In the March 3 edition of the Windows Vista Report, “A look at
the Windows System Performance Rating,”
I mentioned that my Windows Vista
test system attained an Overall Rating of only 1. I had initially attributed
that low rating to the fact that the system has an onboard ATI RadeonXpress 200 graphics system
with 128 MB of shared memory, which of course is borrowed from main memory. I
also assumed that the fact that the Windows Vista drivers for the ATI Xpress 200 card wouldn’t install correctly was a
contributing factor.

Last week, I discovered that ATI had released new Windows
Vista drivers for the Radeon and FireMV
products specifically designed for Build 5308. As soon as the installation was
complete, I discovered that not only did my Windows Vista test system now have full
access to the Aero Glass user interface, but its Overall Rating had jumped up
to 2.

This jump in my system’s Overall Rating, along with the fact
that I’ve built up a small database of Windows System Performance Rating (WSPR)
statistics from some of my fellow Windows Vista beta testers, made me decide to
revisit this topic.

An overview

Let me begin with an overview of the WSPR. This tool evaluates
the main components in a system, such as the processor, the memory, the hard
drive and the graphics card. Each of these components is given a sub-rating
number that appears to be on a scale of 1 to 10. (I’m speculating that 10 would
be the upper limit of the scale, based on the data that I’ve gathered so far.)
These sub-ratings are then compiled and analyzed by the tool to provide an
overall rating that is on a scale of 1 to 5.

Now, as you can imagine, since the operating system is still
evolving, the underlying rating methodology and grading system is a work in
progress. Therefore, the numbers that we’re seeing in build 5308 will most likely
change. However, for now they give us a peek into how Microsoft is going to
deal with the hardware questions we’ve all had since Windows Vista/Longhorn was
first announced.

While Microsoft doesn’t use the term benchmark when talking about the WSPR, it does seem to serve that
purpose at this point–especially when evaluating current hardware’s ability to
run Windows Vista. In fact, the only thing that Microsoft will say about WSPR
is that it’s designed to help consumers understand what software will run on
their Windows Vista systems. For example, if a software package recommends a minimum
performance rating of 4 and your system has a performance rating of only 3,
then you’ll have a good idea that the software will not run optimally on your
system without a hardware upgrade.

Microsoft is looking at the WSPR as a useful tool for the future–for
people who are already running Windows Vista presumably on systems that they
purchased with Windows Vista preinstalled. However, over the next couple of
months, the WSPR will continue to be used by testers to gauge their system’s
Windows Vista capability.

The overall rating jump

As I mentioned, my Windows Vista test system had an Overall
Rating of 1, as shown in Figure A,
when I first installed build 5308. When I installed the new Windows Vista 5308
drivers that ATI released last week, the Overall Rating jumped to 2, as shown
in Figure B.

Figure A

The Overall Rating for this test system was 1 after I initially installed
build 5308.

Figure B

The Overall Rating jumped to 2 after installing the Windows Vista 5308

I’d initially assumed that the main factor in the low rating
was the fact that the onboard video card borrowed RAM rather than having
dedicated RAM. However, I’ve now discovered that this low-end graphics system
will, when powered by Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver, provide full
access to the Aero Glass user interface in all of its glory.

If you compare the Performance Rating and Tools screens
shown above, you can see that the biggest change brought on by the addition of
the Windows Vista drivers is that the system now recognizes that the video card
has 127 MB of graphics memory at its disposal, which bumps up the Gaming
Graphics sub rating from 1.0 to 2.7. You’ll also notice that the addition of
the WDDM driver also caused the Processor sub-rating to be bumped up from 4.0
to 4.3–presumably due to the fact that with the WDDM driver in place, the
graphics card can handle it’s own processing, thus freeing up the CPU for other

Compiled ratings

When I first covered the WSPR, I mentioned that I would be
compiling data on those numbers and the various hardware components that yield them.
Since that time I’ve analyzed 20 screen shots of the Performance Rating and
Tools screen from various Windows Vista testers and have input that data into a
spreadsheet, as shown in Figure C.
While it’s unwise to try and draw any specific conclusions on what this data
reveals, while Vista is still a beta, it is interesting to see how the various
components measured up individually and how they contributed to the Overall
Rating numbers.

For example, take a look at the three Athlon
64 3500+ systems. All three scored a 4.9 sub rating for the processor, but the
one with 2 GB of RAM and an older Radeon 9550 video
card scored an Overall Rating of 3; the one with 1 GB of RAM and a newer Radeon X800 video card scored an Overall Rating of 4.

Figure C

The Performance Rating and Tools screen data from 20 test systems.      

Take a trip down memory lane

In last week’s edition of the Windows Vista Report, “Vista’s
recycled applets should have been polished,”
I talked about how the
main applets haven’t changed much and are very similar to those in older
versions of the Windows operating system. I recently discovered a series of
screen shots of older versions of the Windows operating system on a Web site
called Windows Vista
that I thought you might be interested in seeing. On this page,
you’ll find eight screen shots, including an advertisement, for each of
Microsoft’s major Windows revisions: Windows 1.0, Windows 3.0, Windows 95, and
Windows XP. As you look at the screen shots of Windows 1.0, it’s hard to
imagine that it was released in November 1985. If Windows Vista hits its November
release date , we will have been using the Windows operating system for 21

An upgrade advisor

For people who will be upgrading to Windows Vista on
existing hardware, there will indeed be an Upgrade Advisor tool, just like the Windows XP
Upgrade Advisor
that we had in 2001. Similar to its predecessor, the new
tool will address the components in the system and make recommendations on how
its performance can be enhanced to better run Windows Vista. As you can
imagine, this tool will most likely recommend more memory and a more powerful
graphics card.


I’m still going to be keeping an eye on, and compiling data
on, the WSPR numbers. As such, if you’re beta testing Windows Vista, please let
us know what your WSPR is and give me the details on your hardware.

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