One more time ... Windows Vista system requirements

One more time ... Windows Vista system requirements

Summary: There’s a lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) surrounding the system requirements that will be needed to run Windows Vista. Partly, I put the blame for a lot of this confusion at Microsoft's doorstep - The fact that there are different requirements for the Windows Aero interface is confusing and Microsoft hasn't done a good job of explaining that Aero is an interface enhancement for Vista.

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TOPICS: Windows
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There’s a lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) surrounding the system requirements that will be needed to run Windows Vista.  Partly, I put the blame for a lot of this confusion at Microsoft's doorstep and how the Aero user interface is marketed.  The fact that there are different requirements for the Windows Aero interface Now, there is one fly in the ointment: Output Protection Management.compared to core Vista is confusing and Microsoft hasn't done a good job of explaining that Aero is an interface enhancement for Vista.

Let's start at the bottom line.  What's the minimum spec PC that will run Windows Vista (what Microsoft calls a "Windows Vista Capable PC"):

  • A processor with a minimum speed of 800MHz
  • 512MB or 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!)
  • CD-ROM drive

Nothing scary there (apart from the 800MHz bit - seems so disco, even my old laptop was faster than that!).  The only tripping point might be the graphics requirements.  Helpfully, ATI, NVIDIA, Intel, S3 and VIA have listed their Vista-ready gear.  My advice here 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 second mortgage.

Now, like I said, the requirements I've listed above are for what Microsoft calls a "Windows Vista Capable PC".  This is a PC that can run Windows Vista but cannot make use of additional features (that Microsoft calls "premium experiences").  These "premium experiences" include:

  • Windows Aero interface
  • BitLocker Drive Encryption

A PC that supports these "premium experiences" is categorized as a "Windows Vista Premium Ready" PC.  These PCs have higher system requirements:

  • 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

Now even those requirements aren't really worth screaming about really.  If you're the kind of person who will want to upgrade  their PC to Windows Vista then you're unlikely to have lower system requirements.

Now, there is one fly in the ointment: Output Protection Management (OPM).  I could write a lot about OPM and the technologies it covers, but this isn't the place.  The upshot of OPM is that users wanting to play back protected high-definition/high-quality content will need digital connections (such as DVI-I or HDMI) between the PC and the output devices (such as monitors).  This could mean substantial additional expense.  However, it's important to bear in mind that this will not be needed to run Aero or anything like that, just high-quality protected content.

I think that the Microsoft requirements are on the low side and I've come up with my own "minimum-spec Windows Vista Premium Ready" PC 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

Even if all this still has you scratching your head, one consolation is that come January 2007, you're going to be hard-pressed to find a PC on the market that isn’t at least Windows Vista Capable. 

One thing that does concern me though.  I wonder how long vendors are going to bother holding in stock badged Vista Capable PCs.  The price different between a Capable and a Premium PC seems so small (and the overall spec so rubbish) that just branding all of them all Premium PCs seems to make more sense - to me at least.

Topic: Windows

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  • I tried the ATi test

    to see if my video card was Aero capable, but it failed, even though I only bought the card about two months ago (it's a Radeon 9550 w/ 256MB DDR memory).

    Xgl with compiz works wonderfully on this same card. I know there's a difference in that Xgl is OpenGL based whereas Aero will be DirectX based, but I find it hard to believe that a card that works so well on Xgl will fail to render Aero acceptably. So I wonder myself whether MS and/or the hardware companies are confused themselves about what the hardware requirements are.
    Michael Kelly
    • I've tried a Radeon 9550 ...

      ... and it worked for me (for what it's worth). Drivers are a bit rough at present though and I have heard of lots of problems though.
      Did you run Vista beta or try the beta hardware compatibility tool?
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • I used

        ATi's online hardware compatibility tool. Don't remember if it was considered beta or not, and this was two or three weeks ago. I haven't gotten my hands on a Vista beta yet, so really all I know about it is from other people's machines. Honestly there's not point in my beta testing it myself (I'm not a developer) so I was going to wait till it turned gold before buying a test copy.
        Michael Kelly
        • 9550 is on the list

          http://www.ati.com/technology/windowsvista/Products.html

          But it's darn close to the bottom for my liking.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
          • Thanks for that

            They must have updated since I last looked. That it's near the bottom is of little concern to me, as long as it doesn't drop off the list of course, because I'm not exactly a high end graphics user anyway, so it's not like I'd be beating the bejesus out of Vista anyway. Anyway I've had 2 windows of MPlayer on two different sides of my Xgl cube and it ran with no hiccups, and I doubt I'll ever tax my computer that much on a regular basis, so I think I'll be fine.

            At least until someone comes up with a 3D video app. Now THAT'S something worth having a 3D operating environment for.
            Michael Kelly
  • I'll Wait Til 2012

    By then XP support will be dropped and Vista will have all the bugs worked out....

    Vista offers me nothing new over XP other than the Aero interface, and I really don't need that anyhow.

    Thanks, but no thanks.
    itanalyst
    • Aero interface

      One thing's for certain, you won't need the Aero interface until apps are programmed to take full advantage of it.

      As I mentioned in my previous post I have Xgl running on my computer (Gentoo Linux), and while I admit that the "cool factor" is high, in the end it does not do much to improve my user experience. It puts my desktop in a cube and gives me wobbly windows when I move them around and wobbly menus when I open them. Well the wobblies are cool but don't make me any more or less productive than I was before, and the cube has 4 desktops, which is exactly as many as I had before on a two dimensional screen. And actually I'm limited to 10 desktops on Xgl, whereas in the 2D world I could have as many as 16.

      Certainly the average Windows user is not familiar with multiple desktops, so the increase in desktop space will be new to most. However if that's all they want, most video card makers include that capability in their drivers, so a simple download and install will give people that capability.

      There are other minor inconveniences with Xgl due to the fact that it is alpha, but nothing that affects my productivity. But still, while a 3D screen does have a high "cool factor", it makes me no more productive than I was before, and until apps can take advantage of this environment it's not worth the upgrade just for that capability.
      Michael Kelly
    • 64-bit drivers

      ... we might also see a good range of drivers for Vista 64-bit by then too!
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • More myths to explode!

        There is already a good deal of 64 bit drivers available for Vista and we are only at Beta 2.
        ShadeTree
        • Signed drivers ...

          ... but aren't signed drivers going to be a problem? Isn't the requirement that Vista 64-bit will need signed drivers going to cause problems for a lot of the smaller hardware vendors?
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
          • Signed drivers will only pose a problem ...

            ... for small IHv's if they are not willing to pay the $ 500.00 submittal fee. The majority of suppliers who provide to the OEMs will be required to have them. What small hardware vendors do you have in mind that don't have signed drivers today?
            ShadeTree
  • ok, not so high unless...

    ... you dont want to buy yet another pc. I was able to get all the snappy graphics that vista promises on my compaq evo 410n (p3-m-1200 with an ati mobility) using linux and RedHat's AIGLX. Vista, on the other hand was a dog on this machine. Even without Aero.

    http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/RenderingProject/aiglx
    dantrevino
    • True ...

      Vista's not as snappy as it should be ... I'm hoping that as it gets nearer to the final release that things get better.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • The beta is a "debug" version.

        The actual RTM will be a lot faster.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
    • I would LOVE to try XGL or AIGLX

      Please, can you give me instructions on how to make it work with my ATI X800? Every piece of documentation I've read on both these technologies suggest that it will not work reliably on any of the newer ATIs and none of the NVIDIA cards. Thanks!!
      NonZealot
      • What's your distro?

        I used this wiki for Gentoo:

        http://gentoo-wiki.com/HOWTO_XGL

        If you follow the links you'll see that there apparently is an issue with X800, although it looks like that's the only recent ATI card that has problems that can't be fixed with a configuration tweak. Also you'll see many nVidia's listed, but you'll note no nVidia, and no new ATi, will work without the proprietary drivers.

        One other note, none of the proprietary drivers work yet on the just released XOrg 7.1, so don't jump the gun and upgrade just yet. Found that out the hard way.
        Michael Kelly
        • Ahhh, the joys of Linux!

          What do all the Linux guys who said that driver support was a thing of the past have to say about this? The X800 is last years model of ATI. How long before it is supported fully?
          ShadeTree
          • Be fair

            Linux has reasonably good support for 3D on the X800 if you are using a regular desktop. I won't say that getting Neverwinter Nights working on my X800 with 3D acceleration was simple but I did eventually get it working and the difficulties I faced had more to do with my incompetence than anything else. I get the feeling that XGL/AIGLX are not production ready yet, hence the poor support for hardware. I could easily say that Windows has driver support issues because Vista beta 2 has very spotty support of Soundblaster cards (my Audigy 2 will not work with it), but that wouldn't be fair, so I won't say it. :)

            [i]What do all the Linux guys who said that driver support was a thing of the past have to say about this?[/i]

            That being said, I think you [b]do[/b] have to be a bit more aware of peripheral compatibilities before buying something you know will be used on a Linux machine. I had to return my first wireless card because it was the wrong revision and there was no way of knowing until you opened the box and looked at the actual card! I've also been completely unable to sync my PocketPC with Linux although my understanding is that Palm works okay. Other than that, Linux has been able to handle every piece of hardware I've thrown at it.

            Obviously, Windows has better/easier driver support but I believe that Linux's driver support is no longer the Achilles' heel it may once have been.
            NonZealot
          • The driver you need for Audigy 2 ...

            ... sound card and Vista is available on Creative's site. It is available for both the 64 and 32 bit versions. We have tested it on many different configurations and it works fine. So it indeed would be unfair to say it doesn't work in Vista. To be totally fair, Vista is a beta. Chances are very good your released version of Linux is having problems with the X800.
            ShadeTree
          • Ironically enough

            driver support, or more precisely MS's lack thereof for its OWN hardware (a 1999 vintage Force Feedback Sidewinder rendered useless as a result of an upgrade to Windows 2000 two months after the joystick's purchase) is what drove me to Linux in the first place.

            I wouldn't hedge my bets on complete and flawless hardware support for any OS. They've all got their holes, and you have to do your research before making hardware purchase decisions. Back in 1999 I simply made the incorrect assumption that Microsoft OS would support all Microsoft hardware manufactured less than six months before its release (or at least that it would sooner or later) without checking to make sure first. Now I'm smart enough to know never to make such naive assumptions.
            Michael Kelly