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Fine-Tuning Windows 7’s Appearance and Performance : Balancing Appearance and Performance

1/17/2011 11:35:59 AM
Because Windows 7 has a scalable user experience, there needed to be a way to determine the capabilities of a computer. The solution Microsoft developed was to capture a performance baseline based on specific performance metrics during installation of the operating system and after hardware or driver upgrades.

NOTE

If you’ve upgraded a component that affects the Windows Experience Index, you can click “Re-run the assessment” to run the assessment again. If Windows decides that the current index information is out of date (as is likely to happen after upgrading hardware or installing a new driver), you’ll have an option to Refresh Now. Changes to the computer’s working environment can affect the index scores. Don’t be surprised if your Windows Experience Index needs to be refreshed after setting Windows 7 up on a computer and installing new device drivers or hardware as may be required to complete the installation.

1. Getting Your Windows Experience Index Score

During installation, Windows 7 assigned your computer a Windows Experience Index. This index is a relative rating of your computer’s capabilities with regard to its:

  • Processor

  • Physical memory (RAM)

  • General graphics

  • Gaming graphics

  • Primary hard disk

NOTE

The “general graphics” and “gaming graphics” component titles are misnomers; more appropriate titles would be “general graphics” and “multimedia graphics.” Graphics is meant to reflect overall performance for Windows interfaces. Gaming graphics is meant to reflect performance for graphics-intensive applications, such as 3D business applications and 3D games.

To assign the Windows Experience Index, Windows 7 determines:

  • The number of processors/processor cores installed on your computer and the processor type

  • The number of calculations per second that your computer’s processor can perform

  • The total amount of physical memory installed on your computer

  • The number of memory operations per second that your computer’s memory can perform

  • The total amount of graphics memory installed on your computer

  • The relative performance of your computer’s graphics adapter

  • The data transfer rate of your computer’s primary hard disk

These performance metrics help Windows 7 determine the relative performance of your computer. You can view your computer’s Windows Experience Index and the related subscores by completing the following steps:

  1. Click Start and then click Control Panel.

  2. In the Control Panel, select System and Security.

  3. Under the System heading, click Check the Windows Experience Index.

  4. As shown in Figure 1, your computer’s performance scores are listed by component in the Performance Information and Tools console.

Figure 1. Viewing your computer’s performance scores


2. Understanding Your Windows Experience Index Score

Your computer’s base score is determined by the lowest subscore. The computer being rated in Figure 3-1 has a Windows Experience Index base score of 5.9. The base score can help you determine the type of software programs you can run on the computer. The base score also determines the level of performance Windows 7 delivers. Certain operating system features will work only when your computer meets the minimum base score requirements, and the use of certain other features, such as high display resolutions with Aero Glass or themes on multiple displays, will have a severe impact on your computer’s performance.

Whether or not you use Aero is important. The Aero interface provides enhanced features including:

  • Animated window closing and opening

  • Live previews

  • Smoother window dragging

  • Transparent window frames

To use Aero, your computer’s graphics card must support the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) and DirectX 9.0 or later. WDDM 1.0 and DirectX 9.0 were both released around the same time as Windows Vista. Both have been updated for Windows 7. Windows 7 display drivers that support WDDM 1.1 or later offer improved performance while also reducing the per-window memory usage by up to 50 percent. WDDM 1.1 supports DirectX 11. DirectX 11 offers enhancements and performance improvements over earlier versions.

Most current computers will have a base score of between three and five. The Windows Experience Index is designed to scale as computer technology advances. Thus, current computers have top scores in the 6s and 7s, and tomorrow’s computers may have top scores in the 9s and 10s.

Table 1 provides an overview of what the base scores mean. If you want to improve your computer’s base score, you can upgrade the hardware component responsible for the low score (most laptop computers cannot be upgraded in this way, however). For example, if gaming graphics is your lowest score, you could upgrade your graphics card to improve your rating. Don’t do this, however, without first consulting the performance details to determine exactly how the component is configured currently.

Table 1. Understanding your computer’s Windows Experience Index score
Base scoreWhat the score meansDescription of experience
1.0 to 1.9Degraded user experienceYou can use the computer for general computing, word processing, and music playback. The computer probably isn’t suited for more advanced tasks, such as gaming or multimedia. The user experience will be severely limited.
2.0 to 2.9Reduced user experienceYou can use the computer for general computing, business applications, basic gaming, and basic multimedia. The computer probably isn’t suited for more advanced tasks, such as multiplayer or 3D gaming and advanced multimedia. The user experience will be limited.
3.0 to 3.9Basic user experienceYou can use the computer for general computing, advanced business applications, expanded gaming, and expanded multimedia. The computer probably isn’t suited for advanced gaming, such as multiplayer 3D gaming, or advanced multimedia, such as recording HDTV and playing HD video.
4.0 to 4.9Full user experienceYou can use the computer for advanced computing, advanced business applications, advanced gaming, and advanced multimedia. The computer can use all the new features of Windows 7 with full functionality. Aero Glass will display higher resolutions while achieving good performance, and using themes on multiple monitors shouldn’t affect performance.
5.0 to 5.9Superior user experienceYou can use the computer for the most demanding tasks, including those that are both graphics-intensive and processor-intensive. The computer can use all the features of Windows 7 with full functionality. Aero Glass will display higher resolutions while achieving good performance, and using themes on multiple monitors shouldn’t impact performance.
6.0 to 6.9Outstanding gaming and graphics experienceYou can use the computer for 3D graphics and 3D applications, including those that are both graphics-intensive and processor-intensive. The computer should deliver an outstanding gaming experience and good frame rates for video playback at 1,280 × 1,024.
7.0 to 7.9Excellent gaming and graphics experienceYou can use the computer for 3D graphics and 3D applications, including those that are both highly graphics-intensive and highly processor-intensive. The computer should deliver an excellent gaming experience and excellent frame rates for video playback at high screen resolutions.

3. Improving Your Windows Experience Index Score

In the Performance Information and Tools console, you can view detailed performance and configuration information by clicking “View and print detailed performance and system information.” As Figure 2 shows, the configured details are provided for each hardware component being tracked—you can print this information for future reference by clicking “Print this page.” For many computers, gaming graphics will have the lowest subscore. By examining the details, you can see the key reason for this and typically, it is because the video card has a limited amount of dedicated graphics memory. In the example, the computer is listed as having 2,302 MB of graphics memory available. However, 1,790 MB is coming from shared system memory and only 512 MB is dedicated. During graphics-intensive gaming, this means the computer may borrow up to 1,790 MB of RAM from the available physical memory, leaving less physical memory available for applications and the operating system. For a better gaming experience, you’d want to upgrade to a graphics card with 1 GB or higher of dedicated memory. Alternatively, you could purchase a second graphics card for your computer, but there are several caveats to ensure proper operation. You’d want to check the computer to ensure a card slot is available and you’d want to ensure your computer can support two graphics cards. You’d want to check with the graphics card manufacturer to determine the proper configuration required to use the existing graphics card with another graphics card.

Figure 2. Viewing your computer’s configuration details


If your computer has no or low dedicated graphics memory, installing a new graphics card with 512 MB or more of dedicated RAM on the computer would increase substantially the graphics and gaming graphics subscores. You could then have Windows 7 recalculate the performance scores by clicking “Re-run the assessment.” Windows 7 would then begin rating your computer by evaluating the performance of each tracked hardware component. When this process is completed, each component is listed with an appropriate subscore and the computer’s new base score is listed in the Performance Information and Tools console. The rating process can take several minutes to complete.

The scores are meant to be helpful guidelines, and you can squeeze extra performance out of your computer in a variety of ways, but typically, this extra performance comes at a direct sacrifice to the way Windows 7 looks and behaves. For example, if your computer’s base score is low because of graphics/gaming graphics, you can improve overall performance by turning off graphics-intensive features of the operating system, such as Aero Glass, visual effects, live previews, backgrounds, and themes.

The detailed information tells you whether the display adapter supports WDDM and DirectX. In the Component list under Graphics, you’ll see the display adapter type and the level of WDDM support. In the expanded list under Graphics, you’ll see additional details, including the DirectX version supported.

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