In a previous edition of the Windows Vista Report “Installing
Windows Vista Beta 2
“, I chronicled my Beta 2 installation experiences,
which ended up with a quick look at my Windows System Performance Rating. While
I was hoping that my system would at least achieve an overall rating of 3, it
was still a 2 despite the fact that I bumped up the RAM to 1GB and that Setup recognized
the onboard ATI RadeonXpress
200 graphics system and installed WDDM drivers for it.

If you’ve been reading the Windows Vista Report for a while,
you know that I’m somewhat obsessed with the Windows System Performance Rating
feature and have written about it more than a couple of times over the last six
to eight months. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that now that we’re at the Beta
2 stage of Windows Vista that I once again decided to explore it in more depth.
However, this time around I’ve got more detail about the tool and the process
used to measure a system and tabulate the Windows System Performance Rating
number. Let’s take a closer look at the Windows System Assessment Tool, or WinSAT.

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A little background

When you install Windows Vista, one of the things that Setup
does in its multifaceted installation operation is run WinSAT.
As you might surmise from the tool’s name, WinSAT is
actually a benchmark tool with a very specific goal–measuring a system’s
capability to take advantage of the features built into Windows Vista. WinSAT runs series of tests on your system’s main
components: processor, memory (RAM), primary hard disk, graphics, and gaming
graphics. Based on the performance achieved by each of these main components
during the tests, WinSAT assigns a rating number to each
component. These are called the Sub Rating numbers or scores.

WinSAT then analyzes the Sub
Rating scores awarded to each of the main components and then comes up with an
overall rating on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 1 being the lowest possible score
and 5 being the highest possible score). While it might seem logical that the
overall rating would be based on an average of all the component Sub Rating scores,
that’s not the case. Apparently, WinSAT has its own
“secret recipe” method of weighing the various measurements that go
into the Sub Rating scores to come up with the Overall Rating score.

For example, my system had the following Sub Rating scores:

Processor: 3.2

Memory (RAM): 3.8

Primary hard disk: 3.7

Graphics: 2.6

Gaming Graphics: 2.6

Yet, the Overall Rating score, was a
2.

Test details

As I mentioned, WinSAT runs a series
of tests on your system’s main components: processor, memory (RAM), primary
hard disk, graphics, and gaming graphics.

In order to test the processor, WinSAT
runs several operations that take full advantage of several native Windows
components, such as LZW data compression, AES encryption, SHA1 hashing, and Windows Media encoding. Using these real
Windows components, WinSAT not only gives the
processor a good workout but gets a very accurate reading on how the processor
will perform under normal operation.

To test the primary hard disk, WinSAT
runs an identical series of read/write transfer rate tests at different points
on the hard disk platters (inner track, outer track, etc.) in order to ensure an
accurate performance analysis of the overall hard disk. It would appear that
the amount of free space on the hard disk comes into play when the results are
tabulated.

As you might imagine, the graphics test is primarily
designed to measure the systems ability to run the Aero
interface. This test essentially analyzes the capabilities of the graphics
driver and the amount of video memory.

The gaming graphics test works with Direct3D and focuses on measuring
the capabilities of the system’s Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) performance, pixel
shader performance, and post-pixel blend performance.
Essentially, these tests generate a score based on the frames per second. (You
can actually run some of the gaming graphics tests from the command line using
the winsat.exe command along with some detailed parameters. When you do, you
can actually see the tests in action–kind of like a screen saver.)

Running WinSAT

As I mentioned, WinSAT runs as
part of the Windows Vista installation procedure; however, you can actually run
it any time you want. For example, you’ll want to run WinSAT
if you add new hardware or alter some hardware configuration settings. You can
run WinSAT from within the Performance Rating and Tools
utility found in the Control Panel–just click the Refresh My Rating Now
command.

Alternatively, you can run WinSAT
right from the Command Prompt by typing winsat.exe. Either way, the test will
run for anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes and you’ll see a dialog box that displays
an animated progress bar. When the test finishes, you can check the Performance
Rating and Tools screen. (Incidentally, when I manually ran WinSAT,
my Gaming Graphics Sub Rating edged up from 2.6 to 2.9; however, my Overall
Rating score didn’t change a bit.)

Conclusion

As I continue to experiment with Windows Vista Beta 2 over
the next couple of months, I’ll be reporting more details on all of the new and
improved features in this edition of the operating system. As always, if you have
comments or information to share about WinSAT or the
concept of the Windows System Performance Rating, please take a moment to drop
by the Discussion area and let us hear.