Vista Faces Hardware Hump

Microsoft: new OS to require hefty hardware backbone

Microsoft has, for the first time, given businesses that plan to roll out its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system a firm idea of the type of PC hardware they should choose.

The software maker on May 18 released minimum PC hardware guidelines for Vista Capable PCs. The guidelines, expected to be a hot topic at Microsofts WinHEC conference beginning May 22, call for an 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM and a DirectX 9.0-capable graphics chip in order to simply run the operating system.

However, to take advantage of all Vistas features, including its Aero three-dimensional user interface, Microsoft requires that PCs meet its Vista Premium Ready PC spec. The spec calls for a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 128MB of dedicated graphics memory, along with a fairly recent graphics processor.

Even though businesses arent likely to upgrade to Vista immediately—most senior IT managers report plans to wait at least a year before rolling it out—having minimum hardware specifications in hand will help IT managers plan their PC purchases for at least the next 18 months.

Many IT managers are likely to begin ordering PCs that have extra memory, or even discrete graphics cards in some cases, to ensure the ability to upgrade to Vista, if they choose. "Companies are going to take a wait-and-see attitude and see what the value [of Vista] is," said Tom Miller, senior director of IT at FoxHollow Technologies in Redwood City, Calif.

Miller said he plans to test Vista thoroughly, verifying both the operating systems hardware needs and its potential impact on business user productivity, before making the jump.

Ever concerned about things such as improving data security and user productivity, Miller said hes considering more potent PC hardware, but not to gain the three-dimensional effects of Vistas Aero UI. "For the average daily user whos still probably going to be using a legacy Office suite … does [Aero] really matter? I would say no," Miller said.

Analysts say Miller wont be alone. "For corporate, [whether or not to run Aero] is a bit of an issue, be-cause Aero in some ways could become an inhibitor" if it slows down a PC, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates in Wayland, Mass.

One PC industry executive who requested anonymity said he believes that PCs configured to meet the Vista Premium Ready minimum requirements will serve the needs of most business users, even if the machines use so-called integrated graphics processors.

Building the Vista PC

Microsoft has issued two sets of hardware guidelines for PCs running its Vista operating system

Vista Capable

(PCs that can simply run Vista):

* 800MHz processor

* 512MB of RAM

* DirectX 9-capable graphics processor

Vista Premium Ready (PCs for all Vista features):

* 1GHz processor; 1GB of RAM

* 128MB of video memory

* DirectX 9-capable graphics processor that supports WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) as well as features including Pixel Shader 2.0 and a color depth of 32 bits per pixel