Best Bits: Vista And The Hardware Monster, Part 1 - InformationWeek

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Best Bits: Vista And The Hardware Monster, Part 1

Will Vista really require more hardware than the space program? Or can you install it on a computer made mostly of spare parts?

If you're at all like me (quick, count your fingers and toes — 7 of each? Good!), you've probably heard the Vista hype, read the dire warnings, and maybe even tried Microsoft's compatibility software to see if your PC had enough testosterone to actually run Windows Vista. Truth, at least as I interpret it, is that it's all pretty much meaningless and probably irrelevant to boot.

There are five bloody flavors of Vista — from a bottom-of-the-line version that appears to be meant as a substitute for Linux on third-world computers to some supreme and ultimate version that's most likely too good for any hardware that you and I could possibly afford. All right, I'm exaggerating a little. (Well, except about the low-end version, which is only available as a 32-bit package.) To find out just how much hyperbole is involved I decided to do something stupid. I was going to install a Beta version of Vista on a computer I owned. (Just for perspective, the first Beta software I installed on a computer was Windows — before there were notable version numbers — and the last was OS/2.)

I dutifully went to Microsoft's Web site and tried to download Vista Beta 2 Evaluation Copy Build 5384. Forget it. Despite having had their servers slow down to a crash the last time they did something like this, once again, Microsoft, piloted by the richest man in the world, doesn't have adequate hardware resources to meet demand. So I did the only thing I could: I shelled out a few dollars and had them send me a copy. The intervening two weeks gave me time to draw up my battle plan.

The Vista Ready software was really no help. It declared that all of the computers I ran it on were adequate — even my Pentium D 955EE box running at 4.1GHz. Huh? 4.1GHz wasn't superlative; it was adequate? That hurt my pride. A plan of action formed in my mind as the days passed waiting for the arrival of "Windows Vista Ultimate."

First I took an old Antec Super Lanboy case and stuffed it with an Intel D975XBX "Bad Axe" motherboard. If you're a motherboard fan, that may sound like a recent product but this one was a very early version of the board, one that I had already replaced in the 955EE system with an ASUS 975-based board. (Originally, I was going to use an ASRock 775XFIRE-ESATA2 945PL board for this Vista box but it arrived partially DOA and I have no patience for such things.) I added 1 measly gigabyte of memory (2x512 so I could take advantage of dual channel), and crowned it with a Pentium D 805.

The dual core 805, while better than trailer-park quality, is probably one of the more plebian processors Intel offers. It can be had, currently, for around $100 in some places and runs at just 2.67MHz. Remember now, I'm sitting here with a 955EE overclocked to 4.1GHz and I have a second 955EE running at its native 3.46GHz. I even have a pokey old 3.2GHz Pentium 640 pumped up to 3.56GHz. In fact, the closest I come to 2.67Ghz is an Athlon X2 3800+ that chugs along at 2GHz. Was the 805 a Vista class processor? Well, Vista Ready liked the Athlon. . . .

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