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Windows Vista Upgrade - What to Watch Out for

With the with the final release of Windows Vista on January 30, 2007, you may be wondering if your computer is "Vista Ready". This article is designed to point out a few potential pitfalls.

Much of the WOW factor surrounding Vista is the new graphics capabilities called Aero with glass like effects and themes. Aero also supercharges your task switching with Flip33D. This all sounds cool and looks great, but can your existing computer hardware support it? Find out by running Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor.

Upgrade Advisor

You can download the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor from the Microsoft web site and run it on your existing computer to produce a comprehensive report of how well Vista will be supported. This is actually a very nice tool that does an excellent job of scanning, reporting and helping you to choose which edition of Vista (flavor) is right for you and your computer. This should be your first step if you are considering an upgrade to Vista on your existing computer. However, here is the first pitfall. If you currently run Windows 2000 or anything older, the Upgrade Advisor is not supported.

No upgrade path from Windows 2000

Here is my first gripe with Vista. If you are currently running Windows 2000, there is no upgrade offered to Vista. You must purchase the full version of Vista. As mentioned above, you can not even run the Upgrade Advisor to find out if your hardware will support Vista. This to me is an outrage and, in my humble opinion, a big mistake of the Microsoft marketing department. You would think that they would allow you to run the Upgrade Advisor tool and have it let you know that you would need to purchase the full version, then still report on your hardware support for Vista. So, what are your options? Well, option one is to upgrade your Windows 2000 computer to XP, run Upgrade Advisor, evaluate your options and choose your Vista upgrade. Option 2 is to manually analyze your current computer hardware based on the requirements from Microsoft, decide on a flavor of Vista, purchase the full version and go for it.Either way, Microsoft has made this difficult and costly.

Flavors of Vista - Picking the right edition.

There are a total of six flavors of Vista to choose from... yes six. The top two are for enterprise customers and require volume license agreements. For home and small business, there are four flavors to choose from. They are Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, and Business. I will not go into detail of each flavor so please look up a comparison chart to choose the one that is right for you. I will however, let you know that only the Home Premium, Business and Enterprise editions contain the Aero Glass graphics support. If you are able to run the Upgrade Advisor tool, it is the best method to choose the correct edition because it will match each edition to your hardware capabilities and guide you on upgrades that may be needed.

WDDM drivers and graphic cards for the Aero interface

Here is one of the biggest gotchas! With most of the Vista hype surrounding the awesome graphics capabilities, this is the area to pay close attention to when considering an upgrade. In order to run the Aero Graphics, your computer must support a graphics card that will use a WDDM (Windows Vista Display Driver Model) which is a new technology that has never been required in previous operating systems. This is how they archive the new dazzling graphics. None of my current computers have WDDM graphics driver support and therefore would not support Aero. All of my computers are fairly high end Dell machines purchased within the last three years. So, if the Aero support is important to you, check this out carefully!

Multiple Monitors

Another Aero Interface pitfall. If your currently run multiple monitors with multiple video cards, watch out! Aero is even more picky about the hardware and drivers for multiple cards. Even Microsoft warns about this configuration because under Vista Aero it is so problem prone. The recommended configuration is a single video card with multiple output, that is of course WDDM capable and supports the minimum requirements... see below.

Other hardware considerations

The the basic flavors of Vista, the hardware required is fairly low:

  • A modern processor of at lease 800mhz
  • 512mb or system memory (RAM)
  • A graphics card that is DirectX 9 capable.

This is not a problem for most any computer purchased in the last four or five years.

The Vista Premium Ready computer requires the following:

  • 1ghz 32bit or 64bit processor
  • 1gb or system memory (RAM)
  • A graphics card capable of DirectX 9 with a WDDM driver, 128mb graphics memory (minimum), pixel shader 2.0 and 32 bits per pixel.

These requirements are not so hard to meet with the exception of the graphics card. Most of your basic home desktop computers will not meet these requirements, so please do your homework and make sure you have the proper hardware support before paying the premium price for the premium flavors of Vista!

If purchasing a new computer to run Vista, you can look for a "Windows Vista Capable PC" branded computer, but this does not mean that is capable of the Premium features of Aero graphics. It simply means that it will be capable to provide the "core experiences" of Vista. Again, do your homework.

You can buy a new computer that says it qualifies for an "Express Upgrade to Windows Vista". This is a good option if you are in the market for a new computer. Just find out what flavor of Vista that you will end up with after the upgrade. Be aware that this is mostly a free upgrade, but there may be some fees involved so check with your PC supplier.

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