A look at the Windows System Performance Rating

Here's a look at the Windows System Performance Rating feature, which is designed to provide you with a quick analysis of how well you can expect your system to perform based on its core hardware components.

Early last week, Microsoft released the Windows Vista February CTP (Community Technology Preview), build 5380, which the company is calling the first "feature-complete" version of the operating system. Although Microsoft will continue perfecting the operating system, for the most part, what we're seeing with this release is essentially what we can expect to see later this year when Windows Vista is officially released. After test-driving the operating system, I can tell you that I'm really impressed with the breadth and quality of the new tools and overall fine-tuning that the developers have done since the December CTP.

As soon as I installed the OS and booted it up for the first time, I discovered the Windows System Performance Rating. This feature is designed to provide you with a quick analysis of how you can expect your system to perform based on its core hardware components. Since the hardware requirements for Windows Vista—with its potentially high-powered graphics system—have long been the topic of heated discussions, I've decided to focus on the Windows System Performance Rating in this edition of the Windows Vista Report.

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An example system

When this version of Windows Vista boots up for the first time, you're immediately taken to the Welcome Center, as shown in Figure A. As you can see, the upper portion of this window provides you with basic information about your system. The bottom portion provides you with quick access to the types of programs you're most likely to need when moving to a new computer or new operating system, such as transferring files and settings, setting up additional hardware, and setting up user accounts.

Figure A

When you first boot up Windows Vista you see the WelcomeCenter.

When you click the More Details button, you'll see your system performance rating. As you can see in Figure B, my test system has been given a Windows System Performance Rating of 1. Not very encouraging at first sight, but actually Windows Vista's performance on this system is pretty good. After all, it is a 2.2GHz Athlon 64 processor.

Figure B

This test system only attained a Windows System Performance Rating of 1.

The main factor that brings the rating down on this system is that it has an onboard ATI RadeonXpress 200 graphics system with 128 MB of shared memory. Having the graphics chip built into the motherboard and subsequently stealing 128 MB of RAM right off the top of the system's 512 MB isn't the most ideal Windows Vista setup, but it works.

If you go to the Windows Vista's Performance Rating and Tools feature in the Control Panel, you get a better picture of what components the operating system is looking at when rating this system. As you can see in Figure C, the lack of dedicated video memory was the determining factor in the rating of 1. Furthermore, the fact that the Windows Vista drivers for the Xpress 200 card wouldn't install correctly sure didn't help.

Figure C

The lack of dedicated video memory pulled the rating and subsequent performance down to a level 1.

When you click the How Can I Improve My System's Performance? link at the top of the screen, you'll see a Help file that explains all sorts of configuration-tweaking measures, such as adjusting visual effects or managing startup programs. You can try these suggestions to bring your rating up a notch. In the case of this example system, adding a stand-alone Windows Vista-capable video card with 256 MB or more of RAM would be the best solution. (I hope to upgrade this test system to see how the Windows System Performance Rating changes. I'll keep you posted!)

It's a numbers game

The Help system also reveals that there will be five tiers in the Windows System Performance Rating and that newer computers with the latest hardware will be given a rating of 5. Other information I gleaned from the Help system indicated that the performance rating number will be used to gauge the type of software that is matched to your computer system. In other words, instead of a list of minimum hardware requirements, we may very well see a Designed For Windows Vista logo along with a rating number on future software packages.

Windows Vista versions follow-up

Early this week in a press release titled, "Microsoft Unveils Windows Vista Product Lineup," the company officially revealed that the Windows Vista product line-up will consist of six versions, two for businesses, three for consumers, and one for emerging markets:

  • Windows Vista Business
  • Windows Vista Enterprise
  • Windows Vista Home Basic
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Windows Vista Ultimate
  • Windows Vista Starter

In the press release, Microsoft provided very detailed information on what each version will include and for whom each version is tailored. Check it out!


As I delve deeper into the build 5380 release and gain more experience with it, I'm going to be keeping an eye on, and compiling some data on, the Windows System Performance Rating numbers and the various hardware components that yield those numbers. If you're beta testing Windows Vista, please let us know what your Windows System Performance Rating is and give me the details on your hardware.

In the meantime, keep in mind that Windows Vista's official release date is slated for later this year. Some of the information about the Windows System Performance Rating system may change between now and the official release date. As always, if you have comments or information to share about the Windows System Performance Rating, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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