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Microsoft to refine Vista's PC-rating tool

Hardware makers and others tell Microsoft that feature's current version could be misleading.

SEATTLE--Microsoft is retooling a PC-rating feature in Windows Vista following criticism from hardware makers and others, a situation that suggests the next-generation operating system may not yet be ready for mass consumption.

The critique is that the current version of the Windows System Performance Rating feature could be "misleading," Brad Goldberg, general manager for Windows at Microsoft, said in an interview at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here.

Vista rates PC

The feature first appeared in a recent Vista preview release and is designed to help consumers when they first buy a PC and to determine which software and hardware works with a system. It looks at the processor, hard disk drive, memory and graphics capabilities and gives each a score, as well as a prominently displayed overall score.

"We have gotten feedback that this (overall) number alone is misleading," Goldberg said. "We're looking at the right way to surface the information?We're working on the user interface so that it is clearer."

The scoring system uses numbers between 1 and 5. The overall score maps to the lowest of the sub-scores. This means that if a PC has a processor that scores a 5, the highest possible score, but a lousy graphics card, with a 1, the overall score will be a 1.

Chipmaker Via Technologies is one of the companies that talked to Microsoft about the new feature. "This is something very new and could be very good or potentially misleading," said Keith Kowal, a marketing manager at the Taipei-based company.

Windows System Performance Rating is not an exhaustive benchmark, said Clarice Simmons, a program manager at Advanced Micro Devices, another company that provided feedback on the feature to Microsoft. "People don't know what it means?It is a very high-level indication of what your system can do," she said.

There were some surprised faces at AMD when Microsoft first made the rating feature available, Simmons said. For example, most of company's processors fall into only two scores and get either a 5 or a 3, she said. Also, AMD noticed that the Microsoft test isn't always in line with industry standard benchmarks, which it should be, Simmons said.

Yet AMD is happy with Microsoft's efforts to simplify the PC buying experience, she added.

Windows System Performance Rating uses some of the functionality also found in the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor, a Microsoft tool released last week that checks whether a PC can run Vista. The feature is also related to a checker in Vista that determines whether advanced features, such as the Aero user interface, are enabled.

"They are going to tune it and adjust the system so that it is better," Simmons said. She expects to hear more about the feature, including a new name and how Microsoft and partners should market it, at an event for Microsoft partners in mid-June, she said.

Retooling the rating feature is just part of product development, Microsoft's Goldberg said. "Those are the types of things in any product in the beta cycle that we're looking at here, just like other features in the product."

Vista, the successor to the Windows XP operating system, is slated to be broadly available in early 2007.