Now that Windows XP has been out for a couple of months and has proven itself to be fairly stable, your organization may be considering a migration. But before you go through the time and expense of rolling out Windows XP to a thousand or so users, one of the first things you should consider is Microsoft’s hardware requirements. In this article, I will examine the minimum hardware requirements for Windows XP and explain why these can be insufficient for normal business use.

Use Windows 2000 as a guide
Generally speaking, Windows XP requires much higher-end hardware than Windows 9x or Windows ME; however, the requirements are similar to those of Windows 2000. So a good general guideline is to take a look at the operating system your machines are presently running and how well the machines are performing. For example, if your Windows 98 machines are already running sluggish, you shouldn’t even think about loading Windows XP onto them. However, if your workstations run Windows 2000 Professional smoothly, they probably won’t have trouble running Windows XP.

Before implementing a wide-scale rollout, I recommend reviewing the hardware on each PC on which you plan to install Windows XP. If you don’t already have an up-to-date hardware inventory, this would be a good time to make one. When reviewing your hardware list, make note of any machines with old hardware, because you may need to upgrade or replace some PCs before installing Windows XP.

Minimum vs. recommended hardware
It’s important to point out that the minimum hardware requirements are enough to install Windows XP but not to use it efficiently. Microsoft not only publishes a list of their minimum hardware requirements but they also publish their recommended requirements. However, Microsoft has a history of understating even their recommended requirements. So in addition to Microsoft’s recommended minimum hardware, I will also provide you with my recommended minimum hardware configurations.

It’s important to understand that the hardware requirements Microsoft outlines are intended for a basic Windows XP installation. To use some of Windows XP’s features, you’ll need more hardware; I’ll discuss these requirements in my next article.

Check the hardware compatibility list (HCL)
Similar to Windows NT and Windows 2000, there’s a hardware compatibility list for Windows XP. Unless your hardware is on the hardware compatibility list, Microsoft doesn’t guarantee that it will work with Windows XP. My personal experience has been that you can get away with using just about any hardware with Windows XP as long as it exceeds the minimum recommended requirements. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry when rolling out a new OS for your organization, so check out the hardware compatibility list.

According to Microsoft, Windows XP will run on a machine with a 233-MHz Pentium processor or equivalent. Their minimum recommended processor speed however, is a 300-MHz Pentium II. I personally wouldn’t attempt to run Windows XP on anything slower than a 500-MHz Pentium III. You’re always better off with faster processors. Windows XP runs very smoothly on a 733-MHz Pentium III or faster processor.

Microsoft has set 64 MB as the minimum amount of memory for running Windows XP but also states that having 64 MB of memory will seriously degrade performance. Their recommended minimum is 128 MB. Running Windows XP on a machine with 128 MB of memory can be a little slow at times, but performance will usually be acceptable. With the price of memory being so inexpensive these days, there’s no reason not to put at least 512 MB in your Windows XP machines. Windows XP will recognize up to 4 GB of RAM.

Hard disk
Microsoft has set a 2-GB hard disk with 650 MB of free space as the bare minimum for installing Windows XP. They also note that you won’t be able to install many of Windows XP’s features if this is all of the space you have. Microsoft recommends that you have at least 2 GB of free space on your hard disk if you’re planning on installing Windows XP. Although 2 GB is plenty of space for installing Windows XP, it doesn’t give you much room to do anything else once the operating system is installed. It also prevents you from backing up your previous operating system as a part of the setup process. I recommend having no less than 5 GB of space available.

Video adapter and monitor
Microsoft advises that you’ll need a video adapter and monitor capable of displaying 800 x 600 or higher video resolution. The truth is, at 800 x 600 resolution, users may eventually have trouble with the Start menu. As you load programs onto the machine, the Programs section of the Start menu gets larger. When the menu gets too large to fit on the desktop, it starts leaving out menu choices, and it may eventually become impossible for a user to access some applications via the Start menu. I recommend running video at a minimum of 1024 x 768 resolution.

Another thing to consider is color depth. While it’s possible to run Windows XP in 16- or 256-color mode, Windows XP doesn’t like using the lower color depths. If your video card doesn’t support at least 16-bit color, users will receive a message every time they boot the system stating that Windows is running with an insufficient color depth. The default Windows XP color depth is 32-bit. Having a video card and a monitor that support at least 1024 x 768 x 32-bit resolution should put you in good shape.

Stay tuned
Remember, I’ve only covered the recommended and required hardware for a basic Windows XP installation. In my next article, I’ll outline the hardware necessary for using additional Windows XP features, including remote assistance, remote desktop, and Windows Movie Maker.

The perfect XP machine

Do you agree with Brien’s Windows XP hardware recommendations? How powerful are the machines you run Windows XP on? Are you even running XP? Post a comment to this article and share your opinions.