Microsoft Tells All on Vistas Hardware Needs

Updated: The software giant has, for the first time, given PC owners detailed information on its minimum hardware requirements for Vista in an effort to help them prepare for the OS' January 2007 arrival.

Microsoft, for the first time, is telling PC owners exactly what itll take for them to run its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.

As expected, the software giant on May 18 unveiled its Windows Vista Get Ready Web site, along with a set of minimum PC hardware guidelines for Vista Capable PCs—which call for at least an 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM and a DirectX 9-capable graphics processor, but ask for more for those who seek to use all of Vistas features—and an Windows Upgrade Advisor application as part of a campaign to prepare people.

Vista, Microsofts first major overhaul of Windows since 2001, promises numerous updates for performance, security and productivity. Given that its long been expected to require more powerful PC hardware than Windows XP, consumers and business IT managers have been awaiting Microsofts recommendations as they plan for upgrading to the OS, due in early 2007, or as they evaluate the purchase of new systems.

But even though the minimum hardware specs for the OS show that Vista will run on just about any PC sold over the last few years, its most advanced features—including the three-dimensional Aero user interface—will require additional performance, causing at least some consumers and corporate IT departments to take a look under the hood before upgrading.

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To that end, Microsoft released two sets of minimum hardware recommendations. In addition to delivering the Get Ready Web site and upgrade advisor application, now in beta, it issued a second set of recommendations it calls Windows Vista Premium Ready.

The software makers Windows Vista Premium Ready PC specifications call for a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 128MB of dedicated graphics memory, along with a fairly recent graphics processor that meets several additional specifications, so as to ensure a PC can run Aero. The machines must also have at least a 40GB hard drive or 15GB of free space and an internal or external DVD-ROM drive.

The guidelines, analysts said, give PC owners an idea of what will be needed to upgrade a PC to Vista, in addition to telling them if a PC they might be considering will run the OS out of the box.

Microsoft "doesnt want to take the steam out of hardware sales right now. So it wants to make sure that people going into stores are comfortable that hardware on sale [now] will run Vista when it comes out," said Roger Kay, president of EndPoint Technologies Associates, in Wayland, Mass. Meanwhile, PC owners and prospective buyers want to know "they can be comfortable that [the hardware] is specd to run Vista in a fashion that will satisfy them."

But, given the wide range of hardware available in the market, not every PC will be able to run Aero right out of the box. At the same time, many PCs already in place in homes and businesses wont meet Premium Ready specs either without upgrades.

/zimages/6/28571.gifWould another Vista delay matter? Click here to read more.

Many PCs sold in the last year, for example, went out with 512MB of RAM, and so would require more memory. Others may not make the Premium Ready cut based on their graphics processors.

Microsoft has specified that Premium Ready PCs graphics processors adhere to DirectX 9 and WDDM (its Windows display driver model format for writing drivers), along with supporting Pixel Shader 2.0 and a color depth of 32 bits per pixel.

Several observers and beta testers praised Microsofts efforts to deliver the specifications. But they also cautioned PC owners on upgrading a machine only for the sake of running one feature, such as Aero.

"I expected to see specs that would require a lot of end users to buy a new machine, like we kind of saw during the XP launch days," Michael Reyes, a principal with the community site.

"I think the specs announced will ease fears among users who might typically be afraid of upgrading because they are worried their computer isnt machine enough for Vista."

Indeed, "Windows Aero is a great eye candy feature, but most families should not drop what theyve got and get a fast new machine for it," said Robert McLaws, president of Interscape Technologies, and a Windows Vista tester.

"The benefits are in the new security, easy access centers and easier management, not in a transparent window. Microsoft will just need to get out in front and educate people about the differences based on what the families actually need."

Next Page: PCs most able to clear Vista hurdles.