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Just What Is a "Vista Capable" Computer?

Over the past year, many businesses have tried to upgrade their operating systems to Windows Vista, only to find it to be a bad experience. Here's how to make sure your machines are capable of functioning with Microsoft's latest OS.
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At a recent Gartner conference featuring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, a woman interviewing Ballmer onstage put him on the defensive about the problems with Windows Vista, lamenting that she had to go back to using XP. "It's safe, it works, all the hardware is fine, and everything is great,” she said. There are also reports of customers who had problems with Vista on “Vista Capable” stickered computers, and when they called Microsoft tech support for assistance, were told to reinstall XP.

Originally touted by Microsoft as the operating system breakthrough we've all been waiting for, Vistas’ merits have yet to be proven. It's not just that it came out with more than the usual share of problems and bugs or that it initially lacked many of the drivers it needed in order to function with various hardware components.

The fact is, many computers bought new last year carrying the “Windows Vista Capable PC” sticker weren't very capable at all. Some businesses that then invested in “upgrading” these newly purchased systems from the stock Windows XP to Vista ended up spending even more to “downgrade” back to XP in order to simply get back to doing business. The current ongoing legal battle against Microsoft is an attempt to create a class action suit to address this very problem, and at the moment anyway, it’s working.

What a computer needs to be Vista ready

Microsoft has finally gotten some of the issues cleared up, and its service pack release did fix many of the bugs, but there are still many questions about what a computer needs in order to be considered truly “Windows Vista Capable.” How can you know if your computers are truly ready to run Vista?

According to the Microsoft recommended requirements a computer must meet in order to run the no-frills Vista Home Basic version, and therefore qualify for a “Vista Capable” sticker, it must be equipped with a "modern" CPU (at least 800 MHz, dual-core), 512MB of RAM, and a DirectX 9-class graphics processor -- not a very high-end piece of equipment these days.

For the full Vista eye-candy experience, you'll need a much better graphics card than standard motherboards carry. By Microsoft standards, the real sticker to look for is the one that says “Windows Vista Premium Ready,” supposedly containing everything one may need to take advantage of the Vista extras. But according to computer techs, that still may not be enough. Here’s the scoop on what you actually need to run Vista.

“Vista has a lot more capabilities and makes far better use of RAM than previous versions of Windows,” says Perri Naccarato, owner of The Computer Guys, a computer service and repair shop in Saugerties, NY. “So it does have specs that require higher end hardware.”

Higher level capabilities require upgrading computers

While the Vista Basic version will run on lesser hardware, anyone who wants to install and use the higher level capabilities of Vista will need to opt for the more loaded system. Naccarato recommends making sure that, at the bare minimum, any computer that will be running Vista should have at least 2 GB of RAM, a dual-core processor, and a video chipset that will run Direct X10. He says that you might get by with a video card that has 64 MB, but more is better. Some techies take it a step further still.

“In the end, any computer with a modern dual-core processor can have Vista working at its very best,” says Ish Matos, a “Double Agent” ranked computer tech with Geek Squad, the support arm of Best Buy stores. “The key is to have at least 3 GB of RAM and a powerful video card with at least 128 MB RAM, preferably 256 MB. Vista is all visual -- hence the name -- so it relies a lot on the video card and the RAM to accelerate the graphics speed.”

First attempts at replacing something we depend upon are often fraught with speed bumps, mistakes, and resistance to change. Once things settle into place, Vista may finally grow into the system both Microsoft and its customers would like it to be.

“In my experience, Vista's not the worst thing in the world to deal with,” says Naccarato. “I remember hating XP when it first came out years ago. It had multiple problems at first. I think this whole Vista problem will all shake out the same way.”




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