Getting ready for Windows Vista - Part 1

Summary:This is the first of a two-part series on getting your system (or systems) ready for Windows Vista. In this post I'm going to look at what you need to do (or at least think about) before putting that new, shiny Windows Vista DVD in the drive and beginning the install process.

This is the first of a two-part series on getting your system (or systems) ready for Windows Vista.  In this post I'm going to look at what you need to do (or at least think about) before putting that new, shiny Windows Vista DVD in the drive and beginning the install process. 

Last week my ZDNet blogging colleague George Ou posted about his experiences using Windows Vista on a system which had a bad memory module.  Windows Vista contains a who raft of new features and many of these are going to place a heavier workload on existing hardware.  A system that is perfectly happy running Windows XP might, for one of a number of factors, not be happy at all running Windows Vista.

So, if you're planning on making the jump to Vista, how can you reduce on the chances of encountering hardware-related issues? 

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Minimum System Requirements

The first set of hurdles to jump over are the Windows Vista system requirements.  System hardware requirements depend on whether you want to run Windows Vista with out without all the extras such as Aero interface and BitLocker:

Without the extras:

  • A processor with a minimum speed of 800MHz
  • 512MB or RAM
  • A graphics system capable of supporting DirectX 9 (SVGA 800×600)
  • 20GB hard drive (with 15GB free - don’t worry though, Vista doesn’t take up 15GB, it just needs that much room to install!)
  • CD-ROM drive

With the extras:

  • A processor with a minimum speed of 1GHz (x86 or x64)
  • 1GB of RAM
  • A GPU that supports DirectX 9 and the following: - WDDM (Windows Vista Display Driver Model) Driver - 128MB of video RAM - Hardware support for Pixel Shader 2.0 - 32 bits per pixel
  • 40GB hard drive (with 15GB free - again, don’t worry though, Vista doesn’t take up 15GB, it just needs that much room to install!)
  • A DVD-ROM drive
  • Note that BitLocker Drive Encryption also needs a requires a TPM 1.2 chip or a USB 2.0 flash drive

However, I believe that Microsoft is being too optimistic with the system requirements and I'd suggest that you take the following as a minimum for Windows Vista:

  • A processor with a minimum speed of 2.0GHz (dual-core recommended)
  • 2GB of RAM for x86 (32-bit) systems, 4GB for x64 (64-bit) rigs
  • A GPU that supports DirectX 9 and the following: - WDDM (Windows Vista Display Driver Model) Driver - 256MB of video RAM - Hardware support for Pixel Shader 2.0 - 32 bits per pixel
  • 100GB SATA hard drive, 50GB free
  • CD/DVD burner

Driver, Drivers, Drivers!

You should know what hardware you have connected to your PC better than anyone else.  Make full use of this information and go look for Vista-ready drivers for your gear before installing Vista.  Remember that while Microsoft will probably have drivers for that printer or scanner you use, if you currently use a driver supplied by the vendor you might find that by switching to the Microsoft driver you'll lose some functionality - this could be a downer, especially if you made extensive use of the feature you lost.

Also, some manufacturers are pretty slow coming out with new drivers.  One company I'm waiting on is TV card manufacturers Hauppauge

If something installed on your PC currently doesn't have Vista-ready drivers then you're better off either waiting or removing the hardware - leaving it fitted and fighting it out with Vista is a recipe for instability.

If you're a hardcore gamer then you're not going to be happy with the graphics card drivers that ship with Windows Vista and you're going to want to download the latest drivers from the manufacturer.  Both ATI and NVIDIA have excellent Vista drivers.

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Test Your RAM

It's a good idea to test your RAM to make sure that it's 100% OK.  The new Address Space Layout Randomization anti-hacker feature puts additional stress on system RAM.  George Ou has good instructions for testing your system RAM here.  If you come across problems, fix these before proceeding.

I recommend using Memtest86+ for RAM testing.

Test Your Hard Drives

As well as testing your system RAM, as part of a Vista pre-install system check I also recommend testing your hard drives, especially the drive you plan to install Vista on.  Installing Vista involves moving a lot of data from DVD to your hard drive and the installation time is a bad time to discover that you hard drive isn't up to the job.

There are countless tools available for testing hard drives and most drive manufacturers make testing and diagnostic tools available.  However, there's no need to do hours of testing.  DiskCheckup by PassMark Software installed on your system a few days prior to installing Vista will monitor the S.M.A.R.T. (Self Monitoring Analysis And Reporting Technology ) attributes of your hard drives and highlight any potential issues that could be affecting your drives.  DiskCheckup is free for personal use.  Again, if you find problems, fix these before making the leap to Vista.

Software

There's bound to be software you have installed that's not going to play nicely with Windows Vista.  I don't remember a single OS upgrade where I didn't have to put my hand into my pocket and unlimber my wallet to buy updated software. 

Security software is particularly OS version sensitive.   Do your research in advance!  See what's available and the costs involved before upgrading.  Some vendors are offering free upgrades for those with an existing subscription (for example, Symantec is doing this for Norton users… when their Vista compatible software becomes avaiable) , while others are waiting for you to buy the latest version.  Check in advance and factor in any additional costs. 

Don't, whatever you do, try to use an antivirus or firewall solution on Vista that's not designed for the OS.  At best it won't install.  At worse it'll bring down your entire install!

Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor

Finally, take the time to download and run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor.  Why not skip all the manual steps and jump straight to running the Upgrade Advisor?  Because:

  • The Upgrade Advisor isn't 100% accurate
  • It only runs on Windows XP 32-bit - if you run XP 64-bit, Windows 2000, or Windows 98, you're on your own
  • You still have to do some of the legwork yourself when it comes to finding drivers or new software, so why not do it in advance!

One other thing to remember about the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor is that it can only check hardware that's hooked up to your PC - so remember to attach your scanner, printer and other peripherals before running the scan.

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Topics: Windows, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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