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Can Cheap PCs Handle Microsoft's Windows Vista?

Illustration: Chip Taylor
Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows Vista, carries a whole new set of system requirements. But how can you tell whether the cheap PC you're buying is capable of handling either the basic or the premium flavor of Vista? (For more details on the different versions of Vista and on the various features that the new OS offers, see "Everything You Need to Know About Windows Vista.")

Systems that bear Microsoft's Vista Ready logo meet the company's minimum specifications for running Vista. The machines we reviewed for this story came to us too early to have received the Vista Ready logo; nevertheless, all but the Ajump are designated by their vendors as Windows Vista-capable (indicating that the system can run simpler versions of Windows Vista, such as Windows Vista Home Basic, which excludes Vista's most attractive visual effects). The presence of the Windows Vista Premium Ready logo means that the PC can handle enhanced versions of Vista (none of the systems reviewed here carried that indicator either, but Micro Express says that its computer will handle Vista Premium).

Upgrade Timetable

We expect to see the first Vista-equipped units in January 2007. But that doesn't mean you have to wait until then to get Vista: If you bought a Vista Ready or Vista-capable system after October 26, 2006, your PC manufacturer should have an upgrade program available. Depending on the version of Windows that you have loaded on your system, you'll get Vista Basic (at least) or something better. The fees vary: Some vendors are offering upgrades for free--not including shipping and handling costs--or for a modest charge.

Keep in mind, though, that even if you buy a Vista Ready system, the logo alone doesn't promise an easy installation; nor does it guarantee how well the system will run Vista. See "Vista: The Upgrade" for a discussion of what you can expect if you're upgrading to Vista from Windows XP, and for details on PC makers' coupon plans.

At a Glance
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