Windows Vista upgrade FAQ

Summary:No matter how much is written about Windows Vista, people still seem hungry for more information, and the most commonly asked questions all seem to revolve around upgrading an existing PC to Windows Vista from a previous version of Windows.

No matter how much is written about Windows Vista, people still seem hungry for more information, and the most commonly asked questions all seem to revolve around upgrading an existing PC to Windows Vista from a previous version of Windows. 

To help those planning on making the leap, I've compiled this FAQ.  It's pretty comprehensive but what I'll do in a week or so is go through the comments here, pull out any good questions or tips and incorporate them into the FAQ.

So, here we go ...

Q: What are the system requirements for Windows Vista?

A: This issue of system requirements seems to bug a lot of people.  I think that the confusion is caused by there being so many different versions of Windows Vista, the fact that Microsoft issues two specifications (one for Vista Capable and one for Vista Ready PCs) and that the system requirements vary depending on whether you want to run the Aero UI or not.

Here's what Microsoft claim are the minimum spec for a Vista PC (called a Vista Capable PC):

  • A processor with a minimum speed of 800MHz
  • Half a gigabyte (512MB) of 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!)
  • A DVD-ROM drive

For a Windows Vista Ready PC, the requirements go up a bit:

  • 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

My personal feeling though is that these system requirements are too low.

Q: What are your recommended system requirements for Windows Vista?

A: I've used Vista quite a lot over a number of beta releases and the final releases and I've come to the conclusion that these system requirements are a little on the low side.  To be on the safe side I recommend that any PC that you upgrade to Windows Vista has the following system 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

These might seem on the high side, but if you're willing to pay for the software upgrade, it makes sense to have the right hardware.  If you don't see the point, don't upgrade Windows.

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Q: Why are the graphics card requirements so high?

A: To be able to run the new Aero user interface you need a lot more graphics card power than you do for the standard interface (this is because Aero uses DirectX and this means that the majority of the work is carried out by the GPU on the graphics card as opposed to the CPU).  You can choose to run Windows without Aero (and business systems need not ever use it) but it's good to have the option to run it if you want.

While it is indeed possible to run Aero when your PC is equipped with a graphics card that has 64MB of RAM, not all cards can do this and the experience is sluggish at best.  Microsoft recommends having 128MB of memory on the graphics card but I think that given the price of cards now, 256MB should be what you aim for. 

Q: How do I find a Vista-compatible graphics card?

A: ATI, NVIDIA, Intel, S3 and VIA have listed their Vista-ready gear.  My advice with regards to graphics cards 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 loan.

Q: How can I tell if my hardware is up to the job of running Vista?

A: The quickest and easiest way to test your system is to download and run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft.  This will examine both your hardware and software and report back to you on things that might cause you a headache.

Q: What are the upgrade paths for Vista from previous versions?

A: Depending on your current operating system, you might be able to do an in-place upgrade (IPU) or you could have to carry out a clean install (CI).  The table below explains the options open to you based on your existing operating system.

From/ToHome BasicHome PremiumBusinessUltimate
XP ProCICIIPUIPU
XP HomeIPUIPUIPUIPU
XP MediaCIIPUCIIPU
XP TabletCICIIPUIPU
XP Pro 64CICICICI
Win 2000CICICICI

Q: Which version of Vista should I go for?

A: Depends.  For home users the choice should be between Home Premium and Ultimate (I discount Home Basic - it's simply not worth the money).  Ultimate offers far better network and file share management so if either of these appeal to you, Ultimate is the one to go for. 

Business users (I'm thinking here specifically of SOHO users) can choose between Business and Ultimate (if you want to be able to handle media files, I suggest forking for Ultimate, otherwise Business will do.

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Q: Should I choose 32-bit or 64-bit?

A: Depends.  If you're using a PC where all the components and peripherals support 64-bit, then it might be worth considering (if for no other reason than it puts you at the cutting edge).  I wrote a post here about the differences between 32- and 64-bit here and George Ou also wrote a good post which you can find here.

Q: Do I need a DVD drive to install Vista?

A: Yes, unless you have access to an ISO image of the disc that you can use.

Q: How much do the different versions of Vista cost?

A: Here are the recommended retail prices:

Full ($)Upgrade ($)
Home Basic19999
Home Premium239159
Business299199
Ultimate399259

 

You can probably find prices that are a little lower than this, but be careful, pirated versions of Vista are all over the place and as good as the price could be, you'll probably end up having to pay again for a legit version.

Q: Is the trick that allows you to clean install an upgrade version of Vista legal?

A: No.

Here's the word from a Microsoft spokesperson is that this "violates the terms of use agreed to when they purchased the upgrade version of Windows Vista."  Says it all really.

Q: Will I have to buy new software?

A: Maybe.  Depends on what you are currently running.  The Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft can help you find out the answer to this.  If you want to find out the software upgrade costs of going up to Vista, I suggest you do your research before spending your money.

Q: What's the easiest way to try Windows without killing my existing XP install?

A: I recommend trying one of two approaches.

First way is to simply make a backup of your existing XP install and then just install Vista (either over the top or as a clean install).  If things go wrong or you choose to go back to XP, just apply the backup over the top.

Another way is to buy a new hard drive and swap out your primary drive for the new one.  This way you keep your current install safe.

Q: What's the most hassle-free way of upgrading to Vista?

A: Buy a new PC with Vista pre-installed (or build a PC with Vista in mind), and budget on having to buy new software to upgrade any old, incompatible software.

Q: Any advice on upgrading notebooks?

A: Make sure that you have all the drivers you need before you start.  If you have doubts, make an image of the system before you give Vista a try.

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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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