So, we've told you all about the features in Vista, and you've got some idea of the relative performance. One of the key things about upgrading to Vista is getting the right kinds of device drivers and software. How have the big enthusiast manufacturers reacted to Vista?
Quick to get in tow, ATI has drivers for all its graphics cards going back to the Radeon 9500, both for x64 and x32. You can also get motherboard chipset drivers back to the original Radeon Xpress. This means that any ATI card you've bought since the Radeon 9700 days will work A-OK on Vista.
For a company that has a reputation for being slightly lax on driver releases, it's no surprise that Creative doesn't have an officially certified driver yet - which means that 64-bit users are going to have to go without discrete sound. If you're installing 32-bit, however, you can grab beta drivers from the Creative site that cover the X-Fi, all the Audigy cards and go back to the original Live. Anything before the latest generation Live and you are stuffed, however - Creative has no support planned.
Microsoft has traditionally had a close working relationship with Intel and it's no surprise that Intel has drivers, on its website, for every motherboard it's made going back to the 845 chipset - who wants to run a RAMBUS system with Vista?! Chances are, however, you won't need it - the main Intel chipsets are supported out of the box by Vista, since the drivers change rather less often than those of the nForce family.
As of writing, NVIDIA has posted official Vista drivers for both x64 and x32 versions, for the entire GeForce and TNT line - bar the 8800. The GeForce 8800 driver will be released today at some point (probably US time), but it still lacks some features. There is limited SLI support in DirectX 9.0 games and DirectX 10 SLI will follow in a later driver.
In terms of nForce motherboards - 4 through 6 - there are no official drivers yet, although beta drivers provided through nZone (and the built-in XP drivers) will cover pretty much every board based on the chipset released in the last 3-4 years.
On-board audio and LAN:
If you're trying to get your on-board audio or other device working with Vista, chances are you will find a driver for your chipset at your board manufacturer's website. Failing that, if you can find out the chipset, you should be able to get a driver straight from the manufacturer - for example, Highpoint has Vista drivers on its website for all the RAID controllers commonly seen on boards.
Alternatively, take the hard work out of it and let Microsoft do the work for you. If you enable Windows updates, Vista will go and grab the latest drivers for a piece of hardware it doesn't know about. On our test system, we found that the Silicon Image controller didn't have a driver on the Vista CD, but the OS went and got the correct one as soon as we booted into the OS for the first time.
The bottom line:
We have installed Vista on a number of machines here in the office, with various degrees of modern and older hardware, and had no problems. Vista really does have a massive library of drivers on the DVD, and manufacturers have had quite a while to get up to date. bit-tech readers, we suspect, are rather less likely to have ropey old bits of legacy hardware kicking around, making the move rather less painful than many random consumers will find. Even if you guys do have something unusual, chances are that someone has written an open source driver or hacked something from XP to work - providing you can use Google, you'll be fine.