by Laurianne McLaughlin

Is Vista a Hardware Hog?

Nov 29, 20063 mins
Enterprise Applications

As Vista debuts, many people are still asking a key question: Just how much hardware power do I need to run it, in real life? The answer partly depends on which version of Vista you’re using, of course. (The home PC versions of Vista don’t ship until January, 2007, and have slightly different hardware recommendations than the Enterprise edition, shipping now.) But make no mistake, Vista will hunger for memory and graphics power. You’re not surprised about the memory, are you? Most Microsoft software has never met a megabyte of memory it didn’t like.

For large enterprise customers, Microsoft recommends you run Vista Enterprise Edition on a PC with at least 40 GB of storage, 1 GB of memory and a 1GHz 32- or 64-bit processor. For CIOs who’ve done a PC hardware refresh recently, these requirements should not be hard to meet for mainstream desktop PCs. (If your enterprise is fond of truly low-end PCs, say for certain groups of users, Vista won’t work for those machines.)

As my colleague Ben Worthen pointed out in his recent story on Microsoft’s plans beyond Vista, the story’s different for many mid-market CIOs. More mid-market firms will need to do a hardware upgrade to accommodate Vista, which gives them good reason to wait, or roll it out quite slowly.

Interestingly, Dell shared some advice on its customer blog this week regarding Vista’s hardware appetite. (Yes, I know, it’s in Dell’s interest to sell beefier hardware, but in my experience, Dell plays fair on benchmarks and testing.)

Based on Dell’s lab testing, if you’re going to use Vista’s intriguing new Aero interface (which can be turned on or off), you’ll want not 1 but 2 GB of system memory and a discrete graphics card, not integrated graphics.  (Microsoft’s minimum recommendation for graphics power with Aero is a 128MB graphics card with a DirectX 9 class graphics processor.)

Dell reports that Vista gets fairly grabby with system memory. (The more system memory Vista uses at any given time, of course, the less you have available for running all your other apps and system chores.) Dell’s experience: On a Vista-based machine with 2 GB of system memory and a 256MB graphics card, with Microsoft Office Applications loaded but not open, and Internet Explorer 7 open, memory utilization clocked in at 35 percent. But on a system with 1 GB of system memory and integrated graphics, a hefty 77 percent of memory was being utilized. Open up a few more apps, and that system will feel far from peppy.

Dual-core chips will also make a performance difference with Vista, Dell reports based on its early testing in labs and with customers.

What do you think about Vista’s hardware appetite? Is Microsoft asking you to bite off more hardware expense than you want to chew at the moment? Maybe you have an early in-house testing experience to share. Let’s talk about it.