Microsoft: Set your systems for Vista

Company spells out what's needed for PCs to run the Windows update, tells fans to get ready for the release.

Microsoft is still working to finish Windows Vista, but the company wants consumers to "Get Ready" now.

On Thursday, the company kicked off a campaign aimed at helping customers prepare for the new operating system, which is set for a mainstream launch in January.

As expected, Microsoft gave details of two programs. The "Vista-capable" program allows machines that meet a minimum set of requirements to tout themselves as able to run the new Windows.

Vista Upgrade Advisor

Computer makers who meet higher requirements will be able to tout their machines as "Premium Ready," indicating the PCs are able to take advantage of higher-end features, such as Vista's Aero graphics.

"There's really no reason to wait until the launch of Windows Vista to start shopping for a PC that can deliver a great Windows Vista experience or to start thinking about upgrading your current PC to windows Vista," product manager Greg Amrofell said in a telephone interview.

Microsoft also launched on Thursday a "Get Ready" Web site, which includes an Upgrade Advisor tool to help people determine just how Vista-ready an existing PC is.

The downloadable program is designed to tell people which features and versions of Vista their PC is able to run, thereby abstracting some of the complex requirements of Vista. For example, Aero graphics require a certain amount of memory bandwidth--a measurement of PC performance that few people are likely to know about in their machine. The advisor tool will simply say whether a PC will work out or not, rather than focus on specific requirements.

That way, customers "don't have to spend time in the footnotes of complex system requirements," said Mike Burk, the PR Manager, Windows Client.

What's needed?

New PCs must meet these requirements to be tagged as able to run Windows Vista at either of two levels.

Vista-capablePremium Ready
Processor Modern chip (at least 800MHz) 1GHz 32-bit (x86)
or 64-bit (x64)
System memory 512MB 1GB
GPU DirectX 9 capable (WDDM support recommended) Runs Windows Aero
Graphics memory (none specified) 128MB
HDD (none specified) 40GB
HDD free space (none specified) 15GB
Optical drive (none specified) DVD-ROM drive

Note: Processor speed is the nominal operational chip frequency for the PC. The DVD-ROM for Premium Ready can be external.

Source: Microsoft

That said, Microsoft did publish official minimum requirements for Vista on Thursday, largely matching the Vista-capable specifications. Systems need an 800 MHz processor, 512MB of memory, a 20GB hard drive with 15GB of free space and a CD-ROM drive. That guarantees access to Vista's core features, but not Aero and other premium features.

To be classified as Vista-capable, a computer needs an 800MHz processor, 512MB of memory and a DirectX 9-capable graphics card. Premium Ready machines need a 1GHz processor, 128MB of graphics memory, 1GB of system memory, a 40GB hard drive and an internal or external DVD-ROM drive.

While Microsoft has provided some clarity on checking a PC for Vista, it's not a straightforward process, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at market research firm Directions on Microsoft.

"I don't understand why it has to be this complex," he said. "Why can't this be written up on a one-page piece of paper in a manner that you don't have to be an electrical engineer to understand?"

Most shipping PCs should be Vista-capable, Microsoft said. For example, all systems introduced by Dell this year are Vista-capable. The majority of Dell's Vista-capable machines will support Aero graphics and more than three-fourths of its models can be configured to run the fancier graphics. Dell is also offering 17 custom-configured systems that are designed to support Aero.

"Our sense is that the vast majority of PCs do meet the requirements for the Vista-capable logo," Amrofell said. As for Premium Ready, he said that "a good number of PCs do meet the bar, and that's going to grow over the next few months."

The marketing programs and upgrade tool are designed to ease some of the uncertainty around Vista well ahead of the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons, the two biggest PC selling times of the year. Vista had long been expected to arrive by the 2006 holidays, but Microsoft said in March that it would not arrive on store shelves until January.

Kevin Johnson, head of the business unit that includes Windows, said in an interview with CNET this week that Microsoft is likely to have some kind of discount or upgrade program to help those who buy a PC this holiday season upgrade to Vista.

"Yeah, there's likely to be something," Johnson said, without giving specifics.

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