Microsoft has long offered a calculation which is aimed at showing you just how much of a performer your Windows machine is. It's called the Windows Experience Index (WEI) and if you have Windows 7, you'll be presented with it in your face when you visit your computer's properties screen. The range is from 1 to 7.9, and shortly after Windows 7 was introduced, even Microsoft couldn't build a machine capable of hitting the top figure.
They did predict, though, that it would only be a brief time before that figure was met and they were right. Advances over the months have been such that the magical 7.9 score is now met by many configurations, and not all of them are six-core, twelve-gigabyte gaming beasts. Some mid-range setups are no longer the pedestrian Word-plus-Excel boxes they once were, and there's still a certain satisfaction in building your own PC and hitting the high spot, though the bragging rights aren't anywhere as exclusive any more.
If you want to get yourself into the WEI league tables, this is the site to go to do it. It's the home to a little bit of free software called WEI Share which grades your machine and then allows you to upload your configuration and score, both here and to your Facebook pages, and yes, you can have your moment in the spotlight even if you only get a pathetic 1 on the scale, which my notebook does, but only because there's no rating lower than 1 anyway.
The site requires Microsoft Silverlight, and prompts you to download and install the browser plug-in if you don't already have it. After I did so, with Firefox, the plug-in immediately crashed, twice, so it's probably best to restart your browser first. You won't really notice anything special even afterward, but it's essential if you want to be able to view the site at all.
Once you do get in, you'll be able to see the current top of the league, sorted by processors, memory, video memory and so forth, along with the configurations of the machines and the manufacturers' specifications, if appropriate. I am not entirely sure this is all legitimate, however, since when I visited the top machine was an Asus EEE, which is a netbook with miserable graphics and not much going for it at all. Does it really get a 7.9? Apparently, and there it is, up above the Intel core i5's and i7's and even the odd Xenon (6 cores and if you have to ask how much, you can't afford it).
Well, I don't know what to make of all this, really. The list doesn't seem consistent enough to give the figures much credibility, and now that it seems fairly easy to reach the magic numbers it doesn't seem like a challenge of great interest either to PC users or onlookers. If it were possible to use the same methods and scale to test other operating systems, so that, perhaps, a Linux-based PC might score 9 out of 7.9 compared to the same machine running Windows, that would be more interesting. But frankly unless you've got time and money on your hands and not a lot else worth trying to impress your friends with, I don't really see the point.
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