Hardware Vendors Launch Powerful Vista PCs

PC vendors rushed to launch souped-up computers today, offering faster chips and larger hard drives to handle the demands of Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system.

Microsoft will begin selling Vista to consumers at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, following its launch for corporate users in November. The Vista launch fever sparked the introduction of new desktops and notebooks from Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo Group, and others.

Vista offers users a brazen graphical interface, demanding PC upgrades to provide optimal performance for its Aero glass translucent desktop windows and other features. In an era when sinking prices for chips and memory have pushed PC makers to slash their prices, vendors are jumping at the opportunity to add advanced components to each PC--and add dollars to its sticker price.

Dell's Vista PCs

Dell recommended that Vista customers upgrade their PCs from single-core to dual- or quad-core processors, from 1GB to 2GB of memory, from graphics integrated on a motherboard to a dedicated graphics card, from standard display to wide-screen, and from standard to fast-spinning hard drives. Vista can run on slower PCs as well, but it will automatically disable certain features, said Alex Gruzen, senior vice president of Dell's product group.

"If you installed Vista on an older system with a minimum performance level, you would frankly be overpaying if you paid for Premium or Ultimate, because the operating system scales itself to the capability of your hardware platform," he said.

Dell opened a Vista-oriented Web site with advice for consumers looking for the best PC to support their flavor of Vista--whether Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, or Ultimate.

"Vista has changed the user experience. In the past, for gaming you might get a discrete graphics card, but otherwise all those recent hardware advances went largely untapped if you were simply editing a document or browsing the Web," Gruzen said. "What's exciting about Vista is that it brings those hardware advances to bear in your day-to-day experience, instead of saving all that horsepower for discrete applications."

Vista, for example, allows users to play a video instead of displaying a static photograph as the "wallpaper" on their everyday desktop. Dell began taking orders for those computers on Saturday, and reported a 20 percent rise in Web activity compared to the previous weekend, leading to the sale of 10,000 Vista-loaded PCs. Microsoft will allow vendors to start shipping those PCs tomorrow.

HP's Offerings

Hewlett-Packard launched its own fleet of Vista-ready PCs, including its full HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario lines, led by the TouchSmart IQ770 PC desktop and the Pavilion tx1000 notebook, which allow users to augment Vista's graphical interface by navigating via a touch-screen display instead of a mouse. Some of those PCs are further upgraded to support the greater computing demands of Vista Premium.

The company is also selling migration consulting services, helping users transfer files, photos, and system preferences to a new PC. Its technicians can even do the work remotely by connecting to a user's PC over the Internet. HP charges $60 for a 45-minute session of that SmartFriend service. The company also has a Vista information Web page.

Vista: The New Standard

PC vendors acknowledge that many consumers and businesses will wait to upgrade their PCs until they are more comfortable with Vista's new features. But the makers say that Vista is here to stay, whether a buyer is upgrading tomorrow or next year.

"Vista will become the new standard. The only question will be which version of Vista you want--are you a gamer, a writer, someone who does 3D design work or digital video?" said Ken Walker, chief technologist for Gateway.

"You will be hard-pressed after [this] week to find an XP system available on store shelves," though Gateway will continue to sell the old OS through its online store, Walker said.

Gateway's designers used the Vista launch as an opportunity to make more changes than just the necessary graphics and memory upgrades, Walker said. They also switched from Intel's BTX desktop motherboard design to the more common ATX, and moved from a USB 1.0 to a high-speed 2.0 data port. Gateway, which also has a Web page devoted to Vista, will support Vista on its DX430 desktops, NX270S notebooks, and eMachines Q1 line.

XP-Based Systems in the Bargain Basement

Indeed, retailers like Micro Electronics' Micro Center offered deep discounts for Windows XP-based PCs from Acer, HP, and Toshiba over the weekend, granting $150 rebates in an effort to clear the outmoded notebooks off their shelves. The stores also plan to stay open between 12:01 a.m. tonight and 1 a.m. tomorrow to accommodate eager buyers.

For all the latest news, reviews, and video on Windows Vista, visit PC World's Windows Vista and XP Info Center. And for more Vista information, tips, and answers to frequently asked questions, subscribe to PC World's Vista newsletter.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter