Purchase Your PC With Windows Vista Requirements In Mind

Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, you need to know that Microsoft is on the cusp of releasing a major new operating system. Originally code-named Longhorn, the new operating system will be out probably before the end of 2006, and will be called Vista. I was recently contacted by an attorney who asked whether I agreed with his decision to wait to purchase his new computer in order to get one with Vista.

No, I most certainly did not. And there are many reasons I did not agree with that strategy. First, his computer is severely underpowered and he cannot deploy software he wants on the current computer. In addition, his current operating system is old (Win 98), no longer supported, unreliable, and he frequently gets the BSOD (blue screen of death) and suffers loss of time and loss of work as a result. Second, and more to the point, he is a solo practitioner. I told him the truth — I would never let a client of mine be one of the first on the block to install and use a new major software release, particularly one as mission critical as an operating system, which can impact every hardware device and all software installed. Let the big firms and corporations, who have entire IT departments, roll out the new software releases, put it through its paces, deal with all the incompatibilities and bugs, and make life much easier for others. Better to wait the six months or so it takes for one or two service packs to be released to resolve those problems.

My recommendation to that attorney is the same as I make to you — buy your computer today if you need it, but keep the requirements of Windows Vista in mind.

First, let me give you some idea of why you will actually want to upgrade to Vista. There will be a lot of advantages / improvements in Vista not found in XP, let alone older OS versions. I am not one of those who has been testing it, so I cannot tell you firsthand what works great or not. But I can share with you some of what I have read which has been written by those who have tested it.

1) The OS has a rating system which evaluates components such as the processor, the memory, the hard drive and graphics cards to come up with an overall score to let you know what kind of performance you can expect from a computer. This will make your purchasing decisions easier. There is also an upgrade component to the rating system which advises specifically what components rate poorly, so you know what to upgrade on an existing system to get the most performance bang for your upgrade buck.

2) You have probably personally experienced a problem of a PC which slows down over time. PCs actually lose significant performance as more software loads at startup, hard disks become fragmented ,and other features “gunk” up the works. That’s why IT managers and consultants advise you to periodically “rebuild” your PC by reformatting the hard drive, and reinstalling everything, from operating system on up, in order to “refresh” performance. It’s an issue that Microsoft is trying to tackle in Vista. Microsoft has added several features that aim to keep the PC from bogging down over time.

3) Security enhancements. Microsoft is focusing on changing the behaviors that leave computer systems vulnerable to attack. For example, most computers today are run in administrator mode, making it easy to add new programs and make other changes, but in doing so it allows major fundamental changes to a computer to be made by malicious software. With Vista, MS is trying to change that so a computer runs with the least possible permission level. Only those programs that truly need administrator privileges would run at that level. Microsoft plans a similar change to Internet Explorer that would reduce the level of access given to external web sites in an attempt to lessen the possibility of malicious attacks.

4) Improved desktop searching and organizing. A “quick search pane,” for example, allows users to type queries and instantly see matching files. Search results can be saved as virtual folders that are automatically updated to include all items that fit a particular query. Documents, pictures, music and even applications can also be given a rating or keywords to add further criteria for searching.

5) One of my most favorite enhancements — making sure that a laptop that connects to a projector displays correctly without having to press any keys. I’m personally sick and tired of having to activate the external monitor port by pressing FN+F4 three times just to get both the projector and the laptop to display the same image. It’s not a big deal, admittedly, but I’m sure glad one of those Pepsi-drinking twinkie-eating programmers finally cleared their mind of the sugar/caffeine buzz long enough to fix it. 🙂

6) Untethering laptops — better methods for laptops to roam from one network to another. And better sharing of files between laptops and desktops.

Ok, I could go on, but you get the idea that this operating system really will offer some significant advantages, right?

Ok, so if you think there’s any possibility Vista will be in your future — trust me it will be — here are some of the hardware considerations you need to be aware of now before you buy another pre-Vista PC:

1) RAM, RAM and more RAM. Not less than 512 Mb is what Microsoft is currently saying. But those who are testing it say that 1 Gb is definitely recommended as the minimum RAM. For my clients that is not a problem — I’ve been making them buy PCs with 1 Gb RAM for a year already. I will now be advising them to buy 1.5 – 2 Gb RAM.

2) Memory throughput. That capability hinges on the speed of the memory chip used in a system, as well as whether it offers “dual channels” for data or only a single memory channel. Vista has a need for speed.

3) Aside from needing a Vista graphics driver, Vista needs an upgraded graphics card from that which currently “comes with” most PCs. This is the first OS that will offer three different levels of graphics support, depending on the hardware on the computer. I think that’s an acknowledgement of the fact that the vast majority of PCs already owned have inadequate graphics drivers. The top-of-the-line interface, code-named “Aero Glass,” will have transparency and other advanced three-dimensional shading features but will demand a high-end video card with at least 64Mb of video RAM. (Once again my clients are ahead of the curve, as I have been insisting on 64Mb video RAM for a couple of years. ) The midlevel “Aero” interface will offer most of the improved graphics abilities and will require just 32Mb of video RAM. Both Aero and Aero Glass will also require DirectX 9.0 support, and AGP 4X for external graphics cards. The lowest level of video mode will look fairly similar to current versions of Windows.

Microsoft has already posted a hardware guidance section on their web site which will be regularly updated so that you know what you need to know before your next PC purchase decision. I suggest you and/or your IT vendor visit this section regularly. Here is a notice found on that section:

Systems that meet and/or exceed the above requirements should be able to provide a good experience while running Windows Vista. PC systems that do not meet the above hardware requirements for CPU, RAM and GPU may support running Windows Vista. However, such systems may not offer all the features and benefits of Windows Vista. For example, PC systems with GPUs that do not support WDDM will only be able to provide a Windows XP-comparable desktop graphics experience, with regards to features, stability, and performance.

In other words, if you don’t meet or exceed the hardware requirements, Vista will run, but will not necessarily run well!


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