Well, the good news is that just about any new computer you buy today will work fine with Windows Vista. Because of the way Windows Vista is designed, it will work well across a broad range of hardware. However, to get the best Windows Vista experience, there are some basic system requirements and suggestions you need to know about. In this column, I’ll take a look at how to make decisions now that will leave you in the best possible position when Windows Vista ships. The examples I’ll use below cover the products that are available as of beta 1 (July 2005).
As a general guideline, just about any mid-range and better processor shipping from Intel or AMD is a good fit for basic functionality in Windows Vista. The lower end of the current processor range will work, but those processors wont provide the optimal experience for most users and definitely wont provide the best experience for high-end gaming or video editing.
Both Intel and AMD are starting to ship dual-core processors at the upper end of their processor lines. These powerful processors will be excellent choices for Windows Vista.
Now is the time to decide whether youre ready to make the jump to a 64-bit processor. The current x64 processors from Intel and AMD will be excellent processors for Windows Vista, and I think well see a widespread move to 64-bit by the time Windows Vista ships. The x64-enabled processor lines include Intel Pentium 4 with EM64T, Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition with EM64T, and the AMD Athlon 64, AMD Athlon 64 FX, Mobile AMD Athlon 64, and AMD Turion 64. Because these x64 processors will run 32-bit or 64-bit Microsoft Windows equally well, and because these processors are at the upper end of the processor spectrum, they are an excellent choice in getting ready for Windows Vista, and they let you build a system that's ready to move into the 64-bit processing world whenever you're ready.
For links to up to date information about CPU guidelines, please see http://www.microsoft.com/technet/windowsvista/evaluate/hardware/entpguid.mspx#ECAA.
To take better advantage of Windows Vista functionality, you should have at least 512 MB of RAM, on your PC. This provides enough memory for both the operating system and a typical application workload. And while 512 MB is great for many scenarios, more advanced users will want 1 GB of memory or more. If your typical workload is heavy, you do a lot of image editing or development, or you run multiple applications all the time, then more memory is good. In general, an investment in additional memory is wise, and you should certainly make sure that the computer you buy has room to add additional memory later.
One important thing to keep in mind as youre thinking about the graphics capability of your new system is that while Windows Vista will have a new and graphics-intensive look, it will also be able to automatically and gracefully degrade down to the current graphics look of Microsoft Windows XP.
The new graphics capabilities in Windows Vista will require support for Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM), if you want to take full advantage of all the new and cool stuff, such as the new AERO Glass look. While more information about specific video cards will come later, some general rules can prepare you for getting the most out of Windows Vista.
If you are building or buying PC today, you probably want to avoid the low end of the current GPU range and make sure you get a GPU that supports DirectX 9 and has at least 64 MB of graphics memory.
Whether you are building or buying a PC today, choose a design that includes a separate PCI Express or AGP graphics card. This way, even if the card you choose ends up not being an optimal choice, you can easily upgrade just the graphics card. And the choice of AGP or PCI Express will ensure that you have sufficient bandwidth to support the enhanced graphics of Windows Vista.
If you choose a system today that has integrated graphics, look at the specific chipsets that are targeted to support WDDM, such as Intel's 945G express chipset or ATI's RS400 or RS480 family chipsets. You may also want to consider dual channel UMA solutions and 1 GB of system memory.
When choosing a notebook today for use in Windows Vista, you may run into the trade-off between better graphics or thinner and lighter ultra portables. Exactly which chipsets for mobile PCs will end up fully supported is still open at this point. However, if you are purchasing a mobile PC today, and want to get AERO Glass experience, you will need a discrete card. When buying a notebook today, ask your PC vendor for more concrete information regarding graphics cards that would support WDDM.
Whether you choose desktop or mobile configuration today, not all graphics cards will have in-box drivers in beta 1. Note that, to get the AERO Glass look with beta 1 of Windows Vista today, your system will need discrete cards. However, you should be able to get AERO Glass on systems with advanced integrated graphics choices with the later builds of Windows Vista.
For links to up to date information about GPU guidelines, please see http://www.microsoft.com/technet/windowsvista/evaluate/hardware/entpguid.mspx#EBAA.
Windows Vista will enable some exciting new capabilities for digital image processing, and those capabilities will push the need for large amounts of storage ever higher. If you're buying a PC, specifying one with a large hard disk is a good idea, but even more important will be the ability to add one or more additional hard disks later if you find you need the extra storage capacity.
Because the hard disk is generally the slowest core element in your PC, you can often get useful gains in overall performance by carefully selecting technologies that improve basic hard disk performance. The typical Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) hard disk has a speed of 7200 RPM and a 2 MB cache. By selecting a Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) drive with an 8 MB cache and Native Command Queuing (NCQ), you can give your system a boost in performance, especially if your typical workload involves running several different applications simultaneously.
A DVD drive that is capable of both reading and writing DVDs will be an important element of a Windows Vista PC. These drives have come down in price dramatically, and you should look for a drive that can handle both -RW and +RW formats (i.e., DVD±RW) to ensure maximum compatibility.
Windows Vista will take full advantage of the connected world in which we operate, so you should make sure that the PC you buy has the latest networking capabilities built into it. For a laptop, this means built-in 802.11 wireless capability, and for the home PC, you should include at least 100 Mb of Ethernet capability. Adding wireless 802.11 capability to a home PC gives you greater flexibility in where you use that PC and makes it easy to connect your mobile laptop to your home network.
As you can see from the guidelines I've covered in this column, you don't need to choose an absolute top-end computer to ensure that it will work well for Windows Vista. But you do want to make choices that are at least at the midpoint in the general price range. You also want to pay special attention to making decisions that give you maximum flexibility later to upgrade individual components as appropriate. This is a good idea for any PC decision, but its especially important for choosing a Windows Vista-capable PC.
Intel has been working closely with Microsoft to identify and develop key hardware components for Windows Vista*. Intel is supplying this information to assist enterprise customers in procuring and deploying PCs before Windows Vista launches. This list will be updated periodically as newly enabled products are released.
Recommended Business Platform
Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor 600Δ sequence with HT Technology1 and Intel® Extended Memory 64 TechnologyΦ
Intel® Chipset / Graphics
Intel® 945G Express Chipset
Intel® PRO/1000 PM LAN Connection
Additional Business Processors
Intel® Xeon® processor (Dual Processor)
Intel® Pentium® processor Extreme Edition (Dual-Core)
Intel® Pentium® 4 processor with HT Technology Extreme Edition
Intel® Pentium® D processor (Dual-Core) I
Intel® Pentium® 4 processor supporting Hyper-Threading Technology
Look for systems with the Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor with HT Technology logo which your system vendor has verified utilize Hyper-Threading Technology. Performance will vary depending on the specific hardware and software you use.
The Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 950 is a component of the Intel® 945G Express Chipset and is targeted to support the Windows Vista* Display Driver Model.
Intel processor numbers are not a measure of performance. Processor numbers differentiate features within each processor family, not across different processor families.
Intel® EM64T requires a computer system with a processor, chipset, BIOS, operating system, device drivers and applications enabled for Intel EM64T. Processor will not operate (including 32-bit operation) without an Intel EM64T-enabled BIOS. Performance will vary depending on your hardware and software configurations.
Intel Mobile Platforms
2005 Intel SIPP Laptop PCs: Laptops based on the Mobile Intel® 915GM Express Chipset, which launched in January 2005, provide breakthrough mobile performance, great battery life, integrated WiFi capability and thinner, lighter form factors. After the launch of Windows Vista, laptop PCs with Mobile Intel® 915GM Express Chipset will be able to run Windows Vista providing a Windows* XP-comparable graphics experience. On newly shipping systems with Mobile Intel® 915PM Express Chipset platforms, additional functionality, including support for the Windows Vista Display Driver Model, may be available with certain 3rd party graphics cards. Please contact your graphics or PC vendor for additional information.
2006 Intel SIPP Guidance for Laptop PCs: Intel's next generation mobile platform, code-named "Napa", is scheduled to launch in early 2006. Napa-based laptops using either Intel's integrated or certain 3rd party discrete graphics are targeted to support the new Windows Vista Display Driver Model. As part of the Intel Stable Image Platform Program, which defines annual transition cycles for desktop and laptop systems, Intel is recommending that IT managers begin qualification and deployment of Napa-based laptops in early 2006.
Mobile Platforms with Intel® Centrino™ Mobile Technology (2005)
Intel® Pentium® M processor
Intel® Chipset / Graphics
Mobile Intel® 915 Express Chipset family
(providing a Windows XP-comparable graphics experience)
Intel® PRO/Wireless 2915ABG Network Connection
Intel® PRO/Wireless 2200BG Network Connection
Additional Business Processors
Intel® Celeron® M processor
AMD has been working closely with Microsoft® to identify and develop key hardware components for Windows Vista™, the next generation Windows® operating system. AMD is supplying this information to assist enterprise customers to procure and deploy PCs before Windows Vista launches. We plan to update this information as new products are developed that satisfy the criteria for the Windows Vista Ready PC program.
AMD and Microsoft are continuing to collaborate on Windows Vista, coming in 2006 (previously codenamed "Longhorn"). Windows Vista is designed to take full advantage of key AMD innovations such as AMD64 technology, dual core processing, Enhanced Virus Protection*, AMD Cool'n'Quiet™, and AMD PowerNow!™ technologies.
Following is a list of AMD processors that are designed to be ready for Windows Vista.
AMD Athlon™ 64 FX Processor
AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor
AMD Athlon™ 64 Processor
AMD Sempron™ Processor
AMD Turion™ 64 Mobile Technology
Mobile AMD Athlon™ 64 Processor
Mobile AMD Sempron™ Processor
Single and Dual-Core AMD Opteron™ Processors
ATI Technologies Inc. has been working closely with Microsoft to identify and develop key hardware components for Windows Vista™, the next generation Windows® operating system. ATI Technologies are supplying this information to assist enterprise customers procure and deploy PCs before Windows Vista launches. We will update this information as new products are developed that satisfy the criteria for the Windows Vista Ready PC program.
The following products support Windows Vista™, Display Driver Model (formerly known as LDDM):
By ASIC Name:
All DX9 GPUs
M10 or above
R300 or above
RV350 or above
RS400, RS480, RS482, RC410
By Brand Name:
All-In-Wonder® 9600 Series or higher
All-In-Wonder® X600 Series or higher
Radeon® X300 Series or higher
Radeon® 9500 Series or higher
Radeon® Xpress 200
CrossFire Radeon® Xpress 200
Mobility™ Radeon® X300 Series or higher
Mobility™ Radeon® 9500 Series or higher
FireGL V5000 (RV410GL) Series or higher
FireGL V3100 Series or higher
FireGL T2-128 Series or higher
Radeon® Xpress 200M
FireGL V3100 Series or higher
FireGL V5000, V7100 Series or higher
FireGL T2-128 Series or higher
FireGL X2-256 Series or higher
FireGL X3-256 Series or higher
Continuing our commitment to develop innovative products that enhance the end-user experience, NVIDIA has been working closely with Microsoft to identify and develop key hardware components for Windows Vista™, the next generation Windows® operating system. NVIDIA is working closely with Microsoft to develop and support key display components of the Windows Vista OS. NVIDIA fully supports the Windows Vista Display Driver Model, which will greatly improve the stability and performance of the OS. PCs equipped with NVIDIA graphics processing units (GPUs) and Windows Vista Display Driver Model drivers will also enable users to take full advantage of the new graphically rich user interface experience in Windows Vista.
NVIDIA offers a complete top-to-bottom line up of NVIDIA® GeForce™ graphics processing units (GPUs) that will take full advantage of the new Windows Vista features and functionality when the final OS is released.
We are supplying this information to assist enterprise customers procure and deploy PCs before Windows Vista launches.
The following NVIDIA desktop GPUs are "Windows Vista Ready:
GeForce 7800 GTX GPUs
GeForce 7800 GT GPUs
GeForce 6800 GPUs
GeForce 6600 GPUs
GeForce 6200 GPUs
GeForce FX 5900 GPUs
GeForce FX 5700 GPUs
GeForce FX 5600 GPUs
GeForce FX 5200 GPUs
GeForce PCX GPUs
NVIDIA is also fully supporting our mobile OEM partners for all needed drivers for Windows Vista Beta 1. Please see your OEM partner to secure the proper drivers for the devices they choose to support during this beta period.
The following NVIDIA notebook GPUs are "Windows Vista Ready:
GeForce Go 6800 GPUs
GeForce Go 6600 GPUs
GeForce Go 6400 GPUs
GeForce Go 6200 GPUs
GeForce FX Go5700 GPUs
GeForce FX Go5650 GPUs
GeForce FX Go5600 GPUs
GeForce FX Go5200 GPUs
GeForce FX Go5100 GPUs
The following NVIDIA workstation GPUs are "Windows Vista Ready:
Quadro FX 540
Quadro FX 1000
Quadro FX 1100
Quadro FX 1300
Quadro FX 1400
Quadro FX 3000
Quadro FX 3000G
Quadro FX 3400
Quadro FX 4000 SDI
Quadro FX 4400
Quadro NVS 280 PCI
NVIDIA alpha drivers for Windows Vista Beta 1:
NVIDIA has made available the following alpha drivers for Windows Vista Beta 1. The current ForceWare alpha driver is a preview release that will enable you to test the basic features and capabilities of the new operating system. This alpha driver has no performance optimizations included and has received limited stability testing.
ForceWare alpha driver for GeForce GPUs
nForce Audio and Networking 32-bit alpha drivers
nForce Networking 64-bit alpha drivers