Windows Vista upgrade FAQ

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.

TOPICS: 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.

Next -->

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

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.

Next -->

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


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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Topic: Windows

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  • This is easy:

    1. If you currently have a computer running Windows XP don't upgrade.
    2. If you currenlty have a computer running any other version of Windows don't
    upgrade. Buy a new PC instead.
    3. If you disagree with this then you don't need me or anyone else to tell you whether
    you should upgrade or not. You know enough to make that decision on your own.

    • This is easy:

      1. If you currently have a computer running Windows XP upgrade to any recent release of Linux. I chose Mandriva 2007.

      2. If you currently have a computer running any other version of windows, you can probably still upgrade to Linux, if the hardware is fairly recent, otherwise buy a new computer and upgrade it to a recent release of Linux. I personally recommend Mandriva 2007.
      tracy anne
      • Gawd! Can't you zealots are really annoying!

        Give it a rest already! Why does every Windows discussion have to morph into a Linux
        advocacy battle?
        • No kidding!

          This guy has a serious question! He needs to downgrade a Vista machine to XP! He knows it can be done, it's Microsoft's policy apparently, but Microsoft pushed Vista so hard and fast on the OEMs, that in one month, the solid, stable OS system builders have come to rely on has all but evaporated!

          I'm in the same boat! Do you know how frustrating it is searching Google and coming up empty for an answer to such a simple question?! Sorry, I can't go to Linux, it don't have the driver to run my National Instruments DAQ card, and you can't run .NET programming on it; so in my world, Linux is trash and not worth millions in software reprogramming efforts to move to.

          So before you speak up with some witty "switch to Linux idiot" comment and inadvertently make your precious OS seem like it's only used by immature kids with nothing better to do than insult people on forums and blogs, consider the fact that all you're doing is taking Linux one more step down the road to obsolescence by alienating another potential user.
      • RE: Windows Vista upgrade FAQ

        @tracy anne the most unstable OS i have ever used, fail windows version, 7 is brilliant.
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  • Nice FAQ

    Ties in well with the Vista primer Marc Wagner did last month, his being more geared towards the typical, [i]non-geek[/i] Windows computer user. Between the two articles, there is a lot of information readily available now to help ZDNetters make smarter upgrade decisions.
  • Vista Upgrade: NOT

    The best advice I can give someone considering a Vista upgrade is:
    The added value, compared with the burden of things not working adds to a negative number.
    Don't upgrade.
  • Many will upgrade from XP to Vista - soon?

    I'm talking about the Vista Express Upgrade. Eligible receipients have been tweaking their XP based PCs for several months now while waiting for their copy of Vista to show up in the mail. Each tweak carries these PCs further away from the 'ideal' in-place upgrade. What are these people waiting for? The sad fact is many weeks after Vista's official release, most of us have YET to receive our upgrade DVDs & Vista license.

    There is LOTS of nasty grumbling about the Vista Express Upgrade around the web. Many folks thought they would receive their DVD within a few days of the official retail release. The smarter ones expected it would take upwards of a month to get the upgrades all shipped - and we weren't so smart. The fact is that Microsoft's chosen fulfillment provider has had this in a screwed up mess since the get go. Registration was to have started by early November. The web site didn't work correctly until December, and some problems remained. Even after you successfully register, you have to mail in specific paperwork - just like a rebate program (says something there, doesn't it?). Maybe it was pessimism at the time, but I mailed my documentation in immediately via Certified Mail.

    The provider had the documentation by mid-December. I received my formal confirmation that my submission had been accepted and my order was being processed in early March - a full 5 weeks AFTER the official retail release. ALL orders received by the end of January should have SHIPPED by that time. The confirmation indicated that my order would ship within 4-6 weeks - placing likely receipt in mid to late April, more than 10 weeks after the official release, 4 months after they received my paperwork, and 5 months since my purchase.

    By the way, the upgrade is not FREE. The cost of the upgrade is zero, but nearly $13 is attached for shipping and handling. As the actual mailing cost will likely be $1.50 at most using bulk mail, the fulfillment company is still grossing more than $10 per upgrade. My credit card was charged this fee when I registered online back in December. If I don't receive my upgrade shortly, I intend to contact my credit card provider and dispute the charge.

    I've heard rumors of a class-action lawsuit. Personally I think Microsoft ought to upgrade all those registration keys gratis to the Ultimate edition of Vista. I have sincere doubts that anyone will [b][i]ever again[/b][/i] buy a PC shortly before a new OS is released on the promise that they will receive the new version upon release. [b]If PC manufacturers aren't ganging together to do their own class-action suit, they ought to be.[/b]
    Jim Johnson
    • Vista upgrade program, and microsofts lack of quality work like allways

      I COULDNT Upgrade to vista they fcked up ! i never recieved my copy after aplying on the site, later i lost my upgrade so i never did that fixed, and now stilling XP.

      I got an upgrade for ya, CALLED FEDORA CORE6 beats microsofts windodoz hands down.
    • I learned my lesson from Apple.

      After multiple failed delays for their next gen operating system I learned never to buy anything with the expectation that it could be upgraded. With this lesson securely under my belt I waited a few months to buy my new PC with Vista pre-installed instead of falling for the express upgrade option. As a result not a single problem or hassel getting Vista to work on my PC.
    • My express upgrade went smooth

      Maybe I got lucky. Bought my computer around Jan 25, e-mailed in the required proof of purchase, got a conformation number, and recieved my upgrade the begining of March. By the way, I was not charged one penny for my upgrade. Not even shipping. I think the shipping cost has more to do with the PC manufacturer than anything else. Mine is HP in case you're wondering. Maybe I got lucky though. By the way, I'm completely happy with Vista. Granted, it's not great... but it's worth it I think. Oh yeah, make sure you turn off UAC, that's about the only complaint I could find and you CAN turn it off. By the way, I encourage anyone buying a new PC to get a Mac if you can. You'll be happier. If you can't, then Vista is alright I guess.
    • Disputing charges

      The limit is typically 60 days after the statement date to dispute a charge on your credit card. I'm not sure, but I think that's a minimum defined by federal law. Not to say that your provider follows that policy (mine does) or that they won't cut you some slack. But be forewarned that they might not process the dispute because of the amount of time that's elapsed. By the way, no reputable company charges a credit card until the merchandise ships.
  • Vista Upgrade

    A good write up! But surely it is clear that the right answer for most users is DO NOT UPGRADE TO VISTA YET. No don,t do it just becuase you have the money!
    My system which is be completelly Vista Ultimate ready but nontheless I had to get a number of beta drivers before it would work and even then my Nvidia dual card will only run with one core.There were no advantages what so ever from installing Vista.
    o I have reinstalled windows XP Pro + SP2

    Users should NOT buy Vista no Please wait until Microsoft produces a useful upgrade at a reasonable price. Use consumer power to force the greedy giant to take som notice of user requirements. Write to your congressman about the need to break Micosoft's monopoly.

    • Reasonable Price?

      Just checked one of my suppliers in Switzerland for Vista prices. Think we are getting fleeced here! Costs as follows in both CHF and USD conversion:
      Home Basic Full - CHF 329.- USD 270.72
      Home Basic U/G - CHF 169.- USD 139.06
      Home Premium Full - CHF 439.- USD 361.11
      Home Premium U/G - CHF 289.- USD 237.69
      Business Full - CHF 539.- USD 443.27
      Business U/G - CHF 359.- USD 259.13
      Ultimate Full - CHF 719.- USD 591.23
      Ultimate U/G - CHF 469.- USD 385.67

      These are for the German language versions, but I would not think that it costs nearly 50% of the US cost for the translation!
  • Downgrade to XP

    I recently bought a new computer and one has no choice with this brand to have XP as they all come with Vista installed. I would have preferred to downgrade if possible, but the company says, can't be done.
    • THEN DONT BUY ......

      If a supplier or White box suppier cant give me the Operating system (XP PRO) and the Office suite I require (Office 2003) then the dont get my busines.

  • One more suggestions for ...

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

    Another approach is to create a 20GB partition somewhere on your XP system. And load a Vista trial (using Vista media -- sans Product Key) into that partition. While this modifies the MBR of your boot drive with the new Vista loader, if you subsequently delete Vista, you can still boot XP without problems.
    M Wagner
  • Couple of thoughs on your recommended system requirements

    I basically agree with your recommended system requirements except a couple of things.

    First, I don't really think that one necessarily needs a dual core CPU. I'm running it on a single core three year old (before dual cores came out for the x86 consumer market) Athlon 64 3400+ and it runs quite well. Of course dual core would be better, but for general office productivity, web surfing, standard desktop apps, a single core will be fine.

    Also, no need for an SATA hard drive. My above system is running a PATA hard drive with no problems.
  • For best experiance I suggest checking chipset compatiblity

    I know of a few chipsets that are Vista compatible
    1 For AMD cpu's nVidia nForce 3 and up-VIA K8M800 & up ATI has a few but don't know which ones
    2 For Intel you have to find out as I don't use Intel, there are a few
    3 For the rest of the hardware just make sure there are Vista drivers before even thinkingof upgrading.
    Michael L Hereid Sr
  • What is the difference?

    Of all the articles that I have read about Vista, I still don't have a good picture of the benefits over Win-XP-Pro.
    What do I get besides fancy footwork with the display.