Windows Vista : Make Your Hardware Perform (part 2) - Maximize the Windows Performance Rating

7/30/2012 5:53:45 PM

2. Maximize the Windows Performance Rating

With the introduction of the fancy new Glass interface in Vista (covered in the last section), Microsoft is at last taking display performance seriously in a non-gaming context.

Enter the Windows Experience Index, a numeric score that supposedly indicates the baseline performance level of your PC's hardware. To view your PC's current score, open the Performance Information and Tools page in Control Panel (Figure 3).

Figure 3. The Windows Experience Index is a performance score based on the weakest performer in your PC

Here, you'll see the five performance indexes that Vista calculates:


This measures your CPU's number-crunching prowess; specifically, how quickly it can compress and decompress data, encryption and decrypt data, compute a hash, and encode a video stream. For perspective, here are benchmarks from a handful of Processor scores culled from the Web.

Processor Processor subscore Processor Processor subscore
Dual Intel Xeon 5160 @3.0Ghz 5.9 AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ @2.2Ghz 4.9
Intel Core2 Duo 6600 @2.40GHz 5.4 AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ @2GHz 4.8
Intel Core2 Duo 6400 @2.13GHz 5.4 Intel T2500 Core Duo @2GHz 4.8
Intel Core2 Duo T7600 @2.33GHz 5.2 AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile @1.6Ghz 4.7
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+ @2.6Ghz 5.1 Intel Pentium 4 @ 2.80GHz 4.1


This measures partly how fast your memory is, but also how much of it your PC has (not including any shared as video memory). Here's how Vista limits the maximum memory benchmark you can attain, regardless of how fast your RAM is.

Amount of RAM Max. subscore Amount of RAM Max. subscore
Less than 256 MB 1.0 513–704 MB 3.5
257–500 MB 2.0 705–960 MB 3.9
501–512 MB 2.9 961 MB–1.5 GB 4.5

Want a higher Memory score? Add more RAM. (It'll have the meager side effect of making your PC faster, too.)


This value is the one most closely tied to your PC's ability to render the Glass interface , and also indicates your PC's ability to play back video. The score is based on the video bandwidth (the speed at which your video card can move data, as well as the amount of video memory you have).

A video card that doesn't support DirectX 9 automatically earns a score no higher than 1.0. One for which you don't have a Windows Vista Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver can't receive a score higher than 1.9. To use the Glass interface, you must have a Graphics score of at least 2.0. Glass should run beautifully on a system ranked at 5.0 or higher. An updated driver will usually raise your Graphics score.

Gaming graphics

This measures your video card's 3D prowess, specifically the frames per second it can attain in certain situations.

Like the Graphics benchmark, described previously, there are minimum requirements for certain scores. If your video card doesn't support Direct3D 9, it earns a score no higher than 1.0. If support for Pixel Shader 3.0 is absent, then you won't see a score higher than 4.9, regardless of other factors. If you believe your card is capable of these things, yet your score seems unfairly low, your driver is likely to blame.

Primary hard disk

This measures the transfer rate, the speed at which your PC can read and write information to the drive on which Windows is installed. 

Off to the right, you'll see a Base score emblazoned on a Windows logo. This score isn't an average of the subscores to the left, but rather an indication of the lowest score—the weakest link in the chain, so to speak.

Don't panic if your Processor score is a hair lower than your neighbor's down the street, even though you have a faster CPU. (Because your neighbor is probably worried about your slightly better Graphics score, even though his video card cost $40 more than yours.)

Rather, use these scores only to provide quantitative feedback for the upgrades or tweaks you're doing. And keep in mind that these scores, although based on calculations, aren't quite as rigid as they seem. For instance, refresh the index right after booting Windows, and you may see a 0.1 variance from a PC that has been scored after being on all day. Install a new graphics driver, and your Graphics subscore may go up a few tenths while Gaming graphics dives slightly.

Click the View and print details link to shed some more light on exactly how Vista is calculating your PC's score. You can print the results here, or better yet, highlight everything (Ctrl-A), copy the text to the clipboard (Ctrl-C), and then paste into Notepad (Ctrl-V) to save the results to a file.

2.1. Update my score

Click either the Refresh Now button on top or the Update my score link down below to rescan your system and perform the benchmarks again. But don't be surprised when you don't see any progress bar or other indication that Windows is testing your system; other than periodic sluggishness in the mouse, occasional screen flashes, or increased hard disk activity, you shouldn't notice much of anything happening.

But don't let that fool you: to maximize your scores, make sure you close any running applications (including background tasks like antivirus programs and anything that uses your network), let go of your mouse, and then go get a cup of tea so you avoid doing anything that may interfere with the scoring. It's not unusual for scoring to take 10–30 minutes, even on a fast PC.

If see this error or something similar:

Cannot complete the requested operation. An unknown error has caused WinSAT to fail in an unexpected way.

it either means you clicked the Refresh Now button while Vista was already re-examining your system, or there's a problem with your video driver that's causing the benchmark system to crash. Update your driver, restart Windows, and try again.

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