Spoutin' Off: Consider Vista before buying

By Michael Rau

December 11, 2006

Are you contemplating buying a computer system this holiday season, either for yourself or as a gift? If so, this season offers some unique challenges in terms of what to buy. The reason for this boils down to one word: Vista.

As you probably know, the newest version of the ubiquitous Windows operating system began shipping to large-volume business customers and manufacturers a couple of weeks ago. Distribution to the consumer market will begin late in January. And if you’re a Windows user, sooner or later you’ll be upgrading to Vista. It’s as inevitable as the tide.

While I’m no fan of Windows, I’m really rooting for this new OS to succeed. If it delivers on it’s promises, overall network security will increase, as well as inherent stability (rebooting all the time tends to get old, doesn’t it?). This can’t help benefit all of us because, even if you yourself don’t compute in Windows, if you go online, you interact with Windows systems constantly.

So – having acknowledged that Vista is, and should be, the wave of the future, how does this affect you this holiday buying season? It’s simple. Any computer system you buy now does not yet have Vista installed. Furthermore, not all the systems out there, particularly the ones with great prices, are so-called “Vista-ready”.

You need to carefully consider you’re current and future needs before you decide.

The low-end system:

I saw a laptop for $399 the other day in one of the Sunday sales fliers (don’t bother to ask where; it’s already expired). This was a great deal, and they’re just going to get better between now and say, the middle of January. The reason is simple – there’s lots of systems with Windows XP already loaded and manufacturers are going to need to dispose of this inventory to make room and prepare for the release of Vista.

The downside is that they’re probably not capable of running Vista off the shelf. You’ll need to, at least, add more memory (more on this in a minute).

I should point out here that XP will be viable for years to come. In fact many corporate and government users have indicated that they’ll wait at least a year before deploying Vista, just to provide time for all the inevitable bugs to be shaken out.

If you don’t feel a need to upgrade to Vista right away, these low-end systems will probably serve you quite well for the life of the computer.

The mid-range system:

I define these in this context as Vista-ready systems. I’ve seen some deals on these too, although not as good as those mentioned above.

A Vista-ready system will have a minimum of 1GB of memory. And from what I’ve read, you should really just pull the trigger and buy an additional 1GB. Vista is VERY memory-hungry, and independent reviewers all say that you need 2 GB to really appreciate the capabilities of the OS.

With a Vista-ready machine, you can, should you choose, take advantage of Microsoft’s Express Update program. Through this, you can get a free Vista upgrade shipped to you as soon as it’s released.

Keep in mind, if you go this route, that there are now six distinct levels of Windows in Vista (although one isn’t available in the U.S.). The level of free upgrade you can get is based on the level of XP, whether Home, Professional, or Media Center, installed on your system when you bought it.

The high-end system:

This is a system that, out of the box, can run any flavor of Vista and take full advantage of it’s extended capabilities. They’ll have a minimum of 2 GB of memory in matched pairs, a powerful graphic card, and fast dual-core processors.

I looked around a bit and such systems are readily available. The only issue is that machines configured to this minimum are not yet common enough to generate the kind of discounts seen in lower-end systems.

These systems are, obviously, upgradable to Vista through Microsoft as previously described.

Now, about upgrading to Vista, you might want to choose to wait on that. Here’s why:

I am aware of no time in the history of computing when the first version of an operating system, be it Windows, or Mac, or Linux, or Solaris, or whatever, was not buggy in it’s first release version. Vista will be no different, which is why most volume buyers will wait. The downside is that the Express Upgrade offered by Microsoft will have expired.

You also need to carefully study the various levels of Vista being offered to ensure you get exactly the capabilities you desire. Some of the differences are fairly profound.

One more thing: If you’re buying a new system and just have to have Vista as soon as possible, you might consider just waiting until the first of February and buying your computer with Vista pre-loaded. Installing an OS is a pain-in-the-you-know-what, and a six-week wait might prevent a major headache.

Shop away, but study up and buy wisely.

Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.

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