Windows Management and Maintenance : The Windows 7 Control Panel (part 9) - Notification Area Icons, Performance Information and Tools

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11. Notification Area Icons

For years, the icons in the notification area (previously known as the system tray) have been a frustration: If the software vendor responsible for the icon didn’t provide a way to enable or disable the icon, you were stuck with it. While Windows XP and Windows Vista added the option to click an arrow to display/hide inactive icons, users who have wanted to control individual icon behavior have been looking for a solution. Now, Windows 7’s new Notification Area Icons applet (see Figure 16) enables you to manage those icons.

Figure 16. Setting the notification area icon options for a Windows 7 system with Microsoft and third-party icons.

For each icon displayed, you can choose from three options:

  • Show icon and notifications

  • Hide icon and notifications

  • Only show notifications

You can keep or override the default behavior for each icon, and you can manage both standard Windows applets and icons provided by third-party programs (such as the Wisdom-soft ScreenHunter program shown in Figure 16).

12. Performance Information and Tools

Performance Information and Tools combines the Windows Experience Index (an updated version of the computer performance rating system introduced by Windows Vista) with easier access to a wide variety of performance-adjusting settings used in previous Windows versions. The principle behind Performance Information and Tools is to help you determine how well your system runs Windows 7 and to make it as easy as possible to tweak your system for better performance. It is available from the System and Security category of Control Panel, or in Large Icons or Small Icons view.

The Windows Experience Index

When you open Performance Information and Tools, the first item you’re likely to notice on the main dialog box is the Windows Experience Index (WEI) base score and component ratings (see Figure 17).

Figure 17. The Windows Experience Index includes scores from five different subsystems, but the lowest score determines your system’s rating.

Five subsystems are evaluated to provide the basis for determining the WEI:

  • Your processor’s calculations per second (CPU)

  • Memory operations per second (RAM)

  • Desktop performance for Windows Aero (Aero)

  • 3D business and gaming graphics performance (3D)

  • Your primary hard disk’s data transfer rate (HD)

Each item is scored, and the lowest score (note—not an average) is used to calculate the computer’s WEI. This might seem like an odd method to use, but the advantage is that it helps you determine what part of your system is the principle performance bottleneck. For example, in examining the system shown in Figure 18, note that the lowest scores (3.8 and 5.3) are related to the graphics card. By upgrading the graphics card to one with a more powerful GPU, the system’s WEI should increase. The other scores are 5.8 or higher, indicating satisfactory performance.

Figure 18. The Visual Effects tab of the Performance Options dialog box.

Interpreting the Windows Experience Index

How important is the WEI base score (the lowest of the subsystem scores) to your satisfaction with Windows 7? According to Microsoft, computers with base scores of 2 or less will satisfactorily perform basic tasks such as office productivity or web surfing but are probably not powerful enough to run Windows Aero or advanced multimedia features. Computers with a base score of 3 can run Windows Aero but may not be powerful enough to run high-end features such as Aero across multiple displays or display HDTV. Computers with a base score of 4 or higher can use all features. Systems with higher scores will perform better in 3D gaming. The highest score, 7.9, was achieved by the fastest-performing computers available when Windows 7 was released.

If you previously used Windows Vista, you might recall that the highest WEI score was 5.9. By increasing the maximum score to 7.9, Microsoft provides more headroom for today’s faster subsystems. Microsoft’s Engineering Windows 7 blog points out changes in WEI ratings of hard disks and graphics:

  • Hard disks with poor write cache flush performance will receive lower disk scores compared to the same hardware measured under Windows Vista’s WEI. Most conventional hard disks with properly operating write flush cache are expected to score in the 5.0–5.9 range. Extending the scoring range up to 7.9 provides headroom for SSDs and faster conventional drives.

  • Graphics performance is affected by the DirectX version supported by the GPU, the driver version used, and GPU performance. For example, if you have a DirectX 9.0–compliant graphics card using WDDM 1.1, your maximum score is 5.9. Higher scores are only possible with DirectX 10.x–compliant graphics cards that perform at about the same frame rate as in DirectX 9 mode. For mainstream DirectX 10 gaming, you will want a card with a WEI subsystem index of 5.0 or higher.

More Light on Windows 7’s WEI

The TechARP website points out additional system components that affect your WEI score in Windows 7:

  • Processor scores are determined by a combination of design and performance. For example, mainstream quad-core processors will typically score in the 7.0+ range, while dual-core processors will typically score in the 4.8–6.5 range.

  • Memory scores are determined by memory size and performance. For example, the maximum score a system with less than 3GB of RAM can receive is 5.5, while a system running 64-bit Windows 7 with less than 4GB of RAM will top out at 5.9. Systems utilizing dual-channel memory will score higher than systems using the same memory size in a single-channel mode.

The easiest way to improve the WEI in a major way is to upgrade one or more of the major subsystems it rates. For example, replacing the video card can boost scores for Aero and for 3D graphics. Adding more RAM can boost memory scores. Upgrading to a faster processor can boost processor scores. Upgrading to a hard disk with a larger buffer, faster rotation rate, or both, can increase hard disk performance. Some upgrades, such as RAM and CPU, will boost performance in multiple areas.

If you decide to upgrade your system, look at the following factors:

  • Integrated video— If you can replace integrated video with a PCI Express (PCI-E) or AGP video card that uses a GPU listed on the Windows 7–compatible GPU list, you can significantly improve your Aero and 3D scores. Look for a unit with at least 128MB of RAM if you are primarily concerned about business graphics, or a unit with 512MB or more of RAM for 3D gaming. The latest nVidia GPUs have model numbers in the GTX 2xx series, whereas the latest ATI GPUs have model numbers in the HD 4xxx series. Higher model numbers generally indicate better performance, but see the manufacturers’ websites for details.

  • Processor— Economy processors such as the AMD Sempron, Intel Celeron, or Intel Pentium Dual-Core have slower core clock speeds, slower front side bus connections to memory, and smaller L2 cache sizes than their full-performance counterparts (AMD Phenom, 64FX, 64 X2 or Intel Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad). However, a processor upgrade might also require a motherboard and memory module upgrade as well. Look at other upgrades first to improve your system’s base and subsystem scores.

  • Memory (RAM)— Windows 7 runs best with at least 1GB of RAM available to Windows. Many so-called “1GB” systems, particularly laptops, actually share 128MB of RAM or more with the integrated graphics subsystem. Thus, for best system performance, consider upgrading systems that use shared video memory to 2GB or more of system memory.

    To determine the amount of memory actually available to Windows, type DXDIAG into the Instant Desktop Search box and press Enter. This runs DirectX Diagnostics. The System dialog box indicates the amount of memory available to Windows in Windows 7.

    The System Properties dialog box in Windows 7 now shows total system memory, including memory set aside for graphics memory. The difference between these amounts in Windows 7 is the amount of RAM used for shared video (graphics) memory.

  • Hard disk drives— The best hard disks for desktop computers feature spin rates (RPM) of 7,200 to 10,000 and 16MB or larger buffer sizes. If your hard disk has a lower spin rate, smaller buffer size, or both, it’s limiting the performance of your system. If you’re considering a hard disk upgrade, keep in mind that new Serial ATA (SATA) drives are generally faster and larger than traditional PATA (ATA/IDE) drives. However, some older systems may have limited or no support for SATA drives. Laptop drives tend to feature lower spin rates, smaller buffer sizes, and smaller capacities than desktop drives.


When you display your system’s WEI, you may see specific advice that a particular program, process, or setting is slowing down your system. Use this information to go directly to the best task to help improve performance. For example, if a startup program is causing system problems, you’ll be advised to use the Manage Startup Programs task.

Click the link Tips for Improving Your Computer’s Performance on the Performance Information and Tools page to learn about the tools provided in the Tasks list on the left side. Each of these tools is discussed in the following sections.

Adjust Visual Effects

When you select Adjust Visual Effects from the Tasks list of Performance Information and Tools, you open the Visual Effects tab of the Performance Options dialog box (see Figure 18). This tab provides options to allow Windows to manage effects, adjust for best appearance, or adjust for best performance, or choose your own custom settings.

When you select the first three options, Windows 7 selects the appropriate settings. Click Custom, or clear an effects checkbox or click an empty checkbox after selecting any of the other options, and the Custom option is selected. You can enable or disable a long list of effects. These effects include animate resizing of windows, fade ToolTips, show shadows under menus, and use visual styles on windows and buttons.


Keep in mind that you can also boost your visual performance more significantly by switching from Aero to Windows 7 Basic. By ditching the 3D and transparency effects in Aero, your system will display windows faster.

Unless your system is low on physical RAM or uses integrated video or a PCI (not PCI Express or AGP) video card, there is little need to modify the default settings for these controls in respect to performance. However, if you think no shadows or no animation looks better, you can customize the look and feel of the user environment all you want.

Adjust Indexing Options

One of the most important “behind the scenes” features in Windows 7 is the integrated indexing feature. It enables you to find a file in just seconds with Instant Desktop Search and zero in on the media you want to play in Windows Media Player, to give just two examples of how indexing makes life in Windows 7 land easier and more fun.

When you click the Adjust Indexing Options task in the Tasks list of Performance Information and Tools, you open the Indexing Options dialog box (see Figure 19). The top of the dialog box lists the number of items indexed and the locations that are indexed. Click Modify to specify what to index; use this option to enable or disable indexing of system or other drive folders. Click Advanced (and provide Administrator-level credentials as required) to repair or rebuild indexes (Index Settings tab) or to adjust how indexing takes place for each file extension registered on the system (File Types tab). Files containing readable text (.doc, .xls, and similar extensions) are indexed by name and contents, whereas other types of files are indexed by name only. If you have a low-performance system, you can speed it up by disabling indexing.

Figure 19. The Indexing Options dialog.

Other Performance Options

Selecting the Adjust Power Settings task in the Tasks lists opens the Power Options dialog box. Selecting the Open Disk Cleanup task opens the Disk Cleanup utility.

Advanced Tools

Click the Advanced Tools task in Performance Information and Tools to open the Advanced Tools window (see Figure 20), which provides specific suggestions for improving system performance and links to nine different tools you can use to fine-tune performance.

Figure 20. The Advanced Tools window for a system whose performance can be improved by changing visual settings.

Click each item under the Performance Issues category to open a pop-up window with specific recommendations for improving performance.

Table 11 lists the advanced performance information tasks .

Table 11. Advanced Performance Information Tasks
Clear all Windows Experience Index scores and re-rate the systemWindows Experience Index tests
View performance details in Event logMicrosoft Management Console Event Viewer
Open Performance MonitorPerformance Monitor
Open Resource MonitorResource Monitor
Open Task ManagerTask Manager
View advanced system details in System InformationInformation summary page
Adjust the appearance and performance of WindowsVisual Effects and Advanced tabs of the Performance Options dialog box
Open Disk DefragmenterDisk Defragmenter
Generate a system health reportPerformance Monitor, System Diagnostics Report

Performance Monitor

Performance Monitor provides Windows 7 users with a one-stop solution for tracking system performance. Performance Monitor opens to the Performance Monitor Overview and System Summary (see Figure 21), which provides a real-time overview of CPU, disk, network, and memory subsystem performance.

Figure 21. Performance Monitor provides an overview of system performance and reporting tools.

For an even more detailed and customizable look at system performance data, click the Performance Monitor node on the left. Performance Monitor permits you to choose from dozens of performance counters ranging from .NET to iSCSI, TCPv4 and -v6, WMI objects, and many others. You can monitor local or network computers with Performance Monitor, and you can view information in line, bar, or report modes. Right-click the counter area to add, edit, or remove counters; save the current image; or view properties (see Figure 22).

Figure 22. Preparing to save the current Performance Monitor counters as an image.

Resource Monitor

To see a real-time graphical view of processes, CPU, disk, memory, and network activity, start the Resource Monitor from the Advanced Tools window (refer to Figure 20). Resource Monitor’s display (see Figure 23) is somewhat reminiscent of the Performance tab in Windows XP’s Task Manager, but the Overview tab provides four gauges, instead of two as in Windows XP’s Performance tab, and provides detailed information for each monitored process. To filter for a particular process, click its check box.

Figure 23. Using Resource Monitor to track detailed use of CPU, disk, network, and memory usage.

System Diagnostics Report

When you click Generate a System Health Report in the Advanced Tools window (refer to Figure 20), Windows 7 uses Resource and Performance Monitor to scan the system and display a System Diagnostics Report. A typical example is shown in Figure 24. The report includes information on system diagnostics, software configuration, hardware configuration, and CPU, network, disk, and memory subsystems, and concludes with a summary of the system and the files used to create the report.

Figure 24. A portion of a typical System Diagnostics Report.

Some of the system components tracked by the System Diagnostics Report include disabled devices; device driver and other hardware problems; antivirus and firewall protection status; resource usage; system services; startup programs; SMART disk status; Windows Experience Index score; network interfaces; and CPU, hard disk network, and memory performance.

Power Options

Although the Power Options icon is familiar to Windows XP users, the Windows 7 version of this fundamental Control Panel utility has gone through some significant changes. On the main page of this dialog box, three different power plans (known as power schemes in Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows) are listed: Balanced, Power Saver, and High Performance. The Balanced power plan strikes a happy medium between performance and energy savings on a desktop, or between performance and battery life on a portable system. Power Saver saves a lot of energy (provides a long battery life) but does so by reducing performance and dimming the screen on a portable system. High Performance maximizes system speed but uses a lot of energy on a desktop and provides a short battery life on a portable system. You can access Power Options through the Hardware and Sound category, or in Large Icons or Small Icons view.

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