Windows Vista Capable or Windows Vista Weakling?

Windows Vista Capable or Windows Vista Weakling?

We test three different retail computer systems sporting the "Windows Vista Capable" badges and tell you if it's a gimmick to move systems or if you can really expect an acceptable user experience. We even throw in a bit of a preview of Vista's features as well.

Introduction

Recently, [H] Consumer went on a shopping spree. After a year of evaluating systems from companies that a consumer could purchase from online, we wanted to see what it would be like to purchase a system from a brick and mortar retailer. So we got in our cars and bought systems from Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Fry’s Electronics. We then wrote about our experiences in our Retail Computer Purchasing Experiences guide. We then followed up with evaluations of the systems we bought: an eMachines T3418 and T6528, a Compaq SR1800NX, and an HP a1330n.

While each system came decked out with stickers on the front that would make NASCAR proud, one unassuming badge caused us to do a double take: three of the systems came with “Windows Vista Capable” designations. The three systems were our eMachines T3418 with a Sempron 3400+ processor and 512MB of RAM, the eMachines T6528 with an Athlon 64 3500+ processor and 512MB of RAM, and the Compaq SR1800NX with a Celeron D 346 processor @ 3.06GHz and 512MB of RAM.

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Being the intrepid journalists we are, we of course jumped on the opportunity to get in on the public Windows Vista Beta 2 program and see what “Windows Vista Capable” really meant.

Windows Vista

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If you haven’t heard, Windows Vista will be the next major Windows operating system to come out of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corporation. Vista brings all sorts of visual and interface enhancements (not to mention the “behind-the-scenes” stuff like DirectX 10) that are shaping up to require quite a bit more hardware muscle to power. Indeed, the minimum specifications are much beefier than those for Windows XP. In particular, the new “Aero” graphical user interface will require the power of a modern DirectX 9 video card with 128MB of RAM. Those wanting to run at very high resolutions will have to have a video card with 256MB of RAM.

But beyond that, Vista requires a lot of hard disk space, and eats up RAM like there’s no tomorrow. We wanted to see if our timid, low-end systems would be capable of running Vista out of the box, and what a typical computer user could expect out of the experience. Given that our systems have older-interfacing IDE drives, integrated graphics, and the minimum amount of RAM, we wanted to see if Windows Vista Capable really meant Widows Vista Weakling.