In my last post, I talked about whether Vista is worth an immediate upgrade in a law office. Although there may be a lot to say “Wow” about Vista on a home PC, in the office the question is whether WOW = ROI.  That will be the subject of future posts.  However, assuming you have decided that it does, how much machine do you need to run it?

Microsoft is an eternal optimist when it comes to setting forth minimum hardware requirements for its OSs. They want you to believe that Windows will be just fine on that dirt cheap machine you bought online. However, in order to get the best performance and make a proper investment in the future (i.e. make sure your machine isn’t obsolete by next week), it is best to go (way) beyond the minimums. These minimum requirements are set forth on the Microsoft site or you can run their Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor on your machine to see if it is up to snuff. However, these are my thoughts based on my research, as well as my experience with the machines I purchased recently with XP.

CPU. Microsoft says a 1 GHz processor is enough. However, each new version of Windows is more demanding than the last, with fancier graphics, so the more power the better. Get as close to 3 GHz as you can on an Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent AMD chip.

Memory. Microsoft thinks 1 Mb of RAM is enough. However, I have found that although Windows 2000 ran fine on 256 Mb of RAM, and XP on 512 Mb, once you do anything demandng, more is better. Do you see a pattern here? In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with doubling any of Microsoft’s RAM requirements. Each successive Windows version sucks up more and more system resources, and you want enough overhead to multitask quickly and efficiently.

Hard Drive. Microsoft says a 40 Gb hard drive is enough. Do they still make those? Besides, they say that Vista will need 15 of those Gb, thus leaving you with 25Gb for applications and data. If you scan in documents and pictures with any regularity, this space will be eaten up very quickly. Get at least 120 Gb for a desktop and 80 Gb for a laptop (unless the laptop is your principal machine, then go with 120).

Video. Windows Vista Business comes with the much hyped Aero GUI. This is a very demanding app, so be sure you have enough video resources for it. Microsoft says 128Mb of video memory is minimum, and I agree. Get 256Mb. Other than that be sure that your video board meets the other specs listed. Also look carefully at the RAM specs of the machine. If it talks about “Shared RAM,” that means that a portion of your precious system memory is being used for video rendering, usually with video chips on the motherboard. Stay away from this, even if it limits your choice of machines. Get a computer with discreet video memory and a video card with a fast video processor. You will thank yourself (and me) later.