By Stephanie Krieger
When presenting at a user group meeting last week, someone asked me if a low Windows Experience Index (WEI) score of 1 or 2 means that he should not use Windows Vista on that computer. The answer is "not at all."
One of my favorite capabilities of Windows Vista is that it scales itself to fit your computer to help give you the best possible performance. For example, if your computer doesn't have the graphics capability to effectively display the new Windows Aerovisual effects, Windows Vista won't enable those effects on your computer.
In this article, I'll show you where to find your computer's WEI base score and subscores, as well as how to interpret them. I'll also show you how you can use these scores to help know what to look for when buying a new computer, upgrading your existing computer, or troubleshooting performance issues.
Here's how to find your computer's WEI scores:
Open Performance Information and Tools by clicking the Start button , clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Performance Information and Tools.
View the Windows Experience Index base score and subscores for your computer. If you have recently upgraded your hardware and want to find out if your score has changed, click Update my score. If you don't see subscores and a base score, click Score this computer.
This image shows the WEI scores for the computer I used to write this column:
In Performance Information and Tools, click View and Print Details to see a list of system details, such as how much dedicated graphics memory your video card has and whether it supports DirectX 9.
WEI scores currently range from 1 to 5.9. Your computer is rated with an overall score, called the base score, and with subscores for each of five individual hardware components: processor, memory, graphics, gaming graphics, and primary hard disk. The base score is determined from the lowest of the five subscores, because your computer's performance is limited by its slowest or least-powerful hardware component.
The base score and subscores express the level of performance you can expect not only from Windows Vista itself, but from the programs that you run on it. That said, a base score of 1.0 doesn't mean that you have a bad computer or that you shouldn't use Windows Vista. It means that Windows Vista will run with basic functionality and that common business programs, such as those in the Microsoft Office system, will perform acceptably. A higher score represents a computer that's capable of higher performance and of running programs that demand more system resources.
As newer, faster hardware becomes available, Microsoft will increase the top end of the rating scale to allow scores of 6.0 and higher. That means the score you see today will have the same meaning at any point in your computer's lifetime. For example, even if the top end of the WEI range increases to 8.0, my computer's base score will remain at 2.2 if I don't make any hardware changes.
The following table shows how to interpret your computer's base score.
1.0 to 1.9
You can expect basic performance. The computer meets Windows Vista minimum requirements.
Work with business programs, web browsers, and e‑mail and instant-messaging programs. Play simple games.
2.0 to 2.9
You might begin to experience enhanced performance capabilities of Windows Vista, such as Windows Aero.
Run the same programs as the previous level but with better performance.
3.0 to 3.9
Windows Aerowill typically be enabled automatically on the computer.
Run all programs from previous levels as well as some graphics-intensive games and most features of Windows Media Center.
4.0 to 4.9
The computer should perform well with high-resolution monitors and multiple monitors.
Run all programs from previous levels with excellent performance. Run Windows Media Center with high-definition video.
5.0 to 5.9
You can expect the highest performance level available.
Run all items from previous levels, games with ultra-rich graphics, three-dimensional modeling programs, and high-end video and multimedia programs.
Wondering about Windows Aero? The new Windows Aerocapabilities are among the coolest components of the Windows Vista experience. Windows Aeroincludes beautiful graphic effects, such as translucent windows, as well as productivity-enhancing tools, such as taskbar thumbnails and Windows Flip 3D. Learn more about Windows Aero.
When you consider upgrading your computer or you need to troubleshoot performance issues, the WEI subscores can help you quickly get the information you need. For example, if I were unhappy with quality of video playback on my computer, I could check my WEI graphics subscore. The subscore of 2.2 indicates that my existing video card might not be powerful enough to provide the video performance I want.
The following list summarizes the five subscores:
Processor subscore. This subscore measures the performance of your processor when tasked with several common Windows-based activities. The subscore represents the average of those measurements.
Memory subscore. System memory can be a major factor in performance. This subscore is based on the amount of random access memory (RAM) in your computer, not including any memory reserved for graphics, as follows:
Graphics subscore. This subscore indicates how well a computer will run Windows Aeroand play videos. This measurement is based on video memory bandwidth (megabytes per second), so the higher the dedicated graphics memory in your video card, the better this score is likely to be. A 256-megabyte (MB) video card, for example, is almost certain to get a higher score than a 128-MB card.
Any graphics card that doesn't support Microsoft DirectX 9 automatically receives a score of 1.0, regardless of other factors. Also note that a video card using a driver that doesn't support Windows Vista Display Driver Model (WDDM) can't receive a score higher than 1.9. (DirectX 9 and WDDM are requirements for Windows Aero.)
Gaming graphics subscore. This subscore is based upon the frames per second at which the video card can handle different textures. If the video card doesn't support Microsoft Direct3D 9, it automatically receives a score of 1.0. A card that supports Direct3D 9, DirectX 9, and WDDM automatically receives a score of at least 2.0.
Primary hard disk subscore. This subscore measures hard disk bandwidth in megabytes per second. You can expect any modern hard disk to score at least a 2.0.
If you don't have a lot of experience with computer hardware and some of the terms in the preceding list don't mean much to you, trust me: You're not alone. Using myself as an example, I can tell you that, although I work with computers professionally, I'm far from a hardware expert. As I shop for a new video card to improve my computer's graphics subscore and get better video performance, I just look for the requirements specified in the list above. My current video card memory is 128 MB. So, because my card already supports DirectX 9 and WDDM, I'm looking for a card with those capabilities as well as at least 256 MB of dedicated graphics memory.
About the author
Stephanie Krieger is a Microsoft MVP and author of two books on the Microsoft Office system, including Advanced Microsoft Office Documents 2007 Edition Inside Out. She has served as a consultant to global companies on using Office and has taught numerous professionals and software trainers.
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