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Are You Ready for Vista Graphics?

Microsoft Windows Vista will push the PC hardware envelope in all sorts of directions -- more RAM, faster CPUs -- but nowhere does it make greater demands than on the graphics hardware in your PC. Vista incorporates a bundle of new graphics standards and technologies. If you want to use all its graphics features, the odds are you're in line for an upgrade to your graphics card.

Vista Graphics

•  Introduction

•  What Will It Look Like?

•  Is Your PC Ready?

•  Pick A Graphics Card

•  Vista And Laptops

The reason is the Aero graphical interface. It's Aero that does those lovely semi-transparent effects and frosty window borders. (For a look at the Aero interface, take a look at this Image Gallery from the recent article First Look: Windows Vista RC2.)

To do Aero, Vista runs the same advanced graphics APIs created by Microsoft for computer games that use 3D graphics, DirectX. In fact, Vista supports two versions of DirectX, and so it requires a graphics card capable of running both DirectX 9.0L and DirectX 10, which will hit the market about the same time Vista does.

Vista On Two Levels
Vista isn't available yet, so Microsoft is encouraging PC makers to brand their products with "Ready for Vista" logo stickers. The specs for these "approved" systems come on two levels.

Click image to enlarge.

First, there's a sort of "base price" level -- what Microsoft is calling the "Vista Capable" logo level -- that calls for a CPU that runs at 800MHz or better, 512MB of RAM, and a graphics processor that is DirectX 9 capable. "Vista Capable" PCs are generally ready to run Vista Home Basic, which won't run Aero and Flip3D or Windows Media Center

Then there's a "nicely equipped at . . . " level -- the "Vista Premium" logo level, in Microsoft-speak. A PC that wears the Windows Vista Premium Ready logo sticker is supposed to be able to run any feature in any version of Vista, and to do that it must include at least a 1GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor, 1GB of RAM, 40GB of hard drive capacity with 15GB free, a DVD Drive, audio output, and support for Internet access. And some pretty hefty graphics capabilities:

  • Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver, a graphics driver architecture that's new in Vista
  • 128 MB of dedicated graphics memory (minimum)
  • Pixel Shader 2.0, 32 bits per pixel capability. (Pixel shaders are part of the graphics pipeline, the process of rendering three-dimensional objects to the two-dimensional computer screen. The 32-bit color depth represents enough data capacity to render each pixel in any one of 16 million colors at one of eight levels of transparency.)
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