because it doesn’t crush your contrast), but you shouldn’t have to use AO in Cycles anyway because you get the “real deal” with bounced lighting, no need to fake it via AO.
Then we come to the Materials. The BI standard material is more complex, it has a base Diffuse Color, then on top Specularity, which is faked light reflections. The Cycles Standard Material is only Diffuse and there’s no specularity because it’s a physicaly based renderer, you need to use real reflections to get those lights reflecting. a mix of a diffuse shader and a glossy one is close to that.
The next issue is using lamps, cycles does a better job with emissive surfaces (a lamp here reacts like a sphere with a certain radius, not a point light), because it can’t sample those lamps behind transparent surfaces (glass, transparent, translucent, refractive shaders). This is not a problem for your scene as you don’t have transparent surfaces but something to be aware of.
Thus far this is trying to replicate what BI looks like, but Cycles’s Node Material are highly customizable, if you take a look at the different threads on this forums (cycles test thread, easter egg thread, various others in the test section) you will see the potential. This example is far to simple to see any advantages. Not to say that you can’t do very pretty stuff with BI, but it’s far easier to tweak materials in cycles with its realtime viewport mode. About the rendertimes, as everywhere in 3d there’s tricks to reduce rendertimes, and also postprocessing Did you try rendering highly complex scenes in blender internal? if you push the settings on it higher it also takes ages. I’d say choose the tool that fits your requirements best. want to render photorealistic physicaly accurate shots? maybe look for something like luxrender, or Cycles, or any of the others that are out there. Looking for non-photo-realistic animations? BI might still be the best choice.
Here’s a file with some basic changes to your materials and objects. I separated it into Scenes so you can more easily switch between different setups. I added some more variants with some examples.
lighting-2.blend (1.3 MB)