Retailers are expecting this year’s holiday shopping season to be one of the best in recent years for PC sales, but consumers may want to think ahead as Microsoft Corp. prepares to launch a new version of Windows in 2006.
Windows Vista, due out in the second half of next year, is the company’s biggest upgrade since Windows XP was launched in 2001 and is designed to deliver better graphics, security and search features. Those software features, however, may also require users to consider buying a PC with more advanced -- and costlier -- hardware.
Microsoft and big PC manufacturers say that most PCs sold today will be able to upgrade smoothly to Windows Vista. At the very least, they recommend that computer buyers purchase a PC with a “modern CPU” -- a chip that has a speed of at least 1.5 GHz. Any computer meant to be upgraded to Windows Vista should also have at least 512MB of RAM and a graphics card with enough dedicated memory to smoothly display complex graphics.
“The key thing to keep in mind is that Windows Vista is going to scale with the hardware,” said Michael Burk, a product manager for Windows Vista. “When you buy a little more, you’re going get a little more.”
Dell Inc. is recommending two of its models -- a $1,750 desktop PC and a $2,700 laptop -- for Windows Vista on a section of its Web site designed for the migration to the new operating system. “We’re starting to hear questions around what Vista is, when that is coming, and ‘How do I get ready for Vista?’ ” said Sam Burd, Dell’s director of client product marketing.
Apart from the raw computing requirements, Burd also recommended that users consider upgrading their monitors to larger, higher-resolution models -- a product line Dell is marketing aggressively -- that will also enhance the graphics capabilities available in Vista.
Despite some of the guidance offered by Microsoft and its hardware partners, analysts said a segment of users may be disappointed by the upgrade if their current PCs aren’t equipped to harness some Windows Vista’s features. “There’s the risk of consumer dissatisfaction if the experience that some users get is different from their neighbor’s PC,” said Joe Wilcox, an analyst at Jupiter Research.
Windows Vista will offer a new user interface option called “Aero Glass” that allows users to see faintly through translucent windows to information beneath. That feature is expected to require advance graphics hardware, but it is not a requirement for Windows Vista and can be turned off. In fact, Windows Vista will be designed to automatically adjust its settings for weaker hardware.
Wilcox recommends that users hold off buying any laptops that will be upgraded with Vista, since they often lack the more powerful features of a desktop PC and often cost more.
Although Microsoft hasn’t said what different editions of Windows Vista will be offered -- Windows XP comes in several editions, including Home, Professional, Media Center and Tablet PC -- the company indicated that it would offer products more in line with users’ needs. “We haven’t announced a formal lineup, but I think it’s safe to say that customers will have an easier time choosing which version of Windows Vista works for them,” said Microsoft’s Burk.
Even so, the more difficult question of whether to buy a PC right now or wait until later next year looms large for most users.
Microsoft, however, has an answer to that on its Web page for Windows Vista’s hardware requirements: “There’s No Reason to Wait.”