Microsoft aims to take the guesswork out of answering that question with a new method for evaluating a PC's capability to run a given piece of software, including the complex games that often choke older PCs.
The system, described in a patent application published two weeks ago by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, would assign a "capability rating" to a PC or specific component. Patent application 20040268341, submitted by Mark Kenworthy on behalf of Microsoft, describes a comprehensive system, including an independent ratings board, that would provide an easy-to-understand numerical rating for determining whether a PC can handle a given piece of software.
Kenworthy is currently group program manager for Microsoft's Visual Studio developer tools.
Making sure a PC can run certain software is often a vexing process for consumers, especially with games such as the new "" that demand the latest video cards and other hardware. Game buyers are often surprised to find that a PC a year or two old .
Determining if your PC is up to snuff often requires digging into details beyond the average consumer's knowledge, such as whether a video card supports the latest version of Microsoft'sgraphics library or can handle sophisticated "transform and lighting" graphics effects.
"Purchasing software for use on a computer system currently requires an understanding of the system requirements of the software and technical details of the computer system," according to the application. "Unfortunately, the average consumer is often unable to match software requirements to system specifications due to the level of technical knowledge required."
The application describes a "capability tool" application that would examine a PC's innards and assign it a numerical rating based on standards set by an advisory board. A software application or game would be assigned a similar rating, based on the amount of computing resources it requires. Match the numbers, and you should be able to buy that new game or graphics application with confidence.
"Consumers, hardware vendors and software vendors will benefit from techniques and tools that allow a person with a limited understanding of computer system capabilities and software requirements to make informed software and hardware purchases," according to the application, "allowing them to purchase demanding multimedia software applications...without having an unsatisfactory experience due to substandard performance on their PC."