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By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-05-18 Print this article Print

Of all PCs in the market, high-end models purchased from the factory with discrete graphics—most desktop cards sold today come with at least 128MB of on-board memory—should be most able to leap the Premium Ready hurdles. But, given that the bulk of PCs sold at retail and purchased by businesses use so-called integrated graphics, some PC owners—particularly those with notebooks—may run into trouble.
Integrated graphics are built into PC chip sets, chip bundles that handle the movement of data inside PCs. Integrated graphics processors help save on costs, but they have drawbacks in that they tend to lag discrete graphics chips in performance, particularly when it comes to notebooks.
Mobile chip sets tend to come out several months behind their desktop brethren. Integrated graphics also use portions of a PCs main memory for a graphics frame buffer where discrete graphics are generally paired with their own memory. The widespread use of integrated graphics makes Premium Readys 1GB RAM requirement even more necessary as 128MB of that allotment will be used only for graphics. With Vista, expect premium prices. Click here to read more. Given their development schedules, only recent integrated graphics chip sets for desktops and notebooks are capable of meeting all of Microsofts Premium Ready requirements, chip set makers say. PCs based on ATI Technologies Radeon Xpress 200 and Intels 945, popular in consumer-oriented desktops and notebooks and among businesses, respectively, meet the minimums, their manufacturers say. But many other older chip sets do not. Many desktops can still be made ready with discrete graphics cards. Just about any discrete graphics processor made by ATI or Nvidia over the past two or three years meets the Premium Ready requirements, the graphics chip makers said. Notebooks, on the other hand, are generally not as upgradeable. Notebooks discrete graphics components are generally soldered their motherboards and thus cannot be upgraded. Kay estimated that a third to a half of notebooks sold right now at retail would meet Vistas basic features only. To ensure they can run Aero, notebook buyers must make sure the system theyre considering meets the Premium Ready specifications, he said. But, even if they meet the minimums, some question remain about just how well PCs with integrated graphics chip sets and 1GB of RAM will run Vista features such as Aero. One PC industry executive, who asked not to be named, said chip sets such as ATIs Radeon XPress 200 and Intels 945G will deliver adequate performance for business users when paired with 1GB of RAM. Of course, 2GB would deliver greater performance, the insider said. "Is [the 945G] going to be blazing fast? No," he said. But "does a business need that? No. A mainstream, 945-based desktop is more than enough for a user in any sort of business case." Given that, buyers who intend to use Vista for gaming, editing movies or applications such as CAD (computer-aided design) should consider not only adding a beefy graphics card, but also tacking on some extra memory, analysts say. Gartner Group, for one, said in a March 28 report that technology-minded buyers looking for greater performance, particularly in notebooks, should look at stepping up to 2GB of RAM and a discrete graphics chip. Microsoft, assuming that most consumers and even IT managers arent going to want to take the time to dig into their PCs hardware to determine their Vista readiness, will lend a hand with its Get Ready campaign. The Get Ready site, a part of the Microsofts site for providing information about the OS and its various versions of Vista, now offers the Upgrade Advisor beta. The application, which site visitors can download and run on a Windows XP PC, will render advice on what a given machine might need to be ready for Vista when it arrives. Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from Windows users. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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