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The best Windows wallpapers, ranked

Windows wallpapers ranked imagery with PC Gamer logo and yellow background
(Image credit: Future)

Somewhere deep in the consciousness of millions of people is a fragment of a Windows wallpaper. A green field, a logo, a certain shade of teal—many of us will recognise a Windows wallpaper despite not seeing one for decades. How many other images can you recall with such specificity and detail after so long? The answer is none, and that is why a Windows wallpaper is the ultimate expression of humankind.

Or something like that. Blasting through lists of Windows wallpapers to find the best (and worst) has been a trip down memory lane, though. Maybe they're not quite a match for the Mona Lisa, but some of these wallpapers will elicit fond memories of IT class or spending my nights googling lyrics to update my MSN Messenger status:

⭐JAcoB⭐ Am I moar than u bargained 4 yet? XD 🌹

Perhaps some things are best left to the decade from whence they came. Such as this particular model of Logitech webcam.

But not Windows wallpapers. As we stand on the precipice of yet another Windows generation with Windows 11, it's about time we took a look through the wallpapers that Microsoft has offered us, for free, inside its many OSes over the years.

In ascending order.

img0 - Windows Vista

(Image credit: Microsoft)

I find the lack of a vista as a default background for Windows Vista to be greatly disturbing. 

0/10.

Img0 - Windows 8

(Image credit: Microsoft)

I don't have anything against pretty flowers, I just don't understand why these particular flowers are the default background for Windows 8.

Teal - Windows 95/98

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Some may say this wallpaper was offensively singular, but I'd just call it teal.

img0 - Windows 10 (earlier version)

(Image credit: Microsoft)

A bit more brooding and dark than the Windows 10 default wallpaper today, this version was struck down to make way for a more vibrant option.

Why it was replaced with a pale imitator? We may never know.

img6 - Windows 8

(Image credit: Microsoft)

This has got to be a picture of the same hill as Red Moon Desert, which makes an appearance later in this list. That alone wins huge favour in my books. 

I'll admit it's lacking that certain je ne sais quoi—this is more 'regular desert' than 'red moon desert'—but it's still the best of the bunch for Windows 8.

Honourable mention for Windows 8 goes to Img4, which is a wonderful rocky outcrop, but looks like it may have forced the photographer into a precarious position to take the photo. You've got to have a line, and mine is apparently sooner than OSHA's.

Pringles - Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft)

There's a certain allure to Pringles that I can't shake. A forbidden snack, the crystal Pringle. 

Beetroot Pringles also look mighty tasty, and if it weren't for the rumble in my stomach when I look at it, this wallpaper would rank higher.

Autumn - Windows XP

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows XP undoubtedly offered the best default wallpapers, as proven by the top three wallpapers all originating in the gloriously green and blue operating system.

First up, Autumn. This wallpaper elicits thoughts of cosy jumpers, a roaring fire, and frolicking in the leaves. A touch of class right on your desktop. 

Bliss - Windows XP

(Image credit: Microsoft)

If a picture says a thousand words, and Windows XP's Bliss desktop background was installed on billions of PCs, how influential is this one picture?

Perhaps the most startling example of right down the middle, no-risk corporate imagery, this completely harmless vista has a certain quality to it that makes it far more special than it has any right to be. If there's a Windows wallpaper that defines Windows wallpapers, this is it.

And don't forget the great story of how this photo was taken in the Napa county hills in California by photographer Charles O'Rear, and how Bill Gates bought the entire exclusive license for some six figure sum through his photo service, Corbis, for use on the brand new OS.

Red Moon Desert - Windows XP

(Image credit: Microsoft)

What can you say, Charles O'Rear is a man that clearly loves colour theory. Brought to you by the same photographer that snapped Bliss, Red Moon Desert is taken half a world away in South Africa.

It was also originally pegged to be the default background for Windows XP before Microsoft caught sight of those blissful hills. Apparently they settled on Bliss "due to Red moon desert's apparent resemblance to buttocks." Or so says the Windows Wallpaper Wiki. Yeah, that one's going to be tough to unsee, right?

It's not O'Rear's best known work, but it is perhaps his best. Red Moon Desert is pretty ****ing great, if you ask me.

Jacob Ridley

There's no 'Silicon Valley' where Jacob grew up, but part of his home country is known as 'The Valleys' and can therefore be easily confused for a happening place in the tech world. From there he graduated to professionally break things and then write about it for cash in the city of Bath, UK.