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Best Bits: Vista And The Hardware Monster, Part 3

Vista loves graphics so much it wants to control them. You thought you were in charge of your PC? Get out of Vista's way.

Vista loves graphics. Just look at what it does with Aero. Vista wants your graphics card. Not with just the longing for a near and dear one, but rather with that all encompassing desire to control every phase of your life every minute of the day. Thank you Windows Presentation Foundation!

What's that? As Microsoft tells it: "The Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation provides the foundation for building applications and high fidelity experiences in Windows Vista, blending together application UI, documents, and media content, while exploiting the full power of your computer."

In case you're not up to date on your Microsoftese, I'll translate: The decades old battle between graphics cards manufacturers advocating direct hardware calls and Microsoft advocating Windows APIs is over and the graphics card manufacturers lost. WPF (which you may have also heard called Avalon at some point) will control things from now on. It will decide how your graphics are displayed, it will decide whether your graphics subsystem is good enough, it will even dole out memory as it sees fit to keep things going "no matter how badly.

What do I mean by that? If you happen to run out of usable graphics memory and still have graphics to process and your system memory is up against the wall, WPF will use your hard drive as a temporary processing medium. Your hard drive? Yes, your hard drive. How slow will that be? Put a marble on a perfectly flat and level surface and watch it roll.

No problem, you're thinking. You can just add a second graphics card "you know, kind of SLI or Crossfire like, right? No, not really. Popular rumor has it that Vista won't let those card arrangements communicate with each other in any traditional manner. (It wants control, remember?) Oh how spending $1,000 on a pair of SLI cards will hurt then.

That doesn't mean that Vista won't be able to manipulate multiple cards "in fact, why not three (Vista may just be the thing that saves Ageia's PhsyX card) to really give you 3D. You'll have to buy new hardware, however. While you're at it, you may have to buy a new power supply too, Graphics cards are quite power hungry, in a different way than Vista. If you thought 500 watts was a good threshold, you're thinking last decade. Of course, you can always dial back Vista's graphics ability. That's a feature. But then all you'd really have is Windows XP in control freak mode.

In the end, all of these little bumps in the road will be worked out. If it's at all like XP (and there doesn't seem to be any reason for Microsoft to change how it does things), it'll take a year to 18 months for that to happen. To that same end, it will cost you more. On the bright side, once that happens and sales start to slump, prices will drop. (How do you think we got to the sub-$1,000 PC in the '90s.) Then they'll go up again. It's no bit of chance that the "sweet spot" for PC pricing has hovered between $1,500 and $2,000 for so long.

Eventually, you'll come to accept Vista. Eventually there'll be enough tweaks to allow that to happen. Eventually, for whatever reason, you will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

The semi-weekly Best Bits column surveys the soft underbelly of PC hardware from the unique viewpoint of Bill O'Brien, who can be blamed for more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology topics. With his writing partner, Alice Hill, Bill co-authored "The Hard Edge," the longest-running (1992 to 2004) technology column penned by a techno duo. For more, go to www.technudge.com.

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