In forums and newsgroups around the Internet, IT folks are
raising concerns about Windows Vista’s increased hardware requirements and
alluding to the fact that this might prevent them from upgrading/rolling out the
new operating system. The most hotly discussed concerns revolve around the
hardware requirements for Windows Vista’s new advanced graphics.

In this week’s edition of the Windows Vista Report, I’ve
decided to investigate Windows Vista’s graphics system in more detail.

The Windows Presentation Foundation

Windows Vista’s new graphics system is called the Windows
Presentation Foundation. Let’s take a closer look.

In previous versions of the Windows operating system, the
graphics subsystem existed in the kernel where it had to contend with and share
resources with other major operating system functions. In Windows Vista,
graphics subsystem has been moved out of the kernel and given its own space–the
Windows Presentation Foundation.

Tips in your inbox

TechRepublic’s free Windows Vista Report newsletter features news, scuttlebutt, and tips on Longhorn development, including a look at new features planned for this next version of the Windows OS.

Automatically sign up today!

In addition to improving overall stability, moving the
graphics subsystem out of the kernel opens the door to other graphics
possibilities. To begin with, instead of relying solely on the GDI graphics API,
Vista will rely more on DirectX to handle the majority of its graphics, thus
allowing more 3D features to be incorporated into the operating, such as the very
cool looking and very functional, Flip 3D window arrangement system.

Of course, in order to achieve this richer level of graphics,
other changes in the operating system were required. Rather then using the CPU
to display bitmap-based graphics on the screen, Windows Vista uses the GPU
(Graphics Processing Unit) on the video card and vector-based graphics.

The next step in this graphics evolution would be a new type
of video driver to allow the operating system to communicate its more complex
graphics needs to the video card’s GPU. This is where the Windows Display
Driver Model (WDDM) driver comes into play.

In order to handle the increase in 3D graphics processing
requests from the operating system, and the new WDDM driver, a more powerful type
of video card with more memory will be required. While PCI and AGP video cards are
supported, Windows Vista will be able to achieve peak graphics performance when
it is working with a PCI Express video card sporting 256MB or more of video memory.

The scalability factor

Now that you have a better idea of what’s involved with
Windows Vista’s graphics system, let talk about its scalability. Much of the
confusion revolving around the graphics hardware requirements stems from the
fact that most people mistakenly assume that because Windows Vista is capable
of providing very high end graphics, that you must have a system with very high
end graphics capability in order to run the operating system. But that’s not
the case.

In fact, a key benefit of Windows Vista graphics system is
its ability to scale depending on video card’s capabilities. For example, a high
end video card with 256MB or more of video memory and using a WDDM driver will
provide you with the ultimate graphics interface called Aero Glass that sports
translucent windows, and exceptional 3D effects and animations. A moderate
video card with 64–128MB of video memory and using a WDDM driver will provide
you with the a nice graphics interface called Aero
Basic, which will lack some of the fancier effects. A low end video card that
has a moderate amount of video memory, but doesn’t have a WDDM driver, will be
able to use a Windows XP Display Driver Model driver (XPDM) and will provide
you with a more simplistic interface called, Classic, which is comparable to
what you see in Windows 2000.

Windows Vista capable video cards

While I mentioned some generic hardware requirements for
Windows Vista capable video cards, you may be interested in getting some more
specific details. If so, you can check out the information provided by some of
the top GPU manufacturers.

  • For
    information on ATI GPUs and video cards that are
    Windows Vista capable, check out their Windows
    Vista page
  • For
    information on NVIDIA GPUs and video cards that
    are Windows Vista capable, check out their Windows Vista

Other hardware requirements

The Windows Vista graphics system will run on a variety of video
cards based on its ability to scale the level of graphics depending on video
card’s capabilities. However, graphics are only one aspect of Windows Vista
hardware requirements.

To begin with, Microsoft has stated that any of the
computers that shipped in 2005 and carried the “Designed for Microsoft
Windows XP” or the “Designed for Microsoft Windows XP x64 Edition”
will run Windows Vista and will provide good performance.

In addition, Microsoft has specified that systems should
have 512MB or more of RAM and that systems should have a modern CPU. For more
specific details on what constitutes a modern CPU, you can check out the
information provided by the two major CPU manufacturers.

  • For information on Intel CPUs, check out their Suggested
    Intel Business Platforms for Microsoft Windows Vista page
  • For information on AMD CPUs, check out their AMD
    CPU Guidelines for Windows Vista Read PCs page
  • Keep in mind that Windows Vista’s official release date is
    still over a year away and some of the information presented about Windows Vista’s
    graphics and the hardware requirements may change. As always, if you have
    comments or information to share about Windows Vista’s graphics and the
    hardware requirements, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and
    let us hear.