Making Your Move to Vista: What You Need to Know

Thinking about upgrading to Vista? We can help.

By now you should be aware there are many pluses and minuses to Vista. It's not a slam-dunk decision, but there's a lot to like about the new Windows. Once you decide to make the upgrade, you'll find that you're confronted with more than the usual number of questions to answer and details to sort through before you arrive at your Vista upgrade path.

For starters, are you buying new hardware? Or are you upgrading your existing hardware to Vista? Most of Microsoft's system requirements should very definitely be described as minimum -- or overly minimum. It's even a little contradictory because the video requirement is more in keeping with advanced newer hardware, while the CPU and memory configuration is more like what you'd expect from an el cheapo PC circa 2004.

Or let us put it another way: This is the salient information you need to know about system requirements if you want to fully enable Windows Vista's Aero user interface:

DirectX 9 (DirectX 10 preferred) 3-D graphics processing unit with a WDDM driver, 128MB graphics memory (minimum), support for "Pixel Shader 2.0," and the ability to display a color depth of 32 bits per pixel.

Although graphics cards that share main system memory are acceptable, you will find that the best approach is 256MB of dedicated video RAM. We have seen some 64MB dedicated video RAM mobile graphics processing units that support Aero nominally, probably because they share main system memory beyond the dedicated 64MB.

The rest of Microsoft's Vista-capable system requirements read like this:

  • 1-GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1GB of system memory
  • 40GB of hard drive capacity with 15GB free space
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • Audio output capability
  • Internet access capability

Our real-world experience indicates that an Intel or comparable Pentium Centrino or M 2-GHz CPU should be the minimum. You should have at least 1.5GB of RAM, and if you're buying a new machine, get 2GB of RAM. Your hard disk should be at least a 60GB drive, and we'd recommend 25GB free to allow for new applications. Don't forget the DVD drive. The Vista disc is a DVD, not a CD.

If at all possible, get Vista on a new machine. Our limited experience with upgrading Vista over Windows XP has been surprisingly positive. But be aware that you can't uninstall a Vista upgrade the way you could those of previous versions of Windows. And you'll be absolutely assured of driver support if you buy Vista preinstalled from a reputable hardware vendor.

Anyone planning an upgrade installation should review Microsoft's Upgrade Planning for Windows Vista. There are two aspects of the term upgrade worth considering. The first is saving money on the cost of Vista. The second is something new and different. There are heavy limits on which previous versions are capable of being upgraded to four of the six main Vista versions.

So, for example, even though you can upgrade from Windows 2000 to Windows Vista at the cash register, you can't actually perform a Windows 2000 upgrade of the software. You have to clean-install Vista when moving up from Windows 2000. The same is true of Windows XP Pro x64. Windows XP Home Edition can be software upgraded to any version of Vista. But the other three versions, XP Pro, XP Media Center and XP Tablet PC can upgrade only to some of the new Vista versions.

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