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Windows 7 tips and tweaks

What the Windows Experience Index rating means

How fast is the computer? Is it any good at running Windows? Is it able to play the latest games? What about general applications and office software? These are questions that everyone asks when they buy a new computer or are thinking of buying a new computer. The answers to those questions can be discovered by running a performance test. There's one built into Windows 7 and Vista called Windows Experience Index, but interpreting the results isn't quite so straightforward. In fact, the overall Windows Experience Index figure is actually meaningless. You need to analyse the details to discover what the computer is useful for.

To see the Windows Experience Index for a computer running Vista or Windows 7 you need to go to the Control Panel and open the System tool. In the System section of the window is the Windows Experience Index rating, which ranges from 1.0 (an absolutely rubbish computer), to 7.9 (the fastest most powerul PC money can buy).

The problem with the figure displayed is that it means nothing and it does not tell you anything useful about the performance of the computer. Click the Windows Performance Index link to go to the page where the results are revealed in detail. Now this is much more useful. It shows the individual ratings for the processor, memory, graphics, gaming graphics and hard disk drive. The overall rating displayed on the previous page is actually just the lowest of the five ratings and it is not an average. The lowest figure is displayed without actually saying which component it is for, which is why it's a meaningless figure. A low overall rating does not mean that a computer is poor, it just means that it is poor at something, perhaps just one thing, and it could be absolutely brilliant at everything else. This is why the detailed breakdown is much more useful.

Windows Performance Index rating

Look at the example above. The overall Windows Performance Index rating for this computer is just 3.5, which would seem to indicate that it is a poor computer. However, the detailed results show that it has a super fast processor with a rating of 7.2 out of a maximum of 7.9. The memory is pretty good at 5.9 and so is the hard disk drive, also at 5.9. This means that it will fly through any processor-intensive tasks. General applications will run very quickly indeed.

The reason for the low overall Windows Performance Index rating is the gaming graphics score. A value of 3.5 means that it won't be able to play the latest games at super-high resolution with all the graphical effects turned on. It will certainly be able to run simpler games that are less graphically demanding though, so older titles running at a low resolution with some of the graphical effects turned off are probably OK.

The detailed ratings show that this computer is poor for anyone that takes gaming seriously, but for most other tasks it will be fine and the desktop performance for Windows Aero is an OK-ish 4.5.

Of course, it is perfectly possible for a computer to have a really powerful video card that produces a high gaming graphics rating, but has a budget processor that has a low rating. Games rely more on the capabilities of the video card than the processor, so this would be fine for playing games, even though the overall Windows Performance Index rating is low because of the low processor score.

Of course, the ideal computer would have high ratings in every category. The ratings shown above are for a computer using onboard Intel graphics and adding the latest Nvidia or ATI graphics card would transform the gaming capabilities. The individual ratings therefore show what you need to upgrade - processor, memory, graphics or disk.

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