Microsoft

The long and short of Longhorn's hardware requirements

Microsoft has been touting a lot of powerful features for the Longhorn operating system, which would imply that it's going to require much more powerful hardware than is currently found in today's typical enterprise. And based on what was revealed about Longhorn's hardware requirements at Microsoft's 2004 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), that seemed to be the case.

I recently read an article on TechRepublic by CNET News.com, Staff Writer Ina Fried, titled "The slow road to Windows XP." The article centered around a study conducted by AssetMetrix that indicated that while companies have upgraded their operating systems from Windows NT 4, Windows 95 and Windows 98, presumably to Windows XP, the popularity and use of Windows 2000 remains considerably high. In fact, the article stated that the study found that 48 percent of business PCs during the first quarter of 2005 were still running Windows 2000. This despite the fact and Windows XP has been available for almost four years and in that time has been updated and refined with not one, but two service packs.

Now while the article and the study went on to focus more on other points as to why companies are choosing to continue using Windows 2000 rather than moving on up to Windows XP, reading between the lines one might construe that hardware could be one of the underlying factors. Admittedly, the differences between the Microsoft recommended hardware requirements for Windows 2000 and Windows XP are very slight, as shown in Table A, in fact the only difference is the amount of RAM 64MB as opposed to 128MB. However, there is wide variation when it comes to hardware, and subsequently driver, compatibility.

Table A: Microsoft recommended operating system requirements

Windows 2000

Windows XP

Intel Pentium II or compatible 300 MHz or higher processor

Intel Pentium II or compatible 300 MHz or higher processor

64 MB (4 GB maximum) of RAM

128MB (4 GB maximum) of RAM

2 GB of free hard disk space

2 GB of free hard disk space

SVGA display adapter and Plug and Play Monitor

SVGA display adapter and Plug and Play Monitor

Keyboard, mouse or other pointing device

Keyboard, mouse or other pointing device

CD-ROM or DVD drive 12x or faster

CD-ROM or DVD drive 12x or faster

Network adapter

Network adapter

As such, it's not hard to imagine that the need to keep hardware costs down is preventing many companies from moving from Windows 2000 to Windows XP. (Granted there are a lot of other potential reasons, but for the sake of argument, let's stay with the hardware angle here.) Now, if hardware is holding up the move to XP, what are we going to see when it comes time to move to Windows Longhorn?


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As you know, Microsoft has been touting a lot of powerful features for the Longhorn operating system, which would imply that it's going to require much more powerful hardware than is currently found in today's typical enterprise. And based on what was revealed about Longhorn's hardware requirements at Microsoft's 2004 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), that seemed to be the case. At that time, rumor had it that Microsoft was recommending that a Longhorn-capable system, at minimum, sport a dual-core 4GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, 1TB hard disk, 1 Gbps Ethernet/802.11g wireless, and a graphics processor that runs three times faster than current versions.

At WinHEC 2005, Microsoft was a bit more vague, but the hardware requirements seemed to have been scaled back a couple of notches and a system called Longhorn Ready will contain a modern CPU, 512MB RAM, and graphics processor capable of supporting the new Longhorn Display Driver Model (LDDM), which Microsoft says is required in order to display the new operating system's advanced graphical user interface (GUI) called Aero.

On the other hand, Microsoft also revealed that today's mainstream computers will be able to run Longhorn. However, such systems, called Longhorn Capable and listed as containing an older CPU, 128 or 256MB RAM and an older graphics processor, will not be able to take advantage of all of operating system's fanciest bells and whistles. In fact, the operating system is designed to scale in line with the available hardware. For instance, systems that aren't graphically capable of running Aero GUI will instead run a scaled down version called Classic.

Driving this scalability feature is a technology called the Windows System Assessment Tool or WinSAT for short. Essentially, WinSAT will run towards the end of the installation procedure, or presumably anytime there is a hardware change, and assess the computer's hardware capabilities. More specifically, WinSAT will take a look at four subsystems: graphics, memory, processor, and storage. It will then adjust the level of the operating system's features to match those capabilities.

While WinSAT and hardware scalability sound like awesome features, it's important to keep in mind that you have to take this information with a grain of salt at this point, considering the fact that Longhorn's release date is still over a year a way—Microsoft has alluded to a 2006 holiday season release date—combined with the knowledge that Microsoft had already dramatically reduced the operating system's feature set (the new file system as well as the Web services and presentation pieces were recently pulled out of Longhorn) since it was first introduced in 2003.

If you want to get more of the nitty-gritty details on WinSAT, you can download and investigate two of the PowerPoint slideshows presented by Microsoft at WinHEC 2005, —System Performance Assessment Tools for Windows Longhorn and Building Longhorn-Ready PCson this page.

If you have other ideas or information to share about Windows Longhorn's hardware requirements, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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