Microsoft's Windows Vista will run on just about any PC available today, but it will only show its true colors on about half of them, according to a new report from Gartner.
Whereas today's mainstream processors and hard drives offer plenty of performance and capacity to keep up with the new OS—now scheduled to arrive for large businesses in November and consumers in January 2007—IT managers and their counterparts, in addition to consumers buying PCs, should take care to specify at least 1GB of memory. If they aim to tap Vista's Aero user interface, they will need a recent graphics processor, a new report by Gartner said.
Microsoft offers some basic guidelines for Vista on its Web site. For example, it states that the OS will require a minimum of 512MB of RAM and a modern processor to run.
Microsoft is also set to roll out a "Windows Capable" program, which helps highlight PCs capable of being upgraded with the OS for consumers, in April. However, it has not yet put forth final hardware recommendations for the OS, including details on the hardware necessary to run its full Aero interface.
The dearth of information has, so far, left IT managers—as well as PC enthusiasts and other consumers—to wonder how to best configure new machines they might purchase over the balance of 2006 and into 2007. Thus Gartner stepped in with some guidelines.
"Since most organizations keep PCs for three to five years—we recommend three years for mainstream notebook users and four years for mainstream desktops. PCs purchased in 2006 will be in service well after Windows Vista ships," Gartner said in a March 28 report entitled, "Is Your PC Hardware 'Ready for Windows Vista?'"
"While nearly all PCs on the market today will run Windows Vista, we estimate that about half will not enable the user to take full advantage of the advanced Windows Aero user experience, so care must be taken to properly configure them.
"This will be important for some users, but less important for others. Organizations that plan on upgrading 2006 PCs to Windows Vista, or those that want to keep their options open, need to buy the right PCs now to reduce migration costs later," said the report.
Thus, assuming their intent is to run the OS and all of its features, IT managers and consumers must do their homework before placing orders for new PCs through at least the balance of 2006, even if they don't expect to upgrade to Vista immediately upon its release.
Indeed, most businesses will wait a year or longer before upgrading to Vista, several senior-level IT managers told eWEEK recently.
"We are particularly concerned about the increased graphics requirement, so we will need to do a fair amount of testing to ensure that it doesn't bog down the systems too much with our current hardware," said Robert Rosen, CIO of the National Institute of Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in Bethesda, Md., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, in a recent interview.
While Microsoft is currently suggesting a minimum of 512MB, the new OS will require at least 1GB of dual-channel memory to provide its full capabilities, and in some cases should be fitted with even more, Gartner said in the report.
"New PCs should have at least 1GB RAM to prepare them for running Windows Vista. If PC virtualization will be used during the migration to run an older OS and Windows Vista on the PC simultaneously, an extra 512MB of RAM should be added," the report said.
Choosing the right graphics will require the most advanced planning, however.
Vista's most basic user interface, which is expected to be able to run on just about any PC released in the recent past, will offer a redesigned start menu and taskbar, along with tweaks to the control panel and features such as search.
Windows Aero, the advanced interface, adds a translucent task bar and window frames, in addition to things like real-time thumbnail previews. Under the hood, it also employs a new WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model), which promises to increase a PCs' stability.
These new features require extra graphics horsepower, which most, but not current, graphics processors can offer. Indeed, part of Vista's hardware guessing game involves determining which graphics processors will not only support WDDM, but also have the capability to show all of what Aero has to offer—assuming a buyer wants to use it. Some companies, Gartner points out, may not.
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