Will lame hardware cripple Vista?

Will lame hardware cripple Vista?

Summary: I've been reading lots of Vista articles recently -- especially those from my colleague, Ed Bott (see Ed Bott's Microsoft Report).  I was particularly intrigued by his first article in his 'mythbuster' series (Vista Mythbusters #1: It's not a hardware hog).

TOPICS: Windows

I've been reading lots of Vista articles recently -- especially those from my colleague, Ed Bott (see Ed Bott's Microsoft Report).  I was particularly intrigued by his first article in his 'mythbuster' series (Vista Mythbusters #1: It's not a hardware hog).  His very next article was entitled On the trail of the $1000 Vista PC where Ed points out that anyone can go on-line and buy a really nice Vista "Premium Ready" computer for around $630. 

I've been around Information Technology since the days when it was still called "Data Processing" and I have come to accept as an axiom that any computer that you purchase will survive no more than ONE operating system upgrade.  The second OS upgrade will simply require too much processor to run. 

While my university IT department had long-since adopted three-year life-cycles on everything computing, during the 80's and 90's many university departments with which I worked kept workstations for five years or more (and when they did buy new, it was often the least capable machine available) so I regularly challenged myself to configure the lamest system that I could in such a way that it would remain completely functional with the latest operating system.  This was fairly easy in the days of DOS but with Windows the challenge became greater and the truth of my axiom became clear. 

By the time Windows Vista ships, it will have been over five years since Windows XP was first introduced to the public.  This is an unprecedented period of time for an industry governed by Moore's law (which states that processing power doubles every 18 months.)  With this in mind, I just had to ask myself: 

On HOW LAME a machine will Vista actually run?

Ed's article was of no help.  His testbed was a two-year-old 3.2GHz system with 2GB of RAM, a Radeon 9600 graphics adapter, and a 160GB hard drive.  While Ed describes this as "mid-range" hardware -- it is still dramatically more capable than most of today's "mid-range" machines -- let alone what many of our readers are likely to have on their dining room tables.

Back in July, I had installed Vista Beta 2 (build 5483) on a one-year-old Dell Latitude D610 with 512MB of RAM and, to be truthful, I was quite unimpressed.  The first thing it did was boot up to a 504MB footprint!  And it was sluggish as hell.  Needless to say, I was disappointed.

That experience brought to mind the minimum requirements for Windows XP when it first shipped, in 2001:  A 300MHz processor and 128MB of RAM.  (It would "run" with 64MB but you had to give up functionality.) 

Anyone running Windows XP quickly learned that 300MHz was tolerable IF you kicked it up to 256MB of RAM.  Since that time, anyone who is serious about multitasking has learned that Windows XP does best with 512MB of RAM and 20GB of disk space. 

Interestingly enough, that 300MHz baseline was the typical processor speed available when Windows 98 first shipped.  (Thus, reinforcing my axiom.) 

I didn't give up.  I bought more memory and quickly discovered that Vista Beta 2 had a threshold of about 700MB and, when multitasking, quickly consumed 1.2GB of RAM.  This reinforced another old axiom of mine: 

Whatever Microsoft SAYS that you require, double it to get 'acceptable' performance, and quadruple it if you want to multitask.

I kept reading those articles though and as each new build came out, authors would assure their readers that it was so much better than Beta 2.  All the while, every time I issued a 'bug report' I got the response that the reported issue was fixed in Release Candidate 1 (RC1).  Well, I finally got a copy of Vista RC1. 

As it happens, I own a (circa 2000) Dell Dimension 4100.  It came with Windows 98se but I promptly replace that with Windows 2000 and, as soon as the (decidedly faster) Windows XP Professional came out, I upgraded to that.  So, I decided to spend last weekend setting it up to dual boot Windows XP and Vista RC1.

What a pleasant surprise! 

My Dimension 4100 is an 866MHz Pentium III with 512MB of PC133 RAM.  Needless to say, by today's standards, this workstation is truly lame.  It still runs Windows XP just great but, according to my axiom, it should not run Vista worth a damn -- despite the fact that this hardware met the MINIMUM requirements published by Microsoft (as did that 300MHz 128MB Windows 98se workstation when Windows XP first shipped).

(NOTE: 800MHz was the typical processor speed when Windows XP first shipped.)

Based upon my earlier tests with Beta 2 on the one-year-old Dell, I expected RC1 to perform about like Windows XP did on that 300MHz Pentium II.  Boy was I wrong! 

First and foremost, Vista RC1 complains not in the least about the lame hardware.  It takes a long time to boot up but hey, if you're a geek like me, your machine's always on anyway!  There is no Aero support but the test is about functionality, not about being pretty. 

Upon logging on, I did not see much of the sluggishness I expected either.  Yes, there are visual artifacts if you try to push it to its limits but it DOES NOT run out of memory.  Instead, once everything is loaded and the system has a chance to settle into a rhythm, Vista RC1 has a footprint of just under 270MB.  Exercise it a bit and it jumps into the 320MB range.  Still decent. 

I haven't yet loaded up MS Office 2003 but from what I can see, Vista will easily live up to Microsoft's promises for MINIMUM hardware. 

All that said...

I am not recommending that anyone invest $100 for an OS upgrade on a six-year-old machine! 

Can it be done?  YES -- if the hardware is already in place.  But, if you need to add memory and a larger hard drive, that is a different story.  And if you want AERO you will have to add a new graphics card.  That $100 upgrade quickly becomes a $300 upgrade and you still have a six-year-old machine with PC133 memory and plenty of systems which could fail any day. 

IMHO, a far better investment would be to wait until January and buy a brand new entry-level Vista-capable machine for $500!  Better yet, kick in another $200 and get one really nice $700 workstation that can last you another six years! 

Topic: Windows

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  • The lesson is to dump the lame hardware

    You can get a nice Vista premium capable machine for $400 easily. Simply take a discounted $250 machine and add some RAM and graphics power to it and you're done.
    • The exact reason...

      George this is why many states have adopted/will soon adopt[url=http://www.maine.gov/dep/rwm/ewaste/]E-Waste Laws[/url].

      Under Federal law waste generated from households is exempted from the Federal regulations. However States have been passing E-Waste laws which regulate E-Waste, even generated in a household, due to so many people pitching their computers. In these states you must treat your used electronics as hazardous waste thus either recycle or pay big bucks to have it hauled away as a hazardous waste.
      Edward Meyers
      • Dumping

        I'm sure George didn't mean to tell everyone to personally throw their old PC's into a landfill, however, I do like the point about E-Waste. If only it were clearer what we are supposed to do with old hardware, given the rapid obsolesence of computers these days. It always pains me when I have to abandon a machine that seems "good", just not good enough.
        • Donate it, Repurpose It, or Ebay it

          If it will still run XP then shred the hard drive, (there are several free utilities that will do the job for you, Knoppix includes these tools and an [url=http://www.oreillynet.com/sysadmin/blog/2005/03/please_for_the_love_of_all_tha.html]on howto[/url] use them) then re-install Windows. If you don't want to be hassled with all that remove the hard drive

          The very first thing you should do, after shredding the drive, is ask yourself if you or either someone in your family could use the computer. Do you have a nephew, grandchild, niece, child, cousin, second cousin, etc who is heading off to school who perhaps does not have a computer or a parent/grandparent that perhaps would want it and could use it. If you are giving it to a family member check the fans to make sure they are in good condition , the fans BTW fail first followed by the drives and you don't want to be hassled by a family member over an $8 dollar fan.

          If not then donate or Ebay/garage sale it. If you sell it make sure you politely but firmly point out that it is used and you are selling it as-is without any warranty/support unless you really want to go there.

          Try to donate local or garage sale it first as someone in your neighborhood may need a computer but can not afford a new one.

          If you garage sale/ebay it the going prices (Based on CPU speed) are;

          1. Sub Pentium 2 computer in working condition - $25-$50 (sub 233 Mhz) as XP will not run on it. Modern Light Linuxes will run on it though down to a 486 with 16 MB Ram. Contact your local LUG and see if they will install Linux to repurpose it as a Linux desktop with a light-linux.

          2. Pentium 2/AMDK6 - Pentium 3/AMD/VIA/ETC computer in working condition (233 Mhz- 800 Mhz processor), $50-$75. Vista will not run it. XP and more robust Linuxes will though.

          3. 800 Mhz-2 Ghz computers $75-$150.

          4. 2 Ghz+ $150-$300 unless you have some very powerful and unique hardware a used computer is not worth more than $300 (The price of a new low end system).

          If the system is an older Mac add $10-$25 to the price list as Macs tend to hold up better over time.

          If you donate it try to see if a family member/friend, local school, library, church, needy individual, or charity wants it first... if not then major OEMs like Dell offer charities where they will donate your used equipment to someone needy worldwide. You may be surprised how many needy people are in your local and you should help them first for two reasons;

          1. It improves your area and
          2. it saves resources, both financial and on fuel, on shipping.

          If none of those are options send the computer to your local used part store so they can salvage the parts, some stores will offer you credit towards used parts- just remember to remove or shred the drive.

          The last option, if none of the above work for you, is to use a Major reputable OEM recycling program (Like [url=http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/globalcitizenship/environment/recycle/index.html] Hp's[/url] or [url=http://www.dell.com/content/topics/segtopic.aspx/dell_recycling?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs]Dell's[/url], they take the computer (They shred the computer down and use the raw materials to make new parts).
          Edward Meyers
    • You're correct, George!

      Unless your old machine already has the required memory and hard drive space, come January the cost of upgrading it may come very close the cost of buying a brand new machine with a full warranty on it.
      M Wagner
  • Just as a contrast...

    ---I have come to accept as an axiom that any computer that you purchase will survive no more than ONE operating system upgrade. The second OS upgrade will simply require too much processor to run.---

    Found this very contrary to my experience. I bought a TiBook, the first gen G4 laptop from Apple, and I started using it with OS9. Then 10.0, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3. At that point I got a new laptop, but I have loaded it with 10.4 and given it to a friend. The interesting thing is that each subsequent OS from Apple actually ran faster on the old machine, booted faster, opened programs faster. Apple has done a nice job of streamlining their OS'es so there's still benefit in upgrading even if one has old hardware.

    Can't speak for any other OS'es, I'm sure others will chime in here with their experiences.
    tic swayback
    • Yes, Apple has done a nice job ...

      ... of transitioning from one OS to another. Especially since joining the UNIX camp.

      The price has been high though. Microsoft wants $99 to upgrade form XP Home to Vista Home five years after XP Home was introduced. In that time, Apple has marketed five versions of MacOS X (10.0 thru 10.4) and the current upgrade price is $129 retail. On top of that, applications have had to be modified along the way to run under subsequent versions of MacOS X.

      As for performance improvements, Windows 2000 outperformed Windows 98 on the same hardware (a transition similar to going from MacOS 9 to MacOS X) and Windows XP outperformed Windows 2000 on the same hardware. Come January, I think the same will be true of Vista.

      One difference is that Apple considers MacOS X 10.4 to be an upgrade of MacOS X 10.3. Microsoft calls that a Service Pack, which they provide you for free.
      M Wagner
      • Oh God, not this again

        ---One difference is that Apple considers MacOS X 10.4 to be an upgrade of MacOS X 10.3. Microsoft calls that a Service Pack, which they provide you for free.---

        Sigh. Please tell me which service pack came with hundreds of brand new features and dozens of new programs. Which service pack came with an entirely new Mail program? Which service pack gave you the equivalent of Spotlight? Which service pack gave you the equivalent of Quartz Extreme? System wide address book, Rendesvous, iChat, Expose, File Vault, Safari, Automator, Dashboard, Smart Folders, Core Image, Core Video to name just a few. When will this endless propaganda that a new OS from Apple is the same as a Service Pack of bundled patches from MS? Sheesh, give it up already.

        ---The price has been high though---

        Love that complaint. Oh, the poor Mac users, they've had to pay for all kinds of new programs and new capabilities. MS is so much nicer to its users, it saves them money by never offering anything new.

        ---As for performance improvements, Windows 2000 outperformed Windows 98 on the same hardware (a transition similar to going from MacOS 9 to MacOS X) and Windows XP outperformed Windows 2000 on the same hardware. Come January, I think the same will be true of Vista.---

        Odd, cause I usually hear that 98 is faster than 2000 is faster than XP. What about on a 3 or 4 year old machine? Is XP faster than 2000, and will Vista run faster than 2000? OSX 10.4 certainly runs faster than 10.2 on my 5 year old TiBook.
        tic swayback
        • Windows XP Pro runs GREAT ...

          ... on my old Dell and for five years, I've not paid a penny for all those free XP upgrades and patches. Vista's not too bad on this (now quite lame) five-year-old computer either! Since 2001, Apple has release four MacOSX upgrades, at $100+ apiece.

          In the end, the TCO for a Macintosh and an equivalent Dell box running Windows is the same. But most people don't need a premium-priced computer to get the functionality they need.

          Don't want Vista? Don't buy it. But don't claim that something else out there is any less costly to own than a Windows computer. it just isn't true.
          M Wagner
  • I only MS could code Properly...

    You said a system could handle only one OS upgrde, well how about Linux, a lot of distros make releases as often as everyt 9-12 Months, new software, kernel, etc, but infact they tend to get to faster, rather than slower, it's just because because windoz is so badly written it, adding more features just sloese it down even more, I think M$ should have put new features on hold, a concentrated on getting a better written, not so bloated (and more secure) kernel, etc, before adding (or should I say copying of linux/mac/ect) features.
    • And Microsoft has provided ...

      ... similar upgrades in the form of Service Packs and they too have improved performance and overall reliability.
      M Wagner
      • right . . .

        I don't remember any such improvements in performance. Hogwash. Reliability, maybe, but you'll never convince me on performance.
  • If it's about functionality, why upgrade at all?

    "If it works, don't fix it" - isn't that the maxim? (it can't be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" because we've yet to see a Microsoft product that is anything BUT broken! :D )

    Vista cripples itself. And the wallets of people who have to upgrade.

    I'd rather upgrade and use the same operating system. It'll run faster. I do not want to upgrade hardware and then add in a new operating system; there is no functional value because all Vista appears to be is a a bunch of band-aids for security concerns and pretty graphics, what else is new? (certainly not WinFS; that was dumped a long time ago to help ensure the release date was before 2007... oops, too late...)
    • Well Vista works on

      My 2 year old opteron system, although a bit mixed feelings so far still cant do simple things like mount an ISO to a folder.

      Personally I wouldnt run XP on a $600.00 PC.

      And i wont even think about putting it on my kids PIII 933 system
      • The key with both XP and Vista ...

        ... is RAM. Windows XP requires 512MB for optimal performance. If you don't have 512MB, you are going to be able choke Windows XP no matter how fast the processor happens to be. Today's $600 workstation is running at 2.8GHz or better and comes with 512MB. Plenty for Windows XP. Since mounting ISO files to a folder or drive can be done with free software, it doesn't seem to me to be a showstopper.
        M Wagner
    • Don't get me wrong. There is no ...

      ... compelling reason for anyone running Windows XP today to upgrade to Vista. But if you WANT to upgrade to Vista and your machine meets Micrsoft's minimum specifications, you can have a positive experience. The older the hardware, and the costs of meeting Microsoft's recommendations when compared to the cost of a brand new machine running Vista come into play as well.
      M Wagner
  • Vista Basic isn't the issue.

    The real issue is that Vista is supposed to be a new operating system. Vista Basic, as you discovered, run fine, very similar to XP Pro. This is because it IS XP Pro with a new security system. Whoop-dee-Freakin'-Doo.

    The issue is that Aero is the BIG graphical upgrade, and it can't run anywhere as smoothly as Mac OSX - even on far superior hardware to what OSX had just a year ago. Why is Aero such a hardware hog?

    Here's what I want to see: another minor upgrade in 2 years. But it needs specific things. It needs Aero as a standard system, not at the $140 extra price. It needs PowerShell built in for administration and hobbyist programming. It needs a complete re-do of the notification area (push the notifications to the desktop as widgets). And it should have a Gaming mode like safe mode, where FROM BOOT-UP, it doesn't load nonsense like desktop search, IE or Office background tasks, Windows Themes or however many layers Windows uses for Windows now, and no Acrobat, OO.o, QT or IM background tasks. Re-think the start menu - hiding things and moving them around doesn't change the fundamental issue here. How about forcing software to appear in the add/remove menu? Or making them appear in the task bar? Wouldn't that just solve spyware issues without making us spend more money? OH, that's the point?

    OHow about a Steam/XBL-like software purchase and download service? It can be used as a unified Update service for non-MS software. AND NO MORE RE-BOOTING FOR UPDATES. We've been downloading and installing monthly patches for a decade and you haven't figured this out? WHY LORD WHY??!!??

    How about making manufacturers use bluetooth for keyboards/mice?

    I know, I know, keep dreaming. Windows Panorama will come in 2015 (scheduled for 2009), include 7 different graphical subsystems, have a notification area that takes up 12 square inches of space, which is supposedly ok because everyone has 30" screens. It will have a start menu that takes up the entire screen and still needs to scroll around, because every application will be rented per month, sold through MS and pre-loaded onto a 500gb hard drive, leaving only 50 gigs for personal use, because that's how large a single game is. It will wirelessly connect for miles, but only through approved cell phone providers to MS Windows computers and the Internet will be able to display HD movies without stutter, but only if you give your first child to Verizon, Time Warner or Comcast. Did I leave anything out?

    Oh yes, a barely upgraded 30 year old application called Microsoft Word will still take half a minute to open up a document, and it will still stutter when your computer does ANYTHING in the background. Which your computer always does. Windows explorer will still need to be refreshed to show changes, the desktop still won't display CD/DVD/HDDVDs properly (shortcuts don't refresh). And we'll still need antivirus/spyware removal/glitch ware, and who knows what else.

    Progress can't fix anything, you know, just make it shinier and more expensive. Which seems to be MS's OS credo.
    • Windws Vista Basic comes with Aero.

      The only catch is that AERO needs a decent graphics card and 1GB of RAM.

      Some people expected Vista to be REVOLUTIONARY and seamless. It couldn't be both so Microsoft decided that it was better for Vista to be EVOLUTIONARY. Don't like it? You don't have to buy it.

      Microsoft doesn't have the luxury of controlling the graphics systems that end up in Windows machines. They decided that market share was more important than control over every aspect of the hardware. Apple has a small marketshare because they decided to retain control of all aspects of the hardware. A technically superior choice perhaps but the trade-off is market share. Ever hear of BetaMax?

      UNIX and Linux patches require reboots as often as Windows patches do.

      Come January, I will still be able to buy a Windows Vista machine that will perform as well as a Mac OSX machine -- but at a lower price-point and with a lower TCO.
      M Wagner
      • Re: Windws Vista Basic comes with Aero.

        [i]UNIX and Linux patches require reboots as often as Windows patches do.[/i]

        Uh, excuse me? Linux and Unix only require reboots when you're patching the kernel. Sheet. You can't even change settings on Windows without having to reboot, not to mention installing software. Almost all software installs require a reboot.

        none none
      • Vista Basic does NOT come with Aero.

        Please get your facts straight before posting. If you don't believe me, then you should believe Microsoft. Here is a link:


        Notice the Aero interface is mentioned in every version of Vista that includes it. Basic does not include it.

        Also, in regards to your statement:

        [i]"UNIX and Linux patches require reboots as often as Windows patches do."[/i]

        This simply is not true. I'm sure someone can explain it better than I can, but it has to do with a couple of things:

        One, the way the operating systems are designed. UNIX and Linux are both modular operating systems by design. Basically this means that the system is not one intertwined and integrated mass (the Windows way), but rather is a collection of modules connected and working together to produce the whole. Thus only those services which must be restarted are restarted, without the whole system being rebooted.

        Two, the way the operating system deals with the updated files. Linux/UNIX are designed so that, after an update/patch, a program that was using an old version of the updated file/library can continue using that information (until the program is closed) while allowing newly opened programs to access the new/updated file or library at the same time. Once the program using the old files is restarted it will use the new files/libraries. And again, you can usually restart only the services that need those files without rebooting your whole system. Windows can't do this.

        There is an exception in Linux and UNIX, and that is when you have updated your kernel. Then you must reboot.