One easy to use and useful tool that you can use to compare relative performance between different machines that are running any version of Windows 7 is the Windows Experience Index (WEI) that comes with the operating system. After you install Windows 7, this tool runs for several minutes to assess the performance of your hardware in five different areas, namely Processor, Memory(RAM), Graphics, Gaming Graphics, and Primary hard disk. If you make any subsequent hardware changes (such as adding RAM or upgrading your hard drive), or if you do something like update device drivers, the WEI display will tell you that it needs to be refreshed.
You can get to this display by going to your Start Button, then right-clicking on Computer, and selecting Properties. This will show you the “View basic information about your computer” dialog, that will show you the edition of Windows 7, along with your overall WEI System rating, processor model and speed, amount of RAM, and whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows 7. The information for my teaching laptop is shown below:
If you click on the Windows Experience Index hyperlink, you will open up the main WEI dialog, which is called “Rate and improve your computer’s performance”. This will show you your scores in each of the five areas that WEI tests. The lowest score of the five is used as your overall system score. The scores can range from 1.0 to 7.9 in Windows 7. You must have at least a 3.0 for your Graphics score in order for the Aero Glass interface to be enabled. The Primary hard disk score is capped at 5.9 unless you have an SSD. Below is the display for my little teaching laptop:
The lowest score for this system is the 4.6 score for Graphics, which is due to the integrated Intel HD graphics that are a part of the Core i3 350M Arrandale processor. In reality, 4.6 is not that bad, and Intel’s integrated graphics have improved pretty significantly over previous generations, but I could have done better by selecting a computer that had a higher performance discrete graphics solution from Nvidia or ATI.
The problem is that quite often, you won’t have any choice in the matter for a particular model you are looking at in a store. If I find myself in a store such as Best Buy, Micro Center, or the Microsoft Store, browsing computers, I always open up the WEI display to help compare the various systems. For example, how much better is a Core i5 540M than a Core i3 330M ? How much better is a 7200rpm drive than a 5400rpm drive? Why does this model cost $100 more than this model? Using this tool will help you answer some of these questions rather than relying on the sales person (who may or may not know what they are talking about).
Another free tool that you can access while in the store is msinfo32. Just type in msinfo32 in the Search programs and files box above the Start Button, and you will see the System Information display shown below. This gives you a lot of useful and interesting hardware and OS information.
Finally, I like to use the CPU-Z utility on any machine that I have access to, in order to get even more detailed information about the processor(s), memory, and graphics.
The tools give you lots of useful information that you can use to make a more informed buying decision.