Windows Vista Hardware – Specification Review

Windows Vista Hardware – Specification Review

Vista Specification for a Premium Ready PC: Microsoft Say:

1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor.
1 GB of system memory. Flash Memory is best.
Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128 MB of graphics memory.  Pixel Shader 2.0 and 32 bits per pixel.
40 GB of hard drive capacity with 15 GB free space.
DVD-ROM Drive (not just a CD).
Audio output capability.
Internet access capability.

Topics for Windows Vista Hardware


Introduction – Hardware ConsiderationsVista 256MB Graphics Card

In the old days, when Windows 95 reigned supreme, processor power was the first item on a buyer’s hardware specification.  With XP the focus moved to sufficient RAM.  Now with Vista I suggest that you start by making sure that the graphics card delivers the Aero experience.  Clearly any specification is only as good as its weakest link, thus you want a balanced system.  Without wanting to hedge my bets too much, your most cost effective machine depends on the software you are going to run on your machine.  Gaming, home and business all have different hardware requirements, as do desktops, laptops and palmtops.

From an environmental point of view, it is sad that so many of us are going to scrap their old machines and buy new kit designed for Vista and displaying the Vista Premium Logo.  For me, the advantage of this strategy is that it removes so much frustration because you get a system that has been tested with Vista and if for some reason it does not work, the component will be replaced under warranty. 

Review of Hardware for Vista

Whether you are buying new or upgrading, you should run through the requirements of each major component, fortunately the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor will assist you.

GPU – Graphics CardVista 256MB Graphics Card
I do believe that the graphics card is the number one consideration with Vista.  It shocked me to realize that the point has come when an average graphics card costs as much as an average processor.  Trust me, running Vista with an old graphics card is disappointing, you don’t get the full ‘Glass’ experience and some features plain don’t work.  My suggestion is look for is a graphics card with 256 mb of memory.  Such a card should support DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, it will almost certainly have Pixel Shader 2.0 and frame buffer memory of 32 bits per pixel.  The official minimum is 128 mb for the graphics card, however do check the specification of the proposed card or else your Vista may only be effective at lower screen resolutions.

There will always be a better faster chip just around the corner, fortunately Vista will run with a 1Ghz processor.  When buying from new I never purchase the latest processor, instead I go for the next latest or the second most expensive.  Any processor of over 2 Ghz should be plenty good enough for normal Vista tasks.

With each computer that I buy I always spend what seems like an excessive amount of money on RAM chips, but after a year, my purchase looks ordinary or even insufficient.  The consensus of opinion is Vista needs 1GB of RAM, but Guy says go for 2GB.  Problems can arise if you decide to add more memory later, the company may tell you, ‘We don’t stock that type of SIMM any more’, or ‘Our latest type have a different arrangement of pins’ or, ‘The new stock is incompatible with your old RAM’.

Tip: Look for PCs that use flash memory, one advantage is faster boot.

I have never owned a computer where I failed to fill the hard disk (s).  Therefore, I am going for an excessive 500 GB for my Vista machine.  Upgrading some XP machines may run into a problem because of Microsoft’s requirement to have 15GB of free space on the C:\  before you can install a fresh copy of Vista.  Even an upgrade from XP to Vista requires 10GB of free disk space. This limitation hits people with say 40GB disks who formatted their XP machines with multiple partitions of say 10, 15, and 15GB.  One solution for upgraders is simply to buy a new disk.

Guy Recommends:  A Free Trial of the Network Performance Monitor (NPM)Review of Orion NPM v11.5 v11.5

SolarWinds’ Orion performance monitor will help you discover what’s happening on your network.  This utility will also guide you through troubleshooting; the dashboard will indicate whether the root cause is a broken link, faulty equipment or resource overload.

What I like best is the way NPM suggests solutions to network problems.  Its also has the ability to monitor the health of individual VMware virtual machines.  If you are interested in troubleshooting, and creating network maps, then I recommend that you try NPM now.

Download a free trial of Solarwinds’ Network Performance Monitor

Windows Experience Index

Microsoft provide a free test of your hardware.  The index runs from 1 – 5.9 (best).  My advice is to check your machine’s number against the proposed role of your new computer.  If you just want standard word-processing and email, then a rating of 3.0 would be sufficient.  However if you want 3D gaming and HDTV then you would need to upgrade the components until you achieved a Windows Experience Index of at least 5.0.

One crucial point is that the index value is that of the weakest link.  For example if the graphics card only produces a rating of 3.0, then no amount of extra RAM can increase your Windows Experience from 3.0.  At first this seems unfair, but actually Microsoft are being cruel to be kind.  To perform graphics intensive tasks, you have to have a card that is fit for the job.

Trust the index and then match the result with guidelines for the tasks you want to perform on your Vista computer.

A Reminder of What Microsoft Say:

A Windows Vista Premium Ready PC includes at least:

1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor.
1 GB of system memory. Flash Memory is best.
Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128 MB of graphics memory (single monitor at resolutions 2,304,000 pixels)  Pixel Shader 2.0 and 32 bits per pixel.
40 GB of hard drive capacity with 15 GB free space.
DVD-ROM Drive (not just a CD).
Audio output capability.
Internet access capability.

Drivers for Vista

One by-product of upgrading to Vista is that you will need updated drivers for your hardware peripherals.  Printers will probably work ok, but legacy scanners have been a problem, at least for me.  When it comes to Vista drivers, some manufacturer’s solution is to ignore old, but perfectly good hardware and blackmail you into buying new expensive, yet only fractionally better products.  As a matter of principle, I would support only manufactures who make a good attempt to supply Vista drivers for 2-year old hardware.  Tip: Check your hardware on Microsoft’s HCL (Hardware Compatibility List).

If you can possibly wait before you upgrade to Vista, then you will avoid these teething troubles with drivers and other backward compatibility problems.  In 6-9 months time pioneer upgraders will solve these and other unforeseen nuisances.  As a result it will become clear to the second wave of upgraders how to make Vista run securely yet smoothly.

Beware Vista LogosCertified for Vista logo

My latest hobby-horse is: Beware Vista logos.  A Vista logo containing the words, ‘Certified for Windows Vista’ or ‘Premium’ is good news and means that Microsoft has tested the hardware and certified it as suitable for Vista.  However, regard logos with, ‘Works with Windows Vista’, ‘Basic’, or ‘Vista Ready’ with scepticism.  What ‘Basic’ or Vista Ready’ logos really mean is, this product will run on Vista, but will deliver only a limited feature set.  My worry is that a ‘Basic’, or a ‘Vista Ready’ logo gives no hint about the serious limitations of the product that it is promoting.

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