System Requirements and More

Not surprisingly, as it has been several years since the last release of Windows, Microsoft has let Vista grow into the expanded memory and processing power of newer computers. Microsoft has divided up the system requirements for Vista into two groups: a minimum requirement to run Vista at all, and an expanded requirement to use some of the more advanced features (mainly the full Aero features).

  • 800mhz Processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • DX9 "capable" GPU with 32MB video memory
  • 20GB HD

  • 1ghz Processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • DX9 PS2.0 GPU with 128MB video memory
  • 40GB HD

It's worth noting that by finally moving to a GPU-accelerated desktop, the video requirements are the most increased of all. To balance this out with the abilities of low-end hardware, Vista will come with several different desktop modes that require various amounts of video functionality.

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With the new Aero interface, GPU acceleration of some kind is required to use it. For high-end systems with PS2.0 support and the power to run the desktop compositing engine backend required to use Aero, it will be available in its full glory including scaling effects, transparency, rotation, and other graphical manipulations that are best done on a GPU. Aero is pretty hard on a computer's GPU, as each window means a new polygon and texture to store in memory, so even though a system may support PS2.0 it may still not have the memory or rendering performance to effectively run it; users with modern discrete graphics cards shouldn't have anything to worry about, but IGP users might. For those users who are right on the border, some of the advanced effects such as transparency can be disabled, which will improve performance slightly. Because of some compatibility issues with Aero, it is sometimes automatically disabled and switched out for Basic if Windows detects a program that it knows has a problem with the advanced features of Aero. Users of those programs who want to use the advanced features will need to track down updates to these programs in order to get proper Aero support. For anyone with knowledge of Mac OS X Tiger, some of the parallels here with Quartz Extreme should be pretty apparent.

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For those systems that can't offer any real GPU acceleration at all, Vista is capable of also dropping back down one to two interfaces that use just the GDI+ functionality, and are intended to replicate XP and 2000 abilities respectively. Basic is intended to be the XP-like rendering mode for Vista, and while it currently uses a Vista-styled theme, this theme is going to be replaced for the shipping version. Classic will be the 2000-like mode using the 2000 interface style and rendering features. Because neither of these modes use the compositing engine, they drop the GPU requirements significantly (down to practically those of Windows XP/2000), but in the process lose the benefits of using a fully accelerated desktop rendering system and bring back the drawbacks of GDI+, such as higher CPU usage in some situations.

There will also be some differences in Vista based on whether the x86 or x64 version is being used. As Mac users may know by now, Microsoft has only implemented support for the new EFI standard in the x64 version, opting not to bother with the x86 version. The fact of the matter is that unless you're a Mac user, you're probably not even using an EFI-based system, so it's not going to be much of a problem; any new system that ships with EFI will ship with a 64-bit processor, and of course will require an x64 version of Vista.

Of greater importance though is the difference in how drivers are handled. The x64 version will by default be locked down to only accept kernel mode drivers which have been signed, and while this can be bypassed by tweaking Vista a bit, it's not a very easy thing to do at the moment and there is no guarantee it will stay this way. Ultimately, Microsoft sees this as a move towards ensuring better drivers, but as we've seen with WHQL certified video drivers, there are a lot of things that can slip through the cracks of Microsoft's testing. It is also not clear, even within Microsoft, whether developers who need to write kernel mode drivers (drivers which effectively have full, unadulterated, operating system level access to the hardware) will be allowed to sign their drivers using 3rd parties like Verisign. Giving developers this option would offer support without WHQL tests, but would almost defeat the purpose of the requirement (which is to ensure the integrity of the system).

If only a Microsoft signature is to be allowed, hardware manufacturers will be at the mercy of Microsoft, who may not sign legally questionable devices such as DVD emulators, but at the same time may also not sign malware such as the overambitious anti-piracy toolkit StarForce or Sony's CD rootkit. In general we're concerned that with the other Digital Rights Management technologies going into Vista such as HDCP, Microsoft is going to lean towards the side of only avoiding signing obvious malware and software that sits on the "fair use" side of the IP/copyright fence (while still signing items like StarForce). However, we won't really know what kind of a stance Microsoft is going to take until Vista ships. At any rate, we hope they leave in the ability to disable driver checking, even if it's only something technical savvy users are capable of doing.

Also, Vista x64 is implementing a couple of security features not found on the x86 version. Vista x64 will load critical system files at random offsets in the memory, versus the current method of using a predetermined location every time. The idea here is that by using offsets, certain classes of attacks such as buffer overflows will fail since they will not know where the component they want to affect resides. Vista x64 will also have a new feature designed to prevent malicious software from modifying the kernel (a requirement for implementing a rootkit), although the full details on how this works are light at this time.

Lastly, driver support for Vista seems to be pretty good considering it's still in a beta state. With a common base between the x86 and x64 versions, unlike XP where the x64 version was actually running on top of the Windows 2003 Server kernel, the x64 driver situation seems much improved, with most companies having released drivers for both versions and done so simultaneously. Other than for video drivers, which are a special case (more on that later), the driver structure hasn't changed too much between XP and Vista; we've heard numerous reports of XP networking drivers being used with Vista, for example, so driver support should be pretty good when Vista launches.

The Many Faces of Windows The First Look
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  • aeschbi99 - Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - link


    I just loved your article about Vista....especially the comparison to TIGER...I am a big MAC fan! But what MS did with Flip3D it appears to me is a copy of SUN's "Looking Glass" - which was out I believe even in 2003.

    Redmond --- start your copy machine.... the real invention starts somewhere else....

    see link">
  • absynthe49 - Saturday, July 1, 2006 - link

    I really enjoy anandtech but I didn't really like the style of this article. When I read it.. I was quite sad that vista was looking so bad at this stage... particularly the game performance.

    But then I remembered that I read in a few places that Vista would not support native DirectX 9. That it would be in a way.. emulated. So there was an expected decrease in numbers. My understanding was that new powerful hardware would be coming out and that it would run the older games fast enough to overcome the loss from emulation.

    The article almost seemed to say that gaming looks doomed in a way.

    So basically... the drivers are not tweaked yet... this is still a beta... there may still be a debugging layer running... and I think vista runs directx 9 through an emulation layer.

    So unless this is false and it actually runs directx 9 natively... is it really a surprize at all that directx 9 games run from 20 to 30 frames per second slower? This did not seem to be addressed at all in the article and I thought it was kind of premature worry so much.
  • NullSubroutine - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    they can say every hardware/software limitation they want. i dont buy that they 'cant' make dx10 for xp and they 'cant' have full opengl support. just too convienent for microsoft.
  • mongo lloyd - Sunday, June 18, 2006 - link

    Although Microsoft may not consider itself to be in direct competition with Apple, this is the match-up most people have been waiting for. Only people who give a shit about OSX, which is far from "most people".
  • drewintheav - Sunday, June 18, 2006 - link

    I thought the staged install method was supposed to be so fast?
    It took way longer to install than it does for me to install XP.
    The Vista Media Center is not useable at this point...
    The video stutters, the audio drops out, and it crashes all the time.
    I had always heard Mac fanatics saying how much better OSX was than XP
    I didn't really believe it could be "so much" better
    I tried out OSX after I installed Vista.
    And now it is very obvious to me where Microsoft has gotten most of its new UI ideas.
    At this point I would say that Microsoft's has executed them very poorly
    which is a little disappointing.
    It is disappointing to me that even if everything worked perfectly in Vista
    it would still lag behind OSX on a number of points
    In fact if Apple sold OSX for Intel as a retail product
    and added a Media Center application
    I would switch to MAC and just run windows Windows apps with an emulator or a VM
    and dual boot XP for games.
    Microsoft really has a lot of work to do and I hope they get it together...

    OSX is way more innovative than Vista at this point...
  • AndrewChang - Wednesday, June 21, 2006 - link

    Well, after months of deliberation, it looks like my next personal computing platform will be a merom/leopard based mac book pro. I don't expect to be using a vista based pc until at least the first or second service pack. A fully intergrated bookcamp/virtualization in this next OSX release should take care of my legacy applications (games on xp). Thanks Anandtech, w/o your Macintosh articles I would have never considered all the wonderful options available to me. It'll be fun learing how to use a new OS, especially one that is already superior what us PC users have to look forward to.
  • Pirks - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link


    In fact if Apple sold OSX for Intel as a retail product

    There's no point - since Dell with the same configuration as iMac and with the same set of basic apps (like DVD burning/mastering etc) costs the same as iMac - why would you buy Dell in the first place? To me it seems that if you spend $1500 on a Dell plus retail Mac OS X instead of iMac - you'll get lower quality product.
    Hence no retail Mac OS X - nobody is interested because iMacs are priced on par with comparable Dells.

    and added a Media Center application

    There is Front Row - check out decent Mac sites, read reviews - you'll be surprised how much you missed, hehe ;-)
  • nullpointerus - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    Not everyone who wants to run Mac OS X wants to purchase a prebuilt computer for it. You should know that if you're posting here because this site is mostly made up of enthusiasts.

    Mac OS X w/ Front Row isn't comparable to Windows MCE. Show me the integrated program guide and automatic recording capabilities. You may as well compare Paint to Gimp or Photoshop.
  • Pirks - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link


    Not everyone who wants to run Mac OS X wants to purchase a prebuilt computer for it. You should know that if you're posting here because this site is mostly made up of enthusiasts.
    Same can be said about the post of the guy above asking for the OS X retail version. If I should know this site is for enthusiasts - THEN HE SHOULD KNOW what OS X is and why it is so successful and generates lots of buzz in IT press - pecisely because it DOES NOT have a retail version. Hence asking OS X to give up it's number one advantage - smooth integration with hardware because hardware is NOT open - is not much smarter than my post above.

    Mac OS X w/ Front Row isn't comparable to Windows MCE
    Depends on what the user wants. I suppose some users are happy with limited functionality of Paint and don't need/don't want Photoshop.
  • nullpointerus - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link

    "We also tested the boot times for a clean install of each operating system, using a stopwatch to see how long it took for the OS to boot to the point where it presented a usable login screen." must have something seriously wrong with your system. I'm using a lowly Athlon64 3000+ Winchester and 2GB PC3200 RAM. I did a clean install of the x64 version and timed it with my digital watch; it took ~50 seconds to get to the desktop, not the login screen. I had to switch to the 32-bit version because of driver support, and I can tell you it doesn't take 48 seconds to get to the login screen.

    Now, if you rummage around in the control panel's performance applet, you can look at services and drivers which are slowing the boot process down; USB audio and nVidia's drivers affected my system, and even so it starts nearly 30 seconds faster than your clean x64 system. Maybe there's something on your PC that's causing problems?

    Also, something on my second boot will chew up large amounts of CPU time, making the login screen unresponsive. On subsequent boots this problem disappeared, and I was able to enter my password immediately and login fairly quickly. I have drivers for my Linksys WMP54GX and Creative Audigy installed now, too, so my PC should be worse than your clean system.

    Maybe you could check these things out and retest?

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