If you’re a power PC user—someone who wants their machine to handle the most technologically advanced tasks and games—it’s not enough to have a computer that’s fast.
You crave a computer that’s perfect.
How do you determine that your PC is the best it can be? Check your Windows Experience Index score.
Introduced with Windows Vista, the Windows Experience Index (WEI) score rates your computer on five key components, giving you a number for each. Your overall base score, the one that really matters, is only as good as your worst-performing component. (For specific information, see What is the Windows Experience Index?)
So if your video card and monitor are top of the line, but your memory or processor capabilities lag, the main WEI score will be the same as the one earned by the slowest part.
That might not seem fair. But for the average PC user, a low or middle Windows Experience Index score is fine. Your computer will be powerful enough to run popular Microsoft Office programs (such as Microsoft Word), surf the Internet, store and edit photos, and communicate through a webcam.
Yet some PC enthusiasts demand a monster machine capable of handling everything from editing high-definition video to playing the latest ultra-realistic games. These users, who carefully select each component of their high-end, home-built computers, strive for the highest possible Windows Experience Index score. Those who achieve the elusive rank sometimes post their numbers, along with a list of the parts that made it possible, on message boards and forums.
In Windows 7, the maximum score is 7.9 (and 5.9 for Windows Vista users). While those numbers may seem strange to those used to a 1 to 10 scale, the Windows team established the figures for a reason. As technology becomes more sophisticated, the index will expand to 8.9 or beyond, to accommodate faster hardware.
As of July 2010, few people own 7.9-ranked computers. There are only a handful listed on WEI Share, a website where people compare their index scores. But it’s a goal that will grow more attainable as more advanced computer components become the norm.
Microsoft program manager (and blogger) Scott Hanselman attempted to build a computer that was fast enough to reach the 7.9 limit. For his supercomputer (which he dubbed “GOM,” or God’s Own Machine), he set a $3,000 limit and bought a six-core processor, a GTX 285 graphics card, and a low-voltage desktop memory system with 12 gigabytes (GB) of RAM.
Yet he still only reached 7.8. "Getting to 7.9 is possible, but man, it’s not easy," Hanselman said. "For now, until off-the-shelf things get faster, you’ll need some experience in overclocking, possibly a RAID disk array, and a lot of patience. Truly, if you get over 7.7, you’ve got one of the fastest machines out there.”
Forget what it says on the box: No two computers are exactly the same. Instead, the models fall into a range set by the manufacturer, with some performing faster than others. This can cause some discrepancies, even between machines with the same specifications.
who earned high scores under the 5.9 index were often surprised when their scores went down after they upgraded to Windows 7. The Windows Experience Index is calibrated to measure the latest technology. So a machine rated as fast a few years ago will fall in ranking as new and faster hardware becomes available.
Components may vary by manufacturer, and having specific hardware may not guarantee a 7.9. But people who have built high-scoring PCs generally have bought the following pieces:
A quad-core desktop processor with at least 4 gigahertz (GHz) (with a water cooling kit for overclocking) or a six-core processor
A socket 1366 motherboard
A low-voltage desktop memory system with 12 GB of RAM
A GTX 285 graphics card
A 256 GB internal solid-state drive in a striped RAID 0 configuration
A 1000-watt power supply