The Windows Experience Index and your PC

The Windows Experience Index and your PC

Summary: A few weeks ago I blogged about how Vista's Windows Experience Index was fatally flawed. I'm pleased to say that under the latest Vista build (pre-RC1, build 5536) things are a lot better. In this post I'm going to take a detailed look at the Windows Experience Index and see how it is used to judge the performance of your PC.


A few weeks ago I blogged about how Vista's Windows Experience Index was fatally flawed.  I'm pleased to say that under the latest Vista build (pre-RC1, build 5536) things are a lot better.  In this post I'm going to take a detailed look at the Windows Experience Index and see how it is used to judge the performance of your PC.

It was at the beginning of July that I last took a look at the Windows Experience Index score for my main Vista box back when Windows Vista was at the Beta 2, Build 5456 stage.  Back then I was disappointed by the Windows Experience Index system, partly by the fact that the scheme seemed vague, but also because over the course of a couple of weeks, the performance rating for my PC dropped from a healthy 4 to a mediocre 3 when nothing had changed from a hardware point of view.  Here's how it changed:

Vista's Windows Experience Index

But here's the score it got today:

Vista's Windows Experience Index

Things have changed quite a bit in build 5536. 

Windows Experience Index - Build5536 - 1

As you can see, the the categories under examination have stayed the same, but Microsoft has clarified what is being tested and judged:

  • Processor: Calculations per second
  • Memory (RAM): Memory operations per second
  • Graphics: Desktop performance for Aero
  • Gaming graphics: 3D business and gaming graphics performance
  • Primary hard drive: Disk data transfer rate

Overall, these criteria make a lot more sense.  These are parameters that are usually fixed and only change when the system is upgraded (although I guess a change in disk data transfer rates could indicate a configurational issue). 

Also improved is the base score.  Gone is the use of an integer as a base score for the PC, instead this has been replaced with the lowest subscore.  This means that your overall PC will be judged by the weakest.  While on the surface this might seem unfair, it's actually quite sensible because your PC is being judged by the weakest link in the chain.  This tells you what area you need to improve in order to get better performance.

To give you an idea of how your PC will be judged, here's the spec of my Vista box:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium D 950, overclocked to 4.1GHz
  • RAM: 4GB PC2-5400 667MHz Dual Channel
  • Hard drives: 3 x Maxtor DiamondMax 10 SATAII 250GB 16Mb cache
  • Graphics card: ATI Raedon X1600 PRO 256MB DDR2

Here are the subscores my system received for each of the criteria tested:

  • Processor: 5.1
  • Memory (RAM): 4.7
  • Graphics: 4.4
  • Gaming graphics: 4.7
  • Primary hard drive: 5.5

This gives the system a base score of 4.4.

I still think that the base score is a bit of a bogus metric simply because it can be swayed by any one of the criteria.  There's no way that you could, for example, buy a game for your PC based on the base score because factors that didn't affect the performance of the game could be lowering the base score.  Same goes for most other kinds of software, because rarely does a software applications demand the same levels of performance from all aspects of the PC.

However, I think that the subscores useful because it offers an "at a glance" way to for owners to see how best to spend their upgrade budget.  There is even a convenient "print this page" screen where users can get a good overview of their computer (beating, hands down, anything that Windows XP has):

Windows Experience Index - Build5536 - 2

We might even see this system used by PC manufacturers to rate their PCs - it's far better than anything they currently use, although, it is possible to "manually" tweak this rating, so you shouldn't believe everything your see:

Windows Experience Index - Build5536 - 3

There's another way that the Windows Experience Index can give you an insight into your PC - go take a look at the XML file generated (default location is C:\Windows\Performance\WinSAT\DataStore\).  Dump this into Internet Explorer and you can see the results of the benchmarks used:

Windows Vista Experience - Build 5536 - 4

Good work Microsoft! 

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, IT Employment, Windows

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  • You and Ed Bott should get together ...

    ... Ed is currently running some articles about how Vista will on just about anything.

    [i]"spec of my Vista box:

    * CPU: Intel Pentium D 950, overclocked to 4.1GHz
    * RAM: 4GB PC2-5400 667MHz Dual Channel
    * Hard drives: 3 x Maxtor DiamondMax 10 SATAII 250GB 16Mb cache
    * Graphics card: ATI Raedon X1600 PRO 256MB DDR2"

    For most people that's a monster PC! Do you have anything that has (geniunely) scored an overall rating of 5 yet?
    • I think I might get a 5 if ...

      I overclocked the video card and RAM a little (or installed 800MHz/PC6400 RAM).
      Realistically though, this is way overkill for Vista (I mostly want that power for VMware, video editing and Photoshop).
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Wisha Vista

    I think this is upside down. I buy a PC to run programs I want not to see how flashy Microsoft can program an operating system.
    I want a lean OS and layer on what I want.
    Why do I need to buy dual core processor with 4 gigs of Ram so Microsoft can show off Aero?
    Am I alone here?
    • Depends what you want to do with your PC ...

      I listed three specification - two specs by Microsoft and another that is my unofficial one (the one I recommend to people as a guideline).

      I've had bags of RAM and a fast CPU for a while (under XP and Vista) because I like to run games at full throttle and I do a bit of video editing and Photoshop. If you use your PC just for email and Internet, the Vista capable spec is going to be more than enough (which is not much more than the XP spec).
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • I should have said ...

        the specs I list are in this post:
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Is MS Crazy?! OK so probably.

    If MS thinks that everyone is going to go out and buy all new hardware just to be able to run the latest version of their buggy OS, they almost have to be certifiably crazy. I know people still running PIIIs and Win98. This is just another attempt by MS to put a gloss on their OS to deflect attention away from it's bugginess and user-unfriendliness. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that Linux or Mac has anything going for them either, but they don't require a server just for their OS.
    • Your ignorance of the situation is astonishing

      Do you mean to tell me that you think this article was saying that you have to have a high end set up to run Vista? I find it hard to believe that you think thats what this was all about, or that it somehow implies you need a CPU overclocked to 4.1GHz and 4GB of ram for Vista to run properly?

      I recently ran the Vista upgrade adviser on my desktop, set up is a duel core 2.66 with 1GB of 533 ram and a Nvidia 6600/256mb and the adviser said I could run Vista Ultimate with full Aero and no upgrading of any components was required, other then if I wanted to watch TV I would need to install a tuner.

      I can assure you that my set up is quite modest by modern standards and can be had for very little money. I would suggest that anyone who's hardware cannot support Vista home basic shouldnt even be thinking about a new OS, they should be putting their cash into some upgrades so that the OS they currently run will perform better. If you cant run Vista home basic you likely have a very tired old computer indeed.
  • Vista Experience Index

    I have had Vista x64 Ultimate on my PC for 04 days now. Install easy, most things work, had to turn off UAC for sanity's sake. Much ado about nothing.
    Problems: My specs are Pentium Duo 2.8Ghz (2mb cache); 1 Gb PC3200 DDR; 2x160gb SATA HDs; Creative Audigy Soundcard and a 512mb PCI-X Geforce 6600. The Audigy doesn't work and apparently Creative won't try and fix it. The Vista Experience Index rates my pretty up-to-date video card at a measely 2.4 for graphic elements, relegating me to its simplest interface (as if I'd installed the basic version). I don't know if that's Nvidia's or M$'s fault but it should not be.
    So much for general gripes. My big beef is that programs that use Visual Basic and interact with Office I use in my work were working fine when I installed Office 2007 on Windows XP Pro, but when I upgraded the OS to Vista, nothing can make these programs work. What the h@ll is that?!
  • RE: The Windows Experience Index and your PC

    I just upgraded my CPU from an E6750 to an E8400 my cpu score droped from 5.5 to 5.1, what's up with this??????? Could this mean my new CPU is defective.