Preparing to install Windows Vista: Will your computer be able to run on Vista?

Mark Minasi runs through the steps IT managers should take when preparing to install windows Vista. This chapter is an excerpt from Minasi's book, "Mastering Windows Vista for Business Professionals."

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SP1 and R2

Mastering Windows Vista for Business Professionals
By Mark Minasi and John Paul Mueller

The following excerpt is from chapter two of Mastering Windows Vista for Business Professionals, entitled "Installing Vista."


Check out the rest of this chapter, Installing Vista.

The Order of Business

Here's the order of business for installing Vista successfully:

  1. First, make sure that your computer will be able to run Vista. Start by comparing your system specifications with the minimum requirements, and see whether you need to upgrade any components.

  2. Then, assuming your computer has an operating system loaded already, insert the Vista DVD in your computer and run the Windows Upgrade Advisor. As of this writing, you can only upgrade from Windows XP SP2 versions. The upgrade can require a significant amount of time to complete—even Microsoft warns you of the potential problems.

  3. If you want to perform a clean installation of Vista rather than an upgrade, but you want your new installation to pick up your current settings and some of your files, run the Windows Easy Transfer to save the settings from your current version of Windows and then boot from the Vista DVD to start the installation.

  4. Then perform the upgrade, new installation, or clean installation.

  5. If you ran the Windows Easy Transfer, run it again to apply your files and settings.
Will Your Computer Be Able to Run Vista?

First, make sure that your computer will be able to run Vista. The following sections discuss the main requirements.

Processor

Vista requires a minimum of a 1 GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor. You can choose a processor from:

  • AMD
  • Intel
  • Via
  • Realistically, you'll want the fastest 64-bit processor you can get because many Vista features require a lot of processing power, especially when you use the Aero Glass user interface. The reason you want a 64-bit processor is that this is Microsoft's last 32-bit operating system. In addition, because Microsoft designed Vista from the ground up to use a 64-bit processor, you gain significant performance benefits by having a 64-bit processor in your machine.

    If you don't know what processor your computer has, watch the information that comes up as it boots. This will give you at least the processor type and speed. If you have Windows installed on the system, you can also right-click Computer and choose Properties. The General (opening) tab of the System Properties dialog box tells you about the processor installed on your machine.

    RAM

    Vista requires a minimum of 512 MB of RAM to install and run. This, too, is an absolute minimum and delivers poor performance unless your processor is extremely fast (in which case the lack of RAM cannibalizes processor performance). For a single user running one or two tasks at a time, 1 GB is enough. For running several large applications at once, get 2 GB or more RAM.

    NOTE: Vista can access a maximum of 4 GB of RAM when working with a 32-bit processor. The 64-bit version of Vista can access a maximum of 128 GB of memory. The theoretical maximum memory access for current 64-bit hardware is 1 TB physical or 4 TB virtual, so Microsoft may eventually move the Vista memory limit upward.
    If you don't know how much RAM your computer has, watch the count of RAM when you boot. If the number is in kilobytes (KB), divide by 1,024 to get the number in megabytes (MB). Alternatively, click Start, right-click Computer, and choose Properties from the shortcut menu. Windows displays the System Properties dialog box open at the General tab. The amount of RAM is reported at the bottom.

    Everyone knows that you need plenty of RAM to run Windows. That's true—up to a point. But most people still have too little RAM on their computers.

    Vista will run—well, more like stagger along—on 512 MB RAM. If the computer has a fast processor, and if you don't use any large applications or large files, performance may be tolerable. But the hard disk will be kept busy as Windows continually uses virtual memory to store the information that won't fit in the RAM.

    If you're buying a new computer, you'll be much better off saving a little money on the processor and putting it into RAM. Unless you're running the latest 3D games or performing terrain mapping or other advanced imaging, you'll notice little benefit from having a few hundred extra megahertz of CPU on your computer. But another 512 MB (better, another 1 GB or more) of RAM will make a huge difference on a system with just about any processor. For an existing PC, the slower and older your CPU, the more dramatic a difference more RAM will make in performance.

    The ReadyBoost feature of Vista also makes it possible to increase higher speed memory using a flash device such as a Universal Serial Bus (USB) flash drive. Simply place the flash drive into the USB port and Vista will use it as memory that is faster than a hard drive, but not quite as fast as RAM. You can't use a flash drive as an absolute RAM replacement, but if you already have 512 MB of RAM and want to give your system a bit of a boost, a 2 GB or larger flash drive can make a difference. Of course, your system must have ReadyBoost running (it's on by default) to make use of this feature. Chapter 33 describes how to work with services such as ReadyBoost.

    Free Disk Space

    Vista requires approximately 15 GB of free disk space to install on a 20 GB hard drive. You'll need a minimum of a 22 GB hard drive to use BitLocker. If you're installing over a network, you'll need more free space. In addition, there has to be room for your paging file (by default, 1.5 times the amount of RAM in your computer) and for your hibernation file (the same size as the amount of RAM) if your computer supports hibernation. On top of that, you'll need space for any applications you want to install and any files you want to create.

    In practice, it's a good idea to have at least 20 GB of free space on the drive on which you install Vista (for a total of 40 GB), plus space for your applications and files. To see how much space is free on a drive, right-click the drive in an Explorer window and choose Properties from the shortcut menu. The General tab of the resulting Properties dialog box for the drive shows how much free space it has. You may also see the size of the hard drive when you start your system (vendors commonly hide the hard drive size in the model number). Hard disks are so inexpensive these days, and so easy to install, that there's little reason to try to hobble along with a full hard disk.

    Sometimes you can't get to Windows (it might not be installed) and must know the particulars of a hard drive. You can open a command prompt and use the Dir command to display the remaining space on a hard drive. If you need to know more information that Dir provides, use the Disk- Part utility. Select a drive by typing Select Disk 0 (the number of the drive you want to check), then use the Detail Disk command to show the partition and space information for that drive.

    DirectX 9–Capable Video Adapter and Monitor

    You actually have two options for video adapter with Vista. If you want to use the Aero Glass feature, you must have a DirectX 9–compatible display adapter with at least 128 MB of memory. Vista currently supports display adapters from the following vendors.

  • Intel
  • ATI
  • NVidia
  • S3
  • Via
  • More graphics memory is better when it comes to Aero Glass. In fact, if you intend to perform graphics heavy tasks, you might want to use a system that allows dual display adapters in a Scalable Link Interface (SLI) configuration. The display adapter must also include these features.
  • Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM)–compatible driver
  • Pixel shader 2.0 support in hardware
  • 32 bits per pixel graphics resolution
  • If you choose not to use Aero Glass, your video adapter and monitor need to be capable of SVGA resolution (800 × 600 pixels) with 256 or more colors. This is the minimum display resolution permitted, unlike in earlier Windows versions. (Safe Mode still runs in standard VGA, and you can configure individual apps to switch to that mode with Compatibility Mode, but it's not for regular use.) Beyond that, just about any Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) or Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) video adapter should work (drivers permitting, of course), as should any cathode ray tube (CRT) or liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor.

    DVD Drive

    You need a DVD drive or access to one to install Vista. If the drive is on another computer, you can install across a network or copy the files to your local drive and run them from there. You can also do diskless network installs in a corporate environment.

    Continue to Preparing to install Windows Vista: Checking system compatibility.

    Mark Minasi is a best-selling author, commentator and all-around alpha geek. Mark is best known for his books in the Mastering Windows series. What separates him from others is that he knows how to explain technical things to normal humans, and make them laugh while doing it. Mark's firm, MR&D, is based in Pungo, a town in Virginia's Tidewater area that is distinguished by having one -- and only one -- traffic light.
    Copyright 2007 TechTarget
    This was first published in March 2007

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