One more time ... Windows Vista system requirements

Summary:There’s a lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) surrounding the system requirements that will be needed to run Windows Vista. Partly, I put the blame for a lot of this confusion at Microsoft's doorstep - The fact that there are different requirements for the Windows Aero interface is confusing and Microsoft hasn't done a good job of explaining that Aero is an interface enhancement for Vista.

There’s a lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) surrounding the system requirements that will be needed to run Windows Vista.  Partly, I put the blame for a lot of this confusion at Microsoft's doorstep and how the Aero user interface is marketed.  The fact that there are different requirements for the Windows Aero interface Now, there is one fly in the ointment: Output Protection Management.compared to core Vista is confusing and Microsoft hasn't done a good job of explaining that Aero is an interface enhancement for Vista.

Let's start at the bottom line.  What's the minimum spec PC that will run Windows Vista (what Microsoft calls a "Windows Vista Capable PC"):

  • A processor with a minimum speed of 800MHz
  • 512MB or RAM
  • A graphics system capable of supporting DirectX 9 (SVGA 800x600)
  • 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

Nothing scary there (apart from the 800MHz bit - seems so disco, even my old laptop was faster than that!).  The only tripping point might be the graphics requirements.  Helpfully, ATI, NVIDIA, Intel, S3 and VIA have listed their Vista-ready gear.  My advice here would be to make sure that you don't buy something that's too close to the bottom of any of these lists if you want good performance, and to buy mid-range gear if you want good performance without having to take out a second mortgage.

Now, like I said, the requirements I've listed above are for what Microsoft calls a "Windows Vista Capable PC".  This is a PC that can run Windows Vista but cannot make use of additional features (that Microsoft calls "premium experiences").  These "premium experiences" include:

  • Windows Aero interface
  • BitLocker Drive Encryption

A PC that supports these "premium experiences" is categorized as a "Windows Vista Premium Ready" PC.  These PCs have higher system requirements:

  • 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

Now even those requirements aren't really worth screaming about really.  If you're the kind of person who will want to upgrade  their PC to Windows Vista then you're unlikely to have lower system requirements.

Now, there is one fly in the ointment: Output Protection Management (OPM).  I could write a lot about OPM and the technologies it covers, but this isn't the place.  The upshot of OPM is that users wanting to play back protected high-definition/high-quality content will need digital connections (such as DVI-I or HDMI) between the PC and the output devices (such as monitors).  This could mean substantial additional expense.  However, it's important to bear in mind that this will not be needed to run Aero or anything like that, just high-quality protected content.

I think that the Microsoft requirements are on the low side and I've come up with my own "minimum-spec Windows Vista Premium Ready" PC requirements:

  • 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

Even if all this still has you scratching your head, one consolation is that come January 2007, you're going to be hard-pressed to find a PC on the market that isn’t at least Windows Vista Capable. 

One thing that does concern me though.  I wonder how long vendors are going to bother holding in stock badged Vista Capable PCs.  The price different between a Capable and a Premium PC seems so small (and the overall spec so rubbish) that just branding all of them all Premium PCs seems to make more sense - to me at least.

Topics: Windows

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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