Vista is a hardware beast

Written by Wil Harris

September 7, 2005 | 09:17

Tags: #agp #bluray #bus #cpu #dual-core #graphics-card #hd #hdcp #hd-dvd #ncq #pci-express #ram #vista #windows-vista

Companies: #intel #microsoft #nvidia

A Tech Strategist within Microsoft, Nigel Page, has gone on record to discuss the hardware requirements for Windows Vista, due out next Christmas.

What he's said is kind of shocking.

System breakdown

Graphics: Vista has changed from using the CPU to display bitmaps on the screen to using the GPU to render vectors. This means the entire display model in Vista has changed. To render the screen in the GPU requires an awful lot of memory to do optimally - 256MB is a happy medium, but you'll actually see benefit from more. Microsoft believes that you're going to see the amount of video memory being shipped on cards hurtle up when Vista ships.

CPU: Threading is the main target for Vista. Currently, very little of Windows XP is threaded - the target is to make Vista perform far better on dual-core and multi-core processors.

RAM: 2GB is the ideal configuration for 64-bit Vista, we're told. Vista 32-bit will work ideally at 1GB, and minimum 512. However, since 64-bit is handling data chunks that are double the size, you'll need double the memory, hence the 2GB. Nigel mentions DDR3 - which is a little odd, since the roadmap for DDR3, on Intel gear at least, doesn't really kick in until 2007.

HDD: SATA is definitely the way forward for Vista, due, Microsoft tells us, to Native Command Queueing. NCQ allows for out of order completions - that is, if Vista needs tasks 1,2,3,4 and 5 done, it can do them in the order 2,5,3,4,1 if that's a more efficient route for the hard drive head to take over the disk. This leads to far faster completion times. NCQ is supported on SATA2 drives, so expect them to start becoming the standard sooner rather than later. Microsoft thinks that these features will provide SCSI-level performance.

Bus: AGP is 'not optimal' for Vista. Because of the fact that graphics cards may have to utilise main system memory for some rendering tasks, a fast, bi-direction bus is needed - that's PCI express.

Display: Prepare to feel the red mist of rage - no current TFT monitor out there is going to support high definition playback in Vista. You may already have heard rumblings about this, but here it is. To play HD-DVD or Blu-Ray content you need a HDCP compatible monitor. Why? Because these formats use HDCP to encrypt a video signal as it travels along a digital connection to an output device, to prevent people copying it. If you have just standard DVI or even an analogue output, you're going to see HD scaled down to a far-less-than-HD resolution for viewing - which sucks. This isn't really Microsoft's fault - HDCP is something that content makers, in their eternal wisdom, have decided is necessary to stop us all watching pirated movies. Yay.


Amusingly, Page admits that there are no monitors out there that will do HDCP, and that this is a problem. Frankly, it's the consumer's problem, however, according to him. "It's up to you [the users] to say, 'Where's my HDCP?'"

I'm more inclined to say to Hollywood 'Hey, STFU' to be honest.

One of the major problems is that Hollywood knows that Microsoft dominates the operating system sphere, and so it can arm-wrestle MS into working with it. If there was more competition, Hollywood would have to be a little more cautious about what it tries to get away with.

We come back to the age-old problem. Content is being forced onto us that is, to all extents and purposes, crippled. It's not like any of this stuff is actually going to make any difference - we're still going to have dodgy films on the net, probably in no less quantity than we have now - so why would be pay to be screwed, when we can just get an uncrippled version for free?

But, that's a little off topic. In terms of the hardware stuff, it seems obvious that hardware makers are rubbing their hands in glee. It's been hard to persuade people to upgrade their WinXP boxes, since they can handle pretty much anything thrown at them, unless you're a gamer. Graphics companies are going to be selling a bucket-load more GPUs, since now practically every system sold for Vista is going to need one. It's no coincidence that Nvidia is re-introducing onboard graphics for its motherboards very soon.

2GB of RAM for high-end systems is pretty chunky, and it could be that we start to see RAM prices go up as suddenly, a big percentage of systems are being built with 4 times the current requirement. If you thought SATA2 had been slow to take off, expect every new enthusiast chipset to have it built in next year, and for drive makers to start shifting over to it quick - if they're not building a huge number of NCQ drives by the middle of next year, they risk missing out on loads of orders come Vista.

It looks like the next 12 months are going to be extremely interesting... Let us know what you think of these developments in this forum thread.

EDIT: Utterly forgot to give credit to the original source, which is over at
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