A Vista primer for the consumer

A Vista primer for the consumer

Summary: Do you find all these blogs about Windows Vista confusing? Here are some simple guidelines for the consumer getting ready to move to Vista.

TOPICS: Windows

For months you've been reading blog after blog about Vista -- most of them from people with more impressive credentials than mine telling you what they think of Microsoft's latest incarnation of Windows.

Of course, readers like you have not been hesitant to tell us what you think, either.  Many of you are Macintosh or Linux aficionados who wouldn't use a Microsoft product if Bill Gates gave it to you and delivered it to your doorstep himself.  Fine.  I appreciate the finer points of all four major operating systems and I have come to conclude that their respective market positions have far more to do with marketing decisions made by the various vendors involved than anything remotely related to the suitability of any of them over another for any particular task.  Either way, this article isn't for you. 

The geeks among you already know what's in store for you if you either upgrade to Vista or if you go out and buy a brand new high-end workstation.  But what about the consumer?  So far, I've read nothing that helps the typical Windows computer user determine if Vista is in their future. 

I qualified that because if you are using Macintosh (or UNIX/Linux) now, there is nothing about Vista which is going to make you wish you were a Windows user instead of sticking with what you use now. 

Unlike most of my colleagues, I get a kick out of seeing how little hardware is really required to run the latest and greatest software.  Seeing as most consumers are looking for the best 'bang for the buck' instead of raw computing power, I decided to think about Vista from the consumer's perspective.

So what should the typical consumer do about Vista?

Should you move to Vista?  To tell the truth, if you are running Windows XP now and you are happy with your system, I see no compelling reason for you to move to Vista.  At least not yet.  So what if you are dissatisfied, or simply WANT TO move to Vista but have no idea how to decide which way to go?

There a two ways to go about it.  First, determine if you can use your existing hardware.  Unfortunately, Microsoft's Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor, while accurate, is not very helpful to the uninitiated.  Sure, Vista will run on my seven-year-old 866MHz Pentium III but not anywhere near well enough to justify moving from Windows XP to Vista.  (Just ask my wife!) 

Rule of thumb #1:  If your existing Windows XP computer is more than three years old, it is probably too slow to run Vista 'comfortably'.

Rule of thumb #2:  If you have to buy additional memory, a DVD-ROM drive, and a new graphics card (and perhaps a new hard drive) in addition to buying a Vista upgrade, the cost of the upgrade quickly approaches the cost of a brand-new entry-level computer with a dramatically faster processor (not to mention a full manufacturer's warranty). 

If I haven't talked you out of upgrading your existing hardware yet (because you are a geek like me, or) because you have a two-year-old 2GHz+ machine with 1GB+ of RAM, and a robust graphics card, then don't settle for less than Vista Home Premium (and, if you have the cash, seriously consider Vista Ultimate -- yes it is very pricey but two years from now, you may wish you had those Ultimate EXTRAS.) 

To those of you who are now discouraged about having to replace your old hardware to move to Vista, take heart.  It really isn't that painful.  I am writing this on a brand-new system with a 3.33MHz Intel Celeron D processor with 512MB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive.  These things are available online from a number of vendors for well under $400.  (Mine will end up costing me $330 with the rebate.) 

The Celeron D is currently at the bottom of the Intel line-up but it is plenty good enough to run Vista (even with the AERO interface turned on -- you will need Vista Home Premium to get AERO capabilities.)  There are plenty of deals available in this $300 to $400 price-range running either the Intel Celeron D or the AMD Sempron family of processors.  And, for another $50, you can kick it up to 1GB.  (Definitely money well spent.) 

You've undoubtedly heard that Vista is a resource hog.  Well, that isn't quite true -- not if you consider that many of you bought your Windows XP systems with 128MB of RAM -- and spent several times as much money for that system than you'll pay today for an entry-level Vista system with 512MB of RAM. 

Your geek friends may even tell you that Linux runs in considerably less memory.  Nevertheless, while Linux can be configured to run with less RAM than Vista, Linux vendors consistently recommend 512MB or more. 

If your budget isn't quite so lean (say $500 to $800), you can start off with 1GB of RAM, a dual-core processor, and a flat panel display for exceptional performance.  Add a second GB of RAM for around $100.  High-end systems start at $1,000 and go up from there but, for the consumer, they are probably not worth it (unless the consumer is also a serious 'gamer').

In the 'best bang for the buck' category, look for:

  • 2 GB of RAM (max).  For most consumers, 1GB is sufficient.
  • 17" flat panel display.  Larger monitors are still too costly.
  • DVD/RW drives.  They are only a few dollars more than DVD-ROM drives and give you dramatically more archival storage capacity than DVD/CDRW.

If you still have money left over, look for systems with:

  • dual-channel memory. For quicker loading of programs and retrieval of data.
  • dual-core processors. For enhanced performance at a given processor speed.

To sum things up, if you are a typical consumer on a shoestring budget, any entry-level Vista computer is a better buy than upgrading a three-year-old computer.  Entry-level systems are readily available now for $300-$400.  Mid-range systems run from $500 to $800. 

While there is, as yet, no compelling reason to move to Vista, it is not too early for the consumer to buy his first Windows Vista machine. 

Topic: Windows

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  • You forgot the spin

    You may not get too many comments simply because there is little to argue with in what you presented. An umbrella view for the common Joe looking to take the Vista splash.

    Example: [i]a brand-new system with a 3.33MHz Intel Celeron D processor with 512MB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive.[/i]

    There are so many deals to be had right now due to the glut of new CPU models that have hit the market recently, especially with the onslaught of Intel's Core 2 Duo series, that it could be called a true buyer's market right now. Celeron D's and P4's with either Prescott or Cedar Mill single cores, Pentium D's of both the Smithfield and Presler dual core lines, and of course the new and relatively inexpensive Allendale C2D dual cores for the (mostly) overclocking crowd.

    Then you have to take into account all the bargains AMD has to offer presently! :) Yikes.

    [i]For months you've been reading blog after blog about Vista ? most of them from people with more impressive credentials than mine telling you what they think of Microsoft's latest incarnation of Windows.[/i]

    Yours are pretty impressive too Marc. As is this article, grounded in simple logic and avoiding lofty spins.
  • Linux and RAM

    [i]Nevertheless, while Linux can be configured to run with less RAM than Vista, Linux vendors consistently recommend 512MB or more. [/i]

    While the overall balance of this article is good (for those who are interested in Windows), I couldn't let that comment about RAM in Linux pass without comment.

    Marc - what you must understand about the different Linux distros is that there is a different one for every occasion and purpose... skinny athletic fast ones for older computers, tiny ones for miniature one board industrial computers, big muscular ones for modern fast computers.

    With Windows, it's "one size fits all" - and that's always going to be a problem for some PCs. Vector Linux is a FAST distro which I have installed on 3 of my four Dells, and runs fast even on the old P3 800mhz with 256Mb RAM. The laptop has PCLinuxOS with the stunning 3D cube - makes Vista Aero look lame.

    So Linux is absolutely the last place where you can hope to get away with such sweeping generalizations. Linux truly has a flavor for everyone - and if people would try several distros, they would find one that's a perfect fit.

    Windows is walking into an ice cream parlor which advertises 37 flavors and being told "Well, uh, the sign's a bit misleading. We really only do strawberry." Meanwhile the Linux ice cream parlor down the street really DOES have all the 37 flavors ready for you to taste. So you might have to spoon it into the cone yourself, but it still tastes great - and it's free or nearly free.
    Don Collins
    • I do understand ,,,

      ... BUT the average consumer does not. They need a general purpose solution which is preloaded (or can be easily installed -- without any special knowledge) onto commodity hardware.

      Commercial Linux distributions fitting the bill all recommend 512MB or more of RAM.

      If you are an experienced UNIX/Linux geek, you have choices far beyond the scope of this article, but so does the experienced Windows geek.

      The intended audience of this article are those who do have ANY special knowledge.
      M Wagner
      • I meant ...

        ... "The intended audience of this article are those who do NOT have ANY special knowledge."
        M Wagner