Vista Mythbusters #1: It's not a hardware hog

Vista Mythbusters #1: It's not a hardware hog

Summary: I'm continually amazed at just how much misinformation is out there when it comes to Windows Vista. Between Microsoft's confusing messages and a committed anti-Microsoft crowd, how do you get the facts? Start here. This is the first in a series of myth-busting posts designed to help the Windows community make sense of the Vista landscape.

TOPICS: Windows
I'm continually amazed at just how much misinformation is out there when it comes to Windows Vista. Part of it, of course, is Microsoft's fault. They've split the product into multiple versions, added and removed features, and generally done a terrible job of articulating why this actually will be a desirable upgrade for most people.

Oh, and there's a large and vocal anti-Microsoft contingent that is only too eager to spread FUD if it will help their cause.

So, in the spirit of helping the community of Windows users make sense of the Vista landscape, I'm going to present a series of 10 myth-busting posts over the next two weeks. This is number 1:

Myth: You'll need to spend a small fortune on hardware upgrades to run Windows Vista.

Reality: Most mid-range and high-end computers sold in the past three years will run Windows Vista just fine.

If you bought a bottom-of-the-line, loss leader system in 2004, you may find it unacceptably slow. But any mainstream system purchased after early 2004 should be just fine with Windows Vista. Here's a case in point:

The system I'm using to write this post is running the most recent build of Windows Vista. It's a Dell 8300, originally purchased in March 2004. It wasn't the top of Dell's line then, nor was it particularly expensive. Here's a list of system specs:

Hard disk: Hitachi Deskstar HDS722516VLSA80 SATA150 drive, 160GB

CPU: 3.2GHz Pentium 4, Northwood

Memory: 2GB (four 512MB DDR-PC2700 DIMMs, upgraded from original 512MB configuration)

Display adapter: ATI Radeon 9600, 256MB, AGP8X (upgraded from original Nvidia 128MB card)

Optical media: DVD+RW

As you can see, I upgraded the RAM and the display adapter at the time I purchased the system (it was cheaper to buy these upgraded from a third party than from Dell). Here's what Windows Vista's System Assessment Tool thinks of the system (all ratings on a scale of 1.0 to 5.9):


The processor rates a 4.3, the memory is an excellent 4.8, the primary hard disk is rated 5.2. Only the graphic subsystem comes in a little on the light side. That might be relevant for a gamer's PC, but I'm using it for mainstream business productivity and entertainment apps, and this system delivers the full Aero interface with no compromises. Performance is excellent across the board. I used the built-in DVD Maker program over the weekend to encode some recorded TV shows to DVD, and it worked just fine.

What if I had stuck with the stock configuration? That original RAM configuration of 512MB would be OK with Vista, but 1GB would be better and 2GB would be optimal. Today, I could upgrade the RAM for about $50 per 512MB, using top-quality parts. So call it $50 for the bump to 1GB.

Video cards with the same relative specs as that ATI Radeon 9600 AGP card are currently going for just under $100. But I don't think the upgrade would be necessary. For another system, I purchased an Nvidia Geforce 6200 card with 128MB of RAM. It gets identical performance scores from the Windows Vista benchmarking tool, and it performs superbly with the full Aero interface, DVDs, and other video playback tasks. If I were a hardcore gamer, I would want something much more muscular, but of course I would have done that long ago and it wouldn't be an upgrade issue.

Total upgrade cost? $50 for some extra RAM, and maybe another $50-100 for a new video card if I feel like splurging. With those minor tweaks, this system, which will be three years old when Windows Vista is selling in stores, will be running exceptionally well.

I've tried Windows Vista on systems that are considerably older than this one, with equally good results. For instance, I have one 2002-vintage system with similar upgrades (including a new CPU) that is running Windows Vista Ultimate Edition with the full Aero interface just fine.

So, is Vista a hardware hog? Nope. Not at all.

Topic: Windows

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  • Laptop owners are out of luck

    Too bad you can't upgrade your video card in a laptop. Sounds like I need to buy a whole new system just to run Vista.
    • Depends on how important Aero is

      It should run fine on most notebooks sold after early 2005, if you choose not to use the whizzy Aero effects.
      Ed Bott
      • But Ed

        All the "whizzy" effects can be done NOW with Mac on lesser hardware and even Linux. I have an AMD Duron 1.2GHz system with a 64MB AGP8 G-Force 440MX graphics card and 1GB of PC2700 RAM... and using the XGL / Compris system I get all those "whizzy" effects just fine! And I run KDE with a lot of eye candy.

        Same is true of my Toshiba A15-S129 Satellite 2.4GHz 1GB PC2700 RAM with 32MB shared video (3D capable). Again I am running OpenSuSE 10.1 with XGL and compris enabled and I have all sorts of cool "whizzy" effects.

        The question is if Linux can do it and even the Macs, why can't Windows? Why can't they give the user the "whizzy" without high end hardware?

        Oh and both these systems operate just fine. And in many cases as fast or faster than their Windows XP counter parts on more powerful hardware. The only place Windows spanks my Linux systems is on the boot... but then I never shut down so that is a non-issue. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • You'll still get whizzy effects

          There's lots of visual glitz and flash in Vista without the full Aero interface. But you haven't seen it, so you make assumptions that aren't correct.
          Ed Bott
          • But Aero

            is supposed to be more than just the glitz, the glitz is only an example of what it can do. The real stuff Aero is capable of doing won't be seen until applications are written for Aero. But if those apps are written within the next year or so, then people who can't run full Aero will lose functionality.

            Now more apps need to be written for XGL as well. In fact the windows manager compiz is the only one I am aware of, although it's possible that some of the replacement taskbars that resemble OS X for the KDE platform need XGL as well, but I am not sure of that. But anyway my point is that the lesser computers that can run compiz on XGL or AIGLX will be able to run other apps that run XGL if and when they come out, whereas those that do not run full Aero will be at a handicap when apps start requiring Aero for full functionality.
            Michael Kelly
        • Your impression that the only place Windows ....

          ... outperforms a Mac or Linux is on boot up is just that an impression. In this case a wrong impression.
          • so word...

            ... loads up in 1.5 seconds? windows gives me lower ping times when playing Counter Strike?
            Scott W
        • Whiney MAC guys

          Why do folks feel obligated to interject inane Mac and Linux stuff in every single discussion regarding Windows?

          It has to be the tech equivalent of penis envy.

          Joe Donovan
          • It's exasperation

            At Windows users getting all excited at the thought that they are
            getting something new.

            It's the same motivation that prompts decent people to tell
            someone they see buying something that they can get a better deal
            at a different store.

            Only, unlike a normal person who puts their product back on the
            shelf and thanks you for the tip, Windows users insult you.
          • Bingo!

            Well said! ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • I see far more ...

            ... insulting commonets from Linux guys than I do from either Widnows guys or Mac or UNIX guys. Somehow open source ie supposed to be morally superior!
            M Wagner
          • Reverend Self Righteous of Non-Windows

            Funny that in all the years I have been working with and in the computer industry, I have never heard any windows user hop up an a soapbox and rant at a linux or mac user that they needed to change. Conversely, its the rare mac user (and often linux) that doesn't keep a cork in while "helping" with his 2 cents of opinion... even if the topic has nothing to do with them!
      • What else is there besides Aero?

        Everything I have read really points to that and the "user sandbox" being the only things new to Vista. Everything else seems to be either removed or just "meh."
        Patrick Jones
      • that's the thing

        MS recommend more than 64MB VRAM, my 6600 has exactly 64MB VRAM. it can run Quake 4 just fine, but will it run aero and quake 4? MS say no.
        Scott W
        • It will run Aero it just won't run aero Glass.(nt)

        • Resolution makes a difference too

          The computer I've been testing Vista on has 512 MB of RAM, but just 64 MB of VRAM. It runs the DWM and Aero Glass just fine. I am running at 1024x768, so that makes a difference. I probably would run into problems if I tried to increase the resolution much higher.
          • Running Aero

            I seem to have Aero Glass working fine at 1440 x 900 resolution on my (2004 vintage) Acer laptop, which has Radeon X600 64MB VRAM.

            The weak spot on my system is memory access speed, which keeps my rating down to 1.7, but Aero doesn't seem bothered by it.
        • One of the biggest myths about Vista...

 that running Aero will take away from the performance of other graphics apps. Vista automatically turns off Aero when you launch a fullscreen 3D app, so it doesn't suck resources away from them.
    • Don't Sweat it

      Just run what you have on the laptop. Must LT are useless after 3-4 years anyway for a serious computing person. A motherboard or something usually dies and it is better to just upgrade then.

      Anyone who seriously thinks they can run an LT as long as a desktop hasn't been around for very long.
      A contractor
      • Really?

        Then wanna explain how and why many of the UC's are still running old laptops, some as old as 486DX-66 with Windows 3.1 on them? Or P1 caliber laptops running Windows 95? And how about them 500MHz Dell notebooks. Do a Google and you will see that there are a lot of older laptops out there, still running and obviously doing what they need to! ]:)
        Linux User 147560