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Microsoft Vista<br />What does it mean for me?

Microsoft has released the new generation of its desktop operating system - Windows Vista, which needs certain hardware to run properly.

All editions of Windows Vista will deliver core improvements such as innovations in organizing and finding information, enhanced security options and increased reliability. Some features available in the premium editions of Windows Vista, like the new Windows Aero user interface, may require advanced or additional hardware.

A Windows Vista Capable PC includes at least:

  • 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor).
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  • 512 MB of system memory (RAM).
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  • Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128 MB of graphics memory (minimum), Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware and 32 bits per pixel.
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  • 40 GB of hard drive capacity with 15 GB free space.
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  • DVD-ROM Drive.
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  • Audio output.
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  • Internet accesss

These are the minimum requirements. If you want your PC to operate faster, you'll need more muscle.

The nuts and bolts of Windows Vista hardware requirements:

Graphics: Vista has changed from using the CPU (central processing unit) to display bitmaps on the screen to using the GPU (graphics processing unit) to render vectors. The entire display model in Vista has changed. To render the screen using the GPU requires a lot of memory to do optimally  256 MB is a happy medium, but you'll actually see a benefit from having more. While 128 MB is the minimum, it will barely do the job.

CPU: Threading is the main target for Vista. Currently, very little of Windows XP is threaded. The goal is to make Vista perform far better on dual-core and multi-core processors. Since dual-core processors are the standard these days, you will see a nice performance increase using these CPUs.

RAM: 2 GB is the ideal configuration for 64-bit Vista.

Hard Drive: Serial ATA is definitely the way forward for Vista. Vista uses a new technology called Native Command Queuing, which allows for out of order completions - that is, if Vista needs tasks 1,2,3,4 and 5 done, it can do them in the order 2,5,3,4,1 if that's a more efficient route for the hard drive head to take over the disk. This leads to faster completion times. NCQ is supported on SATA 3.0 Gbit/s drives, and they are rapidly becoming the standard.

Bus: AGP is an older Video technology, and it is 'not optimal' for Vista. Because graphics cards may need to utilize main system memory for some rendering tasks, a fast, bi-directional bus is needed. PCI-Express is designed for this purpose, so be sure your motherboard supports this newer technology.

Video Display: Prepare to feel the red mist of rage. No current TFT monitor out there is going to support high definition playback in Vista. To play HD-DVD or Blu-Ray content, you need a HDCP-compatible monitor. These formats use HDCP to encrypt a video signal as it travels along a digital connection to an output device, to prevent people from copying it. If you have just standard DVI, or even an analog output, you're going to see HD scaled down to a far-less-than-HD resolution for viewing. This isn't Microsoft's fault - HDCP is something movie studios have implemented to stop piracy.

So what should I do?

The specifications detailed above are for optimum use. This doesn't mean any system with less will be unable to run the operating system. But you probably don't want your PC to run the system slowly.

We're back to the same situation we were in when Windows XP was first introduced. Current systems may run it, but future systems will run it much better. Studies indicate that less than half of the systems used by businesses today are capable of running Vista.

For existing systems, including all those corporate notebooks with onboard video, Vista will offer three levels of GUI. There will be a Classic user interface, which looks like XP, Aero, which makes some use of the GPU and Aero Glass, which makes fuller use of the graphics card.

My recommendations in regard to Vista:

  • Take inventory of the systems you use in your business.
  • Determine which systems are capable of running Windows Vista. This analysis should fall into three categories:
    • Systems that meet the minimum requirements.
    • Systems capable of meeting the minimum requirements but need some components upgraded.
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    • Systems that will need to be replaced.
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  • Consult with your IT provider regarding your network infrastructure to make certain these components are ready to accommodate Vista workstations.
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  • Place one or two Vista systems into your business environment initially. Stress these systems as much as you can, running every software application you use in your business. This will insure that all of your applications and databases are capable of running properly with Vista.
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Determine if Vista will run properly with your programs, so you know which systems need to be upgraded or replaced, and address budget constraints.

Vista is the future. Plan for it and address your hardware needs to avoid being forced to incur a large upgrade all at one time.

 Jeff Facer is president and CEO of Area-Wide Technologies in Champaign. He can be reached at 217-359-8041 or jfacer@areawidetech.com.

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