Last week, Microsoft announced that it will begin allowing OEMs to slap a "Vista Capable" sticker on new PCs that meet minimum standards. This is nothing new, of course. Way back in June 2001, four months before the official launch of Windows XP, Microsoft tried to bolster hardware sales with its "Windows XP Ready PC" logo. Six years later, that list of minimum requirements is amusing, to say the least. Windows XP is still around, but how many of those 300MHz Celerons with Super VGA adapters and 128MB of RAM do you suppose are still in service?
If you're bound and determined to read the official guidelines, you'll find the consumer version here and the enterprise version here. But really, you don't need a sticker to decide on a new PC, just some common sense. Here are my guidelines:
- Don't buy a cheap PC. Every online vendor and retail store has a loss-leader line whose sole function is to attract
suckersbargain-seekers. Throw out the bottom 25% of any company's current product line and you'll eliminate just about every potential problem. (For notebooks, which can't be easily upgraded, throw out the bottom half of the line. The newer and more powerful, the better.)
- Get enough RAM. A gig is good, 2 gigs is better. For a basic workstation, you could almost certainly get by with 512MB, but at current prices you can double that for about $40. Why be a cheapskate?
- Insist on decent graphics. For desktops, make sure the graphics subsystem supports 1280 by 1024 resolution, 32-bit color, and DirectX 9. For notebooks, make sure the display supports DirectX 9 and does 32-bit color at the displays native resolution. Pay special attention to the chipset used in the graphics subsystem and make sure it is up to Vista's graphic demands. Nvidia, ATI, S3, and VIA have all published lists of supported GPUs. (Hint: If you follow rule 1, you'll avoid most of the bargain-basement graphics cards that are going to cause Vista headaches.)
Ironically, all of those rules apply just as well if you're about to buy a new PC to run Windows XP. If your budget - personal or corporate - is tight, then here's one final piece of advice: Wait. Early next year, a slew of cheap new PCs with Vista preinstalled will be available. Given the lousy holiday season that most PC makers are likely to have thanks to Microsoft's delay, they'll be offering screaming deals in January. You can bet on it.