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Microsoft to spell out Vista's needs

The software giant is expected to get specific about what features PCs will need to run the Windows update.

After months of providing only basic guidance about the kind of PC hardware needed to run Windows Vista, Microsoft is ready to get a bit more specific.

On Thursday, the company is expected to give details of two marketing programs that computer makers and retailers can use to indicate whether, and how well, their computers will run the upcoming Windows operating system. The "Vista-capable" program lists the features needed to minimally run the new operating system. The "Premium Ready" program will identify PCs that can take advantage of Vista's high-end features, including its new Aero graphics, according to a source familiar with the company's plans.

To be Vista-capable, a machine needs at least an 800MHz processor, 512MB of memory and a graphics card that can run DirectX 9 graphics. Those requirements are similar to the minimum guidelines the company has been recommending for Vista for some time.

To carry the Premium Ready designation, a PC must have a 1GHz processor, 1GB of main memory, 128MB of memory and a graphics card that supports Vista's new graphics-driver model.

The amount of graphics memory needed to run Vista's Aero graphics also varies based on the size and number of monitors. Multiple displays and larger screen sizes require more dedicated memory.

The programs are designed to help PC makers characterize and label new systems, but they also give existing PC owners a better sense of whether it is feasible to upgrade their machines.

Microsoft is also expected to announce on Thursday a test version of an upgrade-advisor tool that can be downloaded from its Web site. The tool helps a user know which versions and features of Vista their PC should run, as well as which hardware upgrades might allow them to take fuller advantage of the OS.

Vista also has a built-in tool for evaluating its performance based on a computer's components and overall performance abilities.

The Vista-capable program comes as Microsoft is preparing to offer a broader test version of the Windows update, which the software maker has said will be made available this quarter to about two million testers. The company also hosts its annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) for hardware makers next week in Seattle. Details of the Vista-capable program were noted earlier Wednesday by eWeek.