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 Welcome Center.

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

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.