Vista Specs: You Have What It Takes?

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-05-17

Vista Specs: You Have What It Takes?

Microsoft wants PC owners to be ready for Vista.

To that end, the software giant will unveil May 18 a campaign designed to help people ensure their PCs can run the forthcoming operating system.

The effort, which comes ahead of the annual WinHec (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) that in 2006 kicks off in Seattle on May 22, will include the unveiling of a Get Ready Web site, which play host to an application that can assess PCs readiness for the OS upgrade.

Microsoft will also unveil of a set of minimum PC hardware specifications for systems being upgraded—some of which call for 1GHz processors and 1GB of memory allotments for certain machines—persons familiar with the plan said.

Given that its long been expected to require more powerful PC hardware than Windows XP, Vistas hardware requirements have been hotly anticipated by many consumers and business IT managers as they plan to upgrade to the OS, due in early 2007, or as they evaluate the purchase of new systems.

Microsoft has communicated a large part of the hardware requirement information in advance. But the May 18 announcement is expected to make it official.

Would another Vista delay matter? Click here to read more.

For those who wish to take advantage of all of Vistas new features and run a full-blown version of the forthcoming OS, a so-called Premium Ready PC will require at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB of main memory and 128MB of graphics memory, along with a graphics processor that meets numerous requirements, those familiar with the plan said.

To be sure, Vista will run on most PCs produced in the last several years. So-called Vista Capable PCs, Microsoft is expected to say, will require an 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and a DirectX9 capable graphics processor, the sources said.

Most recent PCs meet Vista Capable requirements. But in order for Vista to display its most advanced features, namely its three-dimensional Aero interface, a PC must meet Microsofts Premium Ready guidelines, the sources said.

Next Page: Premium Ready guidelines.

Premium Ready Guidelines

Premium Ready guidelines will call for a 1GHz processor, 1GB RAM and 128MB of dedicated graphics memory.

But, having met those, a PCs graphics processor must also adhere to DirectX9, WDDM (the Windows display driver model format for writing drivers) along with supporting Pixel Shader 2.0 and offering a color depth of 32 bits per pixel, in addition to a minimum bandwidth requirement, the sources said.

Microsoft is expected to say that 128MB of graphics memory will be capable of serving a display with up to 1.9 million pixels, a resolution of up to 1200 by 1600 pixels.

Its expected to say that higher resolutions will call for another step up in memory, an allotment of 256MB or more.

The requirements mirror several suggestions made by Gartner Group, which said in a March 28 report that Vista would require at least 1GB of memory to show its full colors.

Click here to read about how corporations are preparing for Vista.

System memory and graphics memory are often one in the same, however, making the 1GB of main memory minimum even more of a necessity for many computers that use so-called integrated graphics.

Integrated graphics use graphics cores that are built into PCs chip sets, chips that handle the movement of data inside a PC. The integrated processors block off a portion of a systems main memory to use as a graphics frame buffer.

Thus Premium Ready PCs will need the extra RAM as 128MB of it, in most cases, will be used only for graphics.

Many of the high-end PCs on the market today will be able to meet Microsofts Vista Premium Ready specifications right out of the box. But many others purchased over the last year to 18 months will need some work.

Next Page: Graphics.


The bulk of PCs sold at retail and purchased by businesses use integrated graphics.

But only the fairly recent integrated graphics chip sets for desktops and notebooks are capable of meeting all of the Premium Ready requirements—ATI Technologies Radeon Xpress 200, which is popular with consumer systems, and Intels 945, used widely among businesses both meet the minimums, their manufacturers say—meaning some systems may not be Premium Ready as they stand.

Some can be updated with discrete graphics cards, however. Just about any discrete graphics processor dating back over the past two or three years will meet the Premium Ready requirements, graphics chip makers ATI and Nvidia have said.

That also means that PCs purchased from the factory with a graphics card should also be able to leap the Premium Ready hurdles.

But Microsoft is assuming that most consumers and even IT managers arent going to want to take the time to dig into their PCs hardware to determine its Vista readiness.

Thats where the software makers Get Ready Web site will come in.

The Get Ready site, a part of the Microsofts site for providing information about the OS and its various versions of Vista, will offer a beta version of an application called Upgrade Advisor, sources familiar with Microsofts plans said.

The application can be run on a PC that an individual is considering upgrading with Vista, and it will render advice on what the machine might need to get ready, the sources said.

For its part, Gartner has suggested that corporate buyers specify, at a minimum, that their desktops include the 945G chip set, a Pentium 4 processor and at least 1GB of RAM, while notebooks start with a Core Duo processor, the 945GM chip set and 1GB of RAM.

Technology-minded buyers looking for greater performance, particularly in notebooks, should look at stepping up to 2GB of RAM and a discrete graphics chip, the firm said.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

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