What Vista Means to Low-End PCs

One question that people have been asking of late is, what will Windows Vista mean to the low-end PCs that have become so popular. Will a $400 Dell you buy now, next summer, or when ships, run Vista well? The answer is yes, -ish. Microsoft has come up with two terms, Vista-ready and Vista-capable. Vista-ready means that all the features of Vista are supported, and that the OS is expected to perform at reasonable speed. Vista-capable means (in most cases) that you won’t get the nice Vista Aero Glass effects and (in many cases) that the OS might feel a bit pokey. If you were to buy a low-end PC today, last week, or next month, you’re almost certainly going to be able to run Vista, but you will probably be in the Vista-capable category. I haven’t seen any benchmarks available showing performance/usability of Vista Beta 1 on low-end machines, but the discussions of the issue of performance and usability I have seen center around Aero Glass and the UI. Aero Glass requires DirectX 9 support, which in turn requires a relatively recent graphics card. And almost certainly it will require more than a little horsepower behind the graphics card, something that integrated graphics cards probably won’t deliver. In some cases you may be able to drop in a graphics card into your low-end PC, but read the PC’s specs before you buy, many do not include the AGP or PCI Express slots you need to plug in a modern graphics card.

Given the success of low-end PCs in attracting users who may not typically buy PCs or may not typically replace a PC quite so often, it will be interesting to see how PC manufacturers respond. They would much rather sell you a $650 PC over a $400 PC (the margins are worse for them on the cheap PCs), but if it’s $400 or no sale, then I’m sure they’ll continue making models that fit that price point. Some have been suggesting that this new version of Windows will seriously erode the perceived value of these low-end PCs and sneakily draw more and more people into mid-level PCs. It’s a good theory, and there’s probably truth to it. While the main requirement for Vista-ready appears to be graphical, and it can operate without those effects, I’m sure a good marketing expert (or psychologist) could go on at length about the importance of appearance, and how people will feel an uncomfortable gnawing inadequacy knowing their PC doesn’t look as cool as their neighbor’s. It might not affect your father or grandfather and their PC buying, but it’ll probably influence everyone else.

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