Upgrade to Vista?

Category: Vista

I'm confused about upgrading to Windows Vista. There are so many options, prices, and new features. Which ones are really important, and is Vista ready for prime time?

Vista Pros and Cons

Windows Vista Aero With Vista, as with any new technology, there are some things to consider prior to upgrading. It's imperative to weigh the benefits versus the risks. Familiarity does breeds comfortability, and with any major software upgrade, there's a learning curve. Depending upon your adaptability, time and budget, it may or may not be time to upgrade to Vista.

Installing Vista will set you back anywhere from $100 to $400, depending on the version you need. With Windows XP, there were only two flavors (Home and Pro Edition) but Vista offers four: Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate. Here's a quick rundown on pricing and features.

  • Vista Home Basic ($199 Full / $99 Upgrade) sports a new desktop search feature, anti-phishing protection, parental controls, and support for 64-bit processors.
  • Vista Home Premium ($239 Full / $159 Upgrade) includes Windows Media Center, extra security features, the Aero graphical interface, and automatic file backup.
  • Vista Business ($299 Full / $199 Upgrade) provides features for mobile productivity, helps you manage how employees connect to your network, and has advanced system backup tools.
  • Vista Ultimate ($399 Full / $259 Upgrade) offers special features like DreamScene (full-motion video as your desktop wallpaper), Windows Hold'em Poker game, Windows BitLocker security and support for tablet and touch devices.

The reality seems to be that Vista Basic is the poor cousin, lacking in support for music, video and gaming tasks, and no spiffy Aero desktop. Since the Basic version looks like a step down from what people are used to in Windows XP, most will do best to choose the Vista Home Premium version, unless you expect to confine yourself to basic email and web browsing.

Vista's Hardware Requirements

In addition to the initial impact on your wallet, there are some possibly daunting hardware requirements that may require memory upgrades or completely new machines. You'll need a processor (CPU) with a minimum speed of 1GHz, 1GB RAM and a DirectX9 compatible video card to support the Aero interface, which keeps a transparent image of other windows in the background. If you don't have a DirectX 9 capable card, you can still run Vista, but it may not fully support the bells and whistles of the Aero interface.

Due to memory (RAM) requirements of at least 1GB, Vista's Ready Boost (USB drive as memory) is a helpful crutch for many systems that have limited RAM. There are some things that offset the cost of the Vista software and hardware requirements. Vista is a money saver in the sense that it has built-in diagnostics and centrally managed power settings which can save you $50 a year. Also, the startup repair tool can automatically repair many cases of unbootable systems which could avoid sending out your PC for repair and data recovery.

Vista's New Features

Windows Vista Aero To its credit, Vista does offer a lot of time savers and conveniences. One new nicety is shadow copy technology, which automatically stores versions of files as users work on them without manually backing them up. The integrated desktop search and sidebar web pages that automatically update are also user-friendly. One worthwhile time-saver is the ability to store your desktop search results in a folder accessible for recall at a later time. Another plus is common controls such as battery, brightness and presentation settings stationed in one centralized place. Windows meeting space enables users to broadcast and share documents with multiple users. Vista's new imaging technology allows companies to deploy a single OS image to different types of computer hardware and machines in different languages which is a huge money saver.

Vista's new and improved appearance is the new transparent view called the Aero interface mentioned earlier. It's glass-like window feel allows you to multi-task working on the current window while viewing other applications in the background. You can also quickly switch between windows using Windows Flip 3D and Live Thumbnails. (See demos of the interface.)

Although this is a great feature with a fresh appearance, it requires more horsepower, and will drain a laptop battery quicker. Aero Glass also affects your video card, hence slowing down game performance. Microsoft reported current games running 10-15% slower on Vista than XP, but newer DirectX 10 games can perform better than the same game running in DirectX 9 on XP. Since the Aero Glass interface requires a DirectX9 capable graphics card, a lot of older desktops and laptops won't be able to use Aero Glass even if they meet the other requirements.

Vista Internet and Security Improvements

Within the physical arena, Internet Explorer version 7 organizes web page content via tabbed browsing and eliminates cutting off information when printing. IE7 also has many new security features to block malicious software and protect you from phishing attacks.

Vista also offers BitLocker Drive Encryption, making the computer unusable to anyone not in possession of the startup key. Moreover, there's built-in support for strong user authentication, user account control capability and new Group Policy Objects which enforce standards on desktops.

Are We Compatible?

Like any new "Version 1.0" product, Vista has a lot to offer, but there are some potential glitches. There are reports of compatibility problems with software such as Nero, iTunes and QuickBooks. Before you install Vista, you should run Microsoft's free Vista Upgrade Advisor, which reports any hardware or software that may be incompatible with Vista. You might also want to read this entry from Chris Pirillo's blog.

And unlike earlier versions of Windows, you won't be able to use a Windows XP/2000 disk as proof of ownership to install an upgrade version of Vista, since Vista requires that Windows XP or Windows 2000 be already installed on the hard drive. However, you can get around that requirement by using the Vista Upgrade disk to first install a 30-day trial version of Vista. (The trick is NOT entering the Vista product key when prompted during the installation.) After installing the trial version of Vista, restart the installation process, but this time enter the product key.

Astute readers may be wondering if this means that they can use the UPGRADE version (which costs about $100) to install a FULL copy of Vista (which goes for about $200) on ANY machine, without having to prove ownership of XP… Hmmm… ;-)

Got comments or questions about Windows Vista? Post your thoughts below...

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Most recent comments on "Upgrade to Vista?"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

13 Mar 2007

I use XP at work and on the laptop at home but carried on with Win98SE on my old workhorse PC. For my birthday I got a shiny new PC! So I've made the leap from 98 to Vista. I've taken to Vista in a way that I just never did with XP. Now I'm wishing that they would upgrade to Vista at work (not likely: too expensive and no benefits for higher education).

BTW I'd echo what Alfie says: if you think it is expensive in the US think about us in Europe paying *twice* the price that you do. I won't be buying it for the laptop and we'll wait until prices drop before we upgrade Kev's PC.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2007

Any DirectX9 video card supports Vista. You can do quite well with a $100 card if you need an upgrade. The 8800-type card is only necessary if you want to run DirectX 10 games in Vista, of which there are none as of yet. The price on DX10 cards will come down over time of course.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Low-end cards will "work" with Vista, but they may not support Windows Aero, or the Aero UI may run poorly. DirectX9 graphics performance may suffer as well. Of course try what you have first, and only spend $$$ if your video card isn't cutting the mustard.

Posted by:

Dotan Cohen
13 Mar 2007

I recently upgraded my OS from XP and I'm glad I did. The computer is much more stable, and it runs quite a bit faster too. While with XP I had trouble with my printer and video card, the new system operates them perfectly: even the built-in scanner in the HP all-in-one that never worked in XP now works. Upgrading to Ubuntu was the smartest move that I ever made.

Posted by:

14 Mar 2007

During our testing on the Vista Beta's and RC1, we noted that motherboard chipset made more of a difference in the operation of Vista features than the video card installed. A Dell Optiplex 620 (which comes with the 945 chipset) will run full-blown Vista, all features including the Aero interface working, off the onboard video.

The university is not permitting Vista on any networked computers until completion of our testing or the availability of the first service pack (which, strangely enough, should occur about the same time!). Since Microsoft support of Windows XP is thru 2011, there is no hurry to get on the Vista bandwagon.

In my testing, I noted while the surface looks new, if you tunnel down deep enough into the sub-menus, XP is still there. Vista is a new coat of paint on an old house. Maybe there is a new screen door too, but it is still the same house.

Posted by:

14 Mar 2007

I believe Charles is right about the graphic requirements for running Vista, even with the Aero UI on. According to Microsoft, the Aero UI will work fine even on PCs that are not built for gaming, as long as they have a decent DirectX 9 capable card with 128 MB of video RAM and supports Pixar Shader 2.0. These specs are met by the majority of video cards built in the last 1-2 years, excluding some onboard graphic chips.

I've used Vista RC1 and RC2 versions on a system I own with a $130 Nvidia 7600GS card w/256 MB memory. I had all of the Aero features turned on without any perceivable slowdown. My suggestion for anyone concerned about their graphics card is to run the Vista Upgrade Advisor to see if your card supports Vista and Aero UI.

Posted by:

15 Mar 2007

I'm glad I switched to Ubuntu as well. Microsoft sells spyware now since WGA in XP now its got an antivirus in Vista that will delete your files if microsoft doesn't want you to have them. Why would I want any OS sending information to Microsoft about what I've said online or other activities I have done online?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm glad you like Ubuntu Linux, but your claims about Windows are wildly off base. WGA is NOT spyware (See http://askbobrankin.com/is_genuine_advantage_spyware.html for more info) and your claim that Vista has anti-virus software that will delete your files is plain crazy. Do you have ANY credible evidence that MS is spying on your online activities or wantonly deleting your files?

Posted by:

15 Mar 2007

Most of the tech rags I've read suggest waiting until you upgrade to a new box to avoid the headaches Vista may otherwise offer. While the upgrade functionality in Vista is evidently much superior to prior OS's, the numerous hardware requirements may mean a reduced functionality.

I know a few people who are dual booting to use Vista as some of their hardware and apps don't run there, so they have to drop back to XP for some tasks. As Chris put it, they don't have the time for that. Also note- if you have XP Pro, you can't upgrade to Vista Home editions.

One thing not mentioned is the issues around DRM. Digital Rights Management (that is , of the studios rights) is built in to Vista. I understand that if your entire hardware chain does not support the latest DRM, the media will not play. An HD-DVD movie for example may not play if you use a DVI video connection to your monitor because the superior quality of DVI does not have DRM built in. HDMI does. So video card, monitor, sound card, and certain mother board features all have to support this. If you think putting an HD-DVD player in your computer will let you play those DVD's, expect a surprise. And note that most computers now on the market do NOT meet this standard. So if you are into media on your computer, you may have 2 major upgrades in your near future - one for Vista, and another to let media play in Vista. Like waiting for the Blue-ray HD-DVD war to settle, its another reason to let hardware catch up to Vista before you invest. Same issue is taking place with wide screen TV's - capable may not be the same as ABLE with the new DRM.

Posted by:

16 Mar 2007

WORTH READING: A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection -- http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~pgut001/pubs/vista_cost.html

Windows Vista includes an extensive reworking of core OS elements in order to provide content protection for so-called “premium content”, typically HD data from Blu-Ray and HD-DVD sources. Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost. These issues affect not only users of Vista but the entire PC industry, since the effects of the protection measures extend to cover all hardware and software that will ever come into contact with Vista. This document analyses the cost involved in Vista's content protection, and the collateral damage that this incurs throughout the computer industry.

Posted by:

20 Mar 2007

I just installed Vista last weekend, and let me tell ya, I love it! I dont use any of the new features, it just really looks cool!! And it gave me a reason to upgrade my PC. A $70 diamond Radeon 9550 from walmart was more than enough to handle the new OS with zero conflicts. I shelled out a few bucks for another gig of RAM, but that was needed anyways! All-in-all even a four year old dell can handle vista flawlessly with the right upgrades!!! My only issue is that I cant sign in to my Hotmail account, this happened once before when I installed IE 7 with XP... Any advise on how to make my mail work on hotmail.com???

Posted by:

ILL Robinson
25 Mar 2007

I put myself in a bit of a pickle. I purchased Vista Ultimate Upgrade for my WinXP Pro system. However, I have a hive error that requires a System Recovery of the original XP install disk (which I cant locate) and I thought the Vista upgrade would be able to assist (figured I kill two birds with one stone). Now I have a Vista upgrade and still cant boot my machine. Ugh.

EDITOR'S NOTE: No problem - you can do a FULL install with your "upgrade" edition. See http://askbobrankin.com/upgrade_to_vista.html

Posted by:

13 Apr 2007

Well I think I might upgrade to VISTA, but probably not for at least another few months or so. My screen reader manufacturer already seems to have great VISTA support in the works, but I'm very happy with XP. BTW, I read on an email list that VISTA might stand for Visual Information Spoken To All.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I agree... stick with XP as long as it works for you. And Vista is not an acronym, just a play on the "view through the Window(s)" theme.

Posted by:

22 Apr 2007

I am getting ready to purchase a new computer and pass my current one down to my 5 year old son. I like to take pictures with my digital camera and save them on the computer, somtimes I edit them and sometimes I do not. I create Newsletters, currently with Print Shop 21 - hoping to Upgrade. I do all kinds of things with Microsoft Office 2003. I am doing genealogy with Family Tree Maker. We like to play games ranging from Hoyle Book/Puzzle/Card Games to NeverWinter Nights I and II.

My question: will the new computer (XPS 410 - Intel Core2 Duo Processor E6300 (2MB L2 Cache,1.86GHz,1066 FSB) ) do all of this -- It comes with Vista - Is that a good idea on a new computer or not? Will the Core2 Duo and the Vista run with older software?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sounds like it should run everything fine. But I know several smart techies who have decided to return to XP after trying Vista. I would still recommend XP.

Posted by:

05 May 2007

The biggest complaint I have with Vista so far is that it tries too hard to save you from yourself. For example Vista makes it really hard to turn off enough of the goo-gaws and zowies that Microsoft seems to think are useful features to make the computer usable again. Most or all of the same controls over system appearancce and behavior are still there, but you really have to dig for them in some cases; all the while enduring endless warning dialogs helpfully informing you that you're about to do whatever it is that you have been trying so dilligently to do.

Another example of Vista's over-protectiveness is a program that I have that needs to dynamically register a number of plug-in DLLs on start-up. To run this progam in Vista I have to use the "Run As Administrator" option (and say OK to the inevitable helpful warnining dialog every time) EVEN WHEN I AM LOGGED IN AS AN ADMINISTRATOR!

The other caveat of course is that as with any major revision of Windows (I hesitate to use the word "upgrade" until at least the first SP comes out), it's likely to take hardware driver developers a while to catch up. Figure six months to a year. So some of your peripherals may not run right until their drivers have been through another rev or two. And of course some older stuff won't be seeing any new driver updates so if the old ones don't work with Vista you can kiss it goodbye.

Posted by:

Richard Denton
16 May 2007

I have VISTA Business on a SONY VAIO VGN-SZ notebook running OFFICE 2003. Here are my problems...

1. Have pinned WORD and EXCEL to the Start Menu but they don't work! They do however work with shortcuts on the Desktop. Any ideas why this?

2. OFFICE SOUNDS work OK but causes very jerky and slow mouse scrolling, especially in OUTLOOK 'sent items' and 'inbox' columns. I know this because I uninstalled SOUNDS and mouse scrolling worked normally. I reinstalled SOUNDS and mouse scrolling reverted to slow and jerky. I use Intellimouse updated for VISTA and ALPS Touchpad also updated for VISTA.

I have reported these things to MICROSOFT but no acknowledgement and NO SATISFACTION.

If you have any suggestions or advice I would be most grateful.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Vista is beta-test software. You are the tester...

Posted by:

29 May 2007

We just finished an internal study with users, tech support, security, developers and bean counters, for a large multinational corporation. The bottom line was that Vista doesn't really add anything useful at all except for a very cool GUI.

And that GUI would be removed in the corporate default install anyway since we don't want to spend money to upgrade some 100.000+ PCs. The powers that be has now decided that Vista will only be allowed in lab/test situations, until Microsoft announces the end of support for XP.

Then we will decide if we should take the step to Vista.

Until then a new workgroup has been created to evaluate shifting our desktops to some Linux based platform.

The latter move was actually initiated by the bean counters, looks like they don't like to have their hands forced by a single software provider.

Posted by:

03 Jun 2007

Vista looks cool and I guess looking cool is supposed to be expensive. Since I have XP Pro, upgrading is limited to Buisiness or Ultimate versions. If I am going to buy anything I want the full version. I think I will stick with what I have right now until I'm tired of hearing about Vista or my wallet gets too fat to close.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2008

I just purchased a new PC with Vista Home Premium. Unfortunately, of you are an accountant, or tax consultant, Vista will not run QuickBooks 2006 or earlier. If you need to access a client's 2005, or 2006 QBooks files, work on them, and then give them back to the client as 2005 or 2006 files, this presents a huge problem. Vista will not run DOS applications either. And you will have a hard time connecting Vista to workgroups where XP is running.

Also, I was quite frustrated with the Adminstrator security. A user account that is an Administrator type account, cannot access files in the personal folders of other users. That seemed wierd.

Posted by:

Dietram M. Ndimbo
29 Jul 2008

Hi; Why always when I wanted to download from what you explain us my computer denied says the website I open is not safe or software is not a genuine ones. Why?.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you're talking about links on this site, your security software is defective, and is generating false positives.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2008

Thanks for this great article, I like XP more than vista, some settings on vista seem hard to control, I need use the 3rd tools to do these jobs, like winbubble, I think new OS vista is not easy to use, but I like the desktop style with vista.

Posted by:

14 Dec 2008

Having just bought a brand new computer, i was looking forward to the Vista experience with great hopes. What a disaster it is. It can only be described a a peice of junk. At least with ,98,me,2000,XP the programme did what you wanted it to do, but now you get what the computer wants do do which is not always the same thing. Xp is far more superior than this piece of trash and the sooner i take this crap out the better..If you want to feel angry and disappointed them go for Vista.

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