Misunderstanding the Windows Experience Index

My longtime computer book authoring colleague Roger Jennings piles onto the Free Acer Ferrari controversy with a post entitled Microsoft Gives Bloggers Sub-Aero (2.8) Laptops, in which he reprints the Windows Experience Rating screenshot from Scott Beale and then writes this commentary:

I was surprised to see a 2.8 Windows Experience Index for a laptop that’s intended to show off Windows Vista Premium’s virtues, especially a premium (Ferrari), 64-bit laptop with 1-GB of DDR2 DRAM and a 160GB SATA fixed disk. The way I read the tea leaves, 3.0 is the minimum index rating to run Windows Vista Premium Edition and qualify as Windows Vista Premium Ready.

Two things are wrong with this:

1. The experience index appears to be incorrect for the hardware. On the Ferrari 5000 notebook I received, I saw the exact same score, which made no sense at all. When I re-ran the Windows System Assessment Test, the numbers jumped dramatically. I have a pretty good idea of how this happened, which I’ll expand on in a later post. But the actual rating for this machine is now a 4.8 (on a scale of 1 to 5.9).

2. It’s impossible to make any judgments from the screen shown on Scott’s blog. You need to click the Windows Experience Index link to go to a different page that shows the scores for each subsystem. When I did that, I saw an indication that I needed to re-run the System Assessment Test because the hardware had changed.

Update: Roger Jennings adds a comment below saying that the 2.8 base score based on the Aero score graphics subsystem score seems to be accurate. Indeed, that may be true, but I don’t think that number means the system is “sub-Aero,” as the headline on his post contends. Roger quotes Microsoft documentation which says about systems with a base score of 2.0:

This level of PC may run Windows Aero but users may see noticeable performance issues from time to time, especially on PCs with scores less than 2.5 and/or 64MB of graphics memory.

I don’t understand why this sentence supports the contention that a system with a graphics score of 2.8 is “sub-Aero.” Even a 2.0 is Aero-capable, and Microsoft’s documentation here suggests that anything over a 2.5 should be sufficient.

21 thoughts on “Misunderstanding the Windows Experience Index

  1. The most annoying part is when you’re trying to do the whole thing on a system that has no signed drivers. The notebook machine I’m using is outfitted with the Intel 915 chipset, which from what I can tell means no signed drivers — now or ever.

  2. This is why I choose my RSS blog readings carefully. Blogging for some reason makes people think that they don’t have to research the information that they read about.

  3. Simon, the current max value is 5.9. Next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, the value will be increased to reflect the specs of new hardware. The ratings for current hardware will not change.

  4. Hi, Ed,

    Perhaps I’m misinterpreting Microsoft’s language. My post quoted Microsoft’s statement about the 3.0 – 3.9 rating range: “Minimum specification needed to run Windows Vista Premium features, including the new Aero user interface.” and “This is the lowest capability Windows Premium Logo PC that will ship with Windows Vista™ pre-installed.”

    The quotes are from Windows Experience Index: An In-Depth Look (http://windowsvistablog.com/blogs/windowsvista/pages/458117.aspx).

    Note also that it’s the Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero, not Gaming Graphics) that determined Mitch Denny’s 2.8 rating.

    Seems unabiguous to me.



  5. Roger, your post title included the word “sub-Aero.” The text you quote talks about the requirements for the “Windows Premium” logo. Two different things.

    I’ll expand on this in a follow-up post, but I can tell you categorically that Aero will run just fine on a system with a 2.x graphics subsystem score, especially when (as in this case) the system is an ultraportable with a resolution of 1280 x 800.

  6. One more thing: I don’t have a Ferrari 1000 here but I do have a Dell Inspiron 6400, which has an ATI Radeon X1300 graphics subsystem, which is similar to the Radeon X1150 in the Ferrari 1000). When I checked it this morning, the WEI screen was showing a score of 2.0 for Aero graphics, even though this machine (which is about three weeks old) runs Aero just fine. The hardware index page told me I needed to re-run the System Assessment Tool, and when I did so I got a score of 3.1.

    What’s most important to note is that the logo is not based on the results of a test but rather on the specs of the machine itself. And whether Aero works is also not based on the number reported by this tool but rather by the graphics subsystem.

    I went and looked at the original image posted on Flickr by Scott Beale. I can clearly see the Windows Vista Premium Ready logo. I can see the Aero glass effects in the screen shots Scott posted.

    So what’s your point? What are you going to believe? Your own eyes, or a general-purpose article about the workings of a one-size-fits-all benchmarking tool?

  7. > Simon, the current max value is 5.9. Next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, the value will be increased to reflect the specs of new hardware. The ratings for current hardware will not change.

    I don’t understand how that can work. Let’s say I create a system today that’s 10 times faster than any existing system in every category. That would probably deserve higher than 5.9 but would be capped at 5.9. And if they’ve promised there will be no recalibration when they do raise the limit in the future, I’ll be stuck with 5.9 forever. Oh, if I had only created my kick-butt system two years later, when Microsoft had raised the ceiling to 7.9, I would be happier. Huh??

  8. You’re right, Dave. When I read further, I discovered that the WEI does indeed account for that. The rating for a component will not go down in the future, but it could go up. So currently all high-end components in a specific category are frozen at 5.9; next year, when the ceiling goes up, the best-performing of those components will probably get a boost. From the Windows Vista Team blog post that Roger referenced:

    As Level 6 machines are not defined yet, it is possible that the highest performance and capable Level 5 machines may be re-leveled as level 6 in the future (i.e. that may happen if the new hardware is evaluated before the index is updated with the new capabilities).

    And let it be noted, I’m not defending this tool, only explaining how it works. I would certainly not advocate using this as any but the crudest form of benchmarking.

  9. I’m a little confused. I just put the Business Edition on my old laptop (Celeron 1.8 with 512 ram and 16mb video card)

    It wound up with ratings of 3.0/3.0/1.0/1.0/2.5, for an overall of 1.0

    But it runs Aero.

  10. How? You would need a graphics card capable of Pixel Shader 2.0

    I’m pretty sure no 16mb cards can do that so even if you somehow got the WDDM Drivers (of which none support any 16mb card) it would be amazingly slow

  11. I’ve get 1.0/1.0 for the graphics values too, though its an ATI X1300 with 256Mb RAM, with a WDDM driver, and Pixel Shader 3.0 support. It also runs Aero quite nicely too, so I don’t know how relevent the Experience Index is since its apparently got bugs in it.

    I raised this with ATI and they say its an MS issue.

  12. My PC is quite nice but a Windows Experience Index of ONLY 4.7 !

    Processor – 4.7
    RAM – 5.9
    Graphics – 5.9
    Gaming Graphics – 5.9
    Primay Hard disk – 5.7

    So why is my CPU so slow?
    The new dual core E6600 should be hitting 5.4 according to forums/sites/pundits and the like
    I’ve been into BIOS and Vista settings, I’ve made sure that no CPU throttling is occuring.
    My only other though is that i’m running the 64bit version.

    Does anyone know if the 64bit version puts a different requirement on the CPU/Pocessor test ?

    Some example stats

    My Rig

    E6600 4 MB L2 2.40 GHz 1066 MHz – WEI RATING 4.7
    Vista Ultimate – 64 bit


    Friends Rig
    Dell XPS Laptop

    T7400 4 MB L2 2.16 GHz 667 MHz – WEI RATING 5.4

    Vista Home Premium – 32 bit


    Any thoughts on this would be great


  13. Bug,

    I’m running 64-bit Vista on an E6600 here (Dell XPS410), and it reports a 5.2 for the CPU. Not sure why you’re getting a lower number.

  14. Yeah its a royal pain in the bum. Everywhere says it should be around the 5.2 > 5.4 mark. Just to confirm the processor sub score is measured independant to the rest ? (for example the beta drivers Creative and Nvidia have out might affect this)

    If there are any Vista ninjas out there i’d be happy to do a remote takeover of my PC for a bit of deep techiness.

  15. CPU-Z spotted the problem. Clock Multiplier down to 6 instead of 9. (must of been when i was playing with new memory) Vista of course only reporting the name of the processor. One reboot later and i’ve gained 25% improvement.

    In Summary if it wasn’t for the obvious assesment of hardware i never would of known.


  16. just another piece of info for you and anyone who knows why this is please explain it to me. I have a machine that is running an AMD SEMPRON64 3400+ overclocked to 2.5ghz 2GB PC3200 DDR RAM running at 208mhzx2=416 on board GeForce6100 with the latest NVIDIA Drivers and a 160GB SATA hard drive. I get over 4 on everything but graphics which is expected with on board graphics but I get 2.3 in the gaming and business graphics and the aero was 2.2 at first i rebooted still had 2.2 changed my screen resolutin to the native monitor resolution of 1680×1050 rebooted and now get aero at 2.0 why would the resolution have any effect on the index score? oh and by the way the Geforce onboard runs aero just fine and even when i use 3d benchmarks everything runs nice and smooth with no slow downs or hang ups. I think MS and Manufacturers are using this to get more people to buy upgrades they really do not need.

  17. I have a dell inspiron 6400 with core 2 duo 1.83 ghz , 2 gb ram and 160 gb hard drive, and my video card is ati x1400 . When I ran the windows experience index right after I installed windows, it gave me 3.7 . After I installed and updated the drivers to the latest drivers, I ran it again and guess what, it went down to 2.8 because of the video card!!! This thing is full of bugs and I agree that it shouldn’t be used in any way as a way to evaluate the computer’s performance.

  18. I just bought an HP Pavillion Laptop and I checked the WEI of the store model and it was 3.1 and when I got mine home it was 2.2.. It was the Windows Aero Graphics that was seriously downgraded. It is Intel Integrated Graphics.. 256MB Shared. Should I be upset and try to get a different laptop or is jus the way the test is run?

Comments are closed.