Getting Ready For Vista ? Making a Forward-Looking Hardware Choice

Windows Vista is now slated to be released in the first half of 2007 instead of 2006.  Since people like to keep computers for 3 or 4 years, it?s kind of important (if they want to run Vista) that they buy a machine that can run Vista well if they purchase one this year.  Part of the problem right now is some of the hardware pieces that really make Vista stand out aren?t yet on the market.  Still, with some noted exceptions, if you buy a mid-range system you should be reasonably certain of a good Vista experience when that OS shows up. 

Hybrid Drives/Flash: 

The hybrid hard drive and Flash Subsystem will have the biggest impact on performance, boot times, application load times, and gaming.  These drives (which wed flash memory and a very fast hard drive) are slated to appear late in the year, and?while not critical?will make a huge difference in Vista performance for notebooks.  Flash, if used as expected, should make a big difference in Windows XP (and even MacOS) performance, as well substantially reducing one of the biggest system bottlenecks.  For notebooks, Flash can increase battery life and drive reliability significantly, similar to the iPod; for desktop machines, it simply provides faster load times.  (There are memory cards entering the market from companies like MSI that will provide these benefits now, but they have yet to show up in branded systems and are relatively expensive).  


While Vista will run fine on older processors, it (and Windows XP?both were designed to work with multi-core systems) will start to feel out of date as developers increasingly write programs making use of multi-core capability.  This suggests that a multi-core system would be a wise investment, if you intend to keep your system for the full 3 or 4 years. 

Vista was designed to be a 64-bit operating system; initially, however, it will be implemented as a 32-bit platform.  Being unable to run 64-bit code does create some risk, though for most consumers this risk isn?t critical.  If you have a choice between two equal systems and one will run 64-bit code, you probably should choose that one. 


While Vista may not push the processor very hard, it does push graphics.  It will initially run with integrated graphics and a lot of fast memory, but you?d be better off with a separate graphics card from ATI, NVIDIA, or S3.   Windows Vista Screenshot Windows Vista Screenshot
Images Courtesy of Microsoft


Generally you have two strategies: you can buy a very low-end system and expect to replace it early, or you can buy a mid-range system that will run Vista reasonably well now.  Buying a high-end system with the expectation that it will last longer won?t be wise until all of the hardware parts are available.  


For those who want to buy laptops (as most of you probably will), the general advice is ?wait,? but if you can?t, here is the lowdown on laptops.  The most risky laptops are the smallest, because they will most likely not run Vista well now, as they typically use imbedded graphics and single-core processors.   Larger, more performance-oriented laptops will be lower-risk.  Favor 14? or larger widescreen displays with NVIDIA graphics if you have a choice (NVIDIA mobile parts have been doing better with games, as of late). 

Purchase Timing:

If you can wait until at least September, we expect to see a growing number of incentives, on top of new processors from Intel and the new hard drives mentioned above, that could provide you with both a very good price and a relatively low risk of premature obsolescence.  

General advice is, if possible, get new operating systems on new hardware; however, for some that may not be practical.  If you buy smart and wait for the technology that was designed to work with Vista to become available, you should still be able to get a good deal and not take an unreasonable risk. 

Recommended Hardware for Vista:


-NVIDIA, ATI, or S3 Graphics with at least 128 MB of graphics memory

1 GB or better fast (dual channel) system memory (additional memory a good buy)

-Multi-core processor (64-bit preferred)

-80 GB or larger hard drive (7,200 RPM preferred)

-Branded vendor you trust (critical for Vista support during upgrade)

-Lowest risk is in the mid-range of the lines 


-14? or 15.4? widescreen, mid-range safest

-NVIDIA or ATI graphics (NVIDIA preferred)

-1+ GB memory (memory has an even higher benefit in laptops)

-Multi-core processor (64-bit preferred)

-80 GB or larger hard drive (7,200 RPM preferred)

-Branded vendor you trust (even more critical than in desktops, due to unique nature of laptops)

-You can?t upgrade most laptop graphics, so spending a little more for better graphics is advised

Upgrade Option:

You can try to upgrade what you have, but replacing memory, graphics, and the hard drive may cost you 90% of a new system price, and support will be, at best, questionable.  For folks that regularly build and modify their own systems this isn?t an issue, but if you don?t like doing this, then buying a complete system is probably for you.   

One thing that might make sense is buying a low-end system with integrated graphics now, and then buying a new graphics card when you purchase Vista.  Graphics card prices tend to drop sharply after the end of the year, and we?ll have a better idea which cards are the best value then anyway.  Changing out a video card isn?t that difficult and it is a nice way to have something to play with now that will still look like a good value in 2007.    Click here to find out more about Windows Vista

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Editors' Recommendations