By Staff writers, PC Authority
Vista’s new Aero Glass interface is very impressive, but it loses its lustre if it cripples your PC. We’ve given several PCs the Vista treatment to discover what you really need to run the next generation of Windows.
For the full Vista Premium experience — including Aero at 1280 x 1024 or above — Microsoft recommends a 1GHz CPU, 1GB of memory and a 128MB Direct X9 graphics card with a WDDM driver and pixel Shader 2 support. To be absolutely certain of the minimum requirements, we began with exactly that: a 1GHz Athlon Thunderbird CPU, 1GB of DDR RAM and a 128MB graphics card — in this case, an Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT.
While we managed to get Vista running smoothly on this rig, the system froze when we tried to play video with Aero enabled. Yet once we disabled Aero, the video played smoothly. So the absolute minimum specifications really are borderline when it comes to using Vista for anything more than Internet browsing.
However, it’s unlikely many people will seriously consider running Vista on such an old PC, and the news is better if we skip forward a few years. We built a new desktop system based on a 2.53GHz Celeron D 326. Sticking with 1GB of RAM we tried a variety of graphics solutions.
Amazingly, with Intel’s integrated 64MB GMA950 we had absolutely no problems at all: we ran video while running several other programs, and even successfully viewed the Flip 3D task-switcher and Live Preview. Admittedly the video stuttered a little in these more advanced views, but as a preview it was perfectly acceptable.
Stepping up, we found every DirectX9 card we tried with 128MB of memory ran Aero without a hitch. You’d certainly benefit from a slightly faster CPU, as Vista was a tiny bit sluggish, but it was more than fast enough for basic daily use.
So if you want to use Vista to its full potential, we’d recommend a modern yet inexpensive processor like a Sempron or Celeron as a minimum, 1GB of memory and a 128MB card, which, to its credit, is pretty much as Microsoft specified.
Having ensured your PC is ready to handle Vista, you’ll now need to decide which version of the operating system to plump for. Confusingly, there are five different flavours of Vista and PC manufacturers we’ve spoken to claim they’ve been left in the dark about the differences between them.
Microsoft disingenuously claims that Vista has no more versions than XP did. That’s ignoring the fact that XP launched with only Home and Professional editions, and then later added Media Center, Tablet and Professional x64, all three of which struggled to achieve mainstream appeal. This probably explains why Microsoft has decided to ditch Media Center and Tablet as operating systems in their own right and rolled their functionality into the more advanced versions of Vista, while all versions now offer 64-bit support.
So what are the differences between the five Vistas? On the home front, there’s a choice between Basic, Premium and Ultimate editions. The uninspiring sounding, feature-stripped Home Basic is aimed at those with only elementary needs, or as Windows Client marketing manager, Mike Haigh, puts it: “people like my dad, who loves his cricket and isn’t too bothered about technology.” Basic won’t ship with the flamboyant Aero user interface, nor many of the multimedia and networking features that would appeal to PC enthusiasts. Overall, it’s one we suggest you avoid - indeed, some of the PC manufacturers we’ve spoken to have no intention of even offering the Basic version.
Home Premium is the version Microsoft says it’s paying most attention to. Premium is pitched at PC enthusiasts: people with more than one PC who want to take advantage of advanced networking facilities and home entertainment. There’s a plethora of multimedia facilities, including Media Center, DVD authoring, a HD-compatible version of Movie Maker and advanced digital photography features. It’s well equipped for mobile workers too, with Tablet PC functionality, Mobility Center - a new feature that provides at-a-glance information on battery life, wireless networks and connected peripherals for laptop owners — and support for auxiliary laptop screens. We expect Premium to become the most popular flavour of Vista with users and PC manufacturers alike.
Vista Business is the natural successor to XP Professional. Unlike Home Premium, it includes facilities that make it easier for remote workers to access corporate networks (without a VPN) and an interesting new peer-to-peer Meeting Place feature that allows users to share and collaborate on documents with laptop-wielding colleagues, using an ad hoc Wi-Fi connection. One glaring omission from the Business edition, however, is Microsoft’s new BitLocker technology, which can be used to encrypt all the data on a hard drive, preventing thieves gaining access to corporate data on a stolen laptop. For reasons best known to itself, Microsoft has decided to restrict BitLocker to the Enterprise and Ultimate editions, rather denting Vista’s business security credentials.
Enterprise was the first edition of Vista to go on sale in November 2006, although it is only available to volume licence customers. It shares many of the features available in Business, but includes a couple of additional extras that will appeal to large corporations, such as the multilanguage user interface (MUI), which means businesses deploying Vista in multiple countries can use a single image of the OS, cutting installation costs. However, Microsoft is also keen to encourage smaller businesses to plump for Enterprise, pointing out that its volume licence is available to as few as five seats. If you’re an SME itching to get hold of Vista, this might be an attractive option.
Finally, there’s the grandiosely titled Vista Ultimate, which includes all the features found in both the Home Premium and Business editions and a few extras to boot. It’s ideally suited to professionals who use their PC for both work and pleasure, and Microsoft plans to reward customers who opt for this most expensive option with membership of an “exclusive club”, which may offer treats such as free music and video download and preferential support.
If all that wasn’t confusing enough, Microsoft will have to ship two additional variants in European markets — Home Basic N and Business N — which don’t come with Windows Media Player 11, as part of its so-called punishment for anti-competitive behaviour in the EU. Quite why anyone would opt for the N versions is beyond us: if you were strongly opposed to Microsoft’s bully-boy tactics, you wouldn’t be buying Windows in the first place, and we expect these versions to swiftly disappear without trace. Also disregard anything you may have heard about a Vista Starter edition — this is a cheap, no-frills version of the OS intended for emerging African and Asian markets, in a bid to prevent the significant piracy problems in those regions.
What's in each version of Vista
Basic Premium Business Enterprise Ultimate
Aero interface No Yes Yes Yes Yes
DVD Authoring No Yes No No Yes
Media Center No Yes No No Yes
Tablet PC No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mobility Center No No Yes Yes Yes
Remote Desktop & Meeting Place No No Yes Yes Yes
Subscribe to AfterDawn's weekly newsletter.