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Upgrade fiends need not worry, but these demands are going to make anyone with an ageing PC (two years plus, I'd say) and even many relatively new budget laptops think twice about moving to Vista. You may well have to spend an extra £75-odd on more memory and a new graphics card on top of the cost of the software. And that's if you go cheap.

Hardware and Compatibility Issues

It's a time-honoured tradition that any Microsoft 'upgrade', along with the increase in features, will also require an accompanying hardware upgrade. Vista is no different here, but how much of an upgrade are you going to need?

First, let's take a look at Microsoft's recommended system requirements for Vista (these are not the absolute minimum requirements):

• 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
• 512 MB of system memory
• 20 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space
• Support for DirectX 9 graphics and 32 MB of graphics memory
• DVD-ROM drive
• Audio Output
• Internet access

Doesn't look to bad, does it? But before you click your heels with glee and run off to place a pre-order for Vista Home Premium, hold on. This list, unsurprisingly, doesn't tell the whole story. The above list, though not the barest of bare minimums, is what you need to run the most basic version of Microsoft's new operating systems – Vista Basic – which is, indeed, very basic. Instead, what you really need to run Vista - Home Premium, Ultimate, Business and Enterprise Versions – is ...

• 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
• 1 GB of system memory
• 40 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space
• Support for DirectX 9 graphics with:
• WDDM Driver
• 128 MB of graphics memory (minimum)
• Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware
• 32 bits per pixel
• DVD-ROM drive
• Audio Output
• Internet access

The key thing to pay attention to here is the memory requirement. Though even Vista Ultimate will get by on the minimum 512MB of RAM, you won't be able to benefit from all of the interface's whizz-bang features. Some, including Flip 3D and the live Alt-Tab and taskbar previews are memory intensive and simply can't be accessed if you don't have enough memory installed. The system is still snappy and responsive running on 1GB of memory, while Vista's new Readyboost technology allows you to use compatible USB memory keys and flash memory cards to bolster performance further, but, as ever, if you can afford more it's probably a good idea to invest.

And it doesn't stop there. Since so much in the Vista upgrade is focused on the visual experience, your display hardware is going to need to be up to spec too. Though you can run it on lower resolution displays, to take full advantage I'd recommend at least 1,280 x 1,024 to take full advantage of all of that lovely eye candy. Your video card is going to have to have a bit more horsepower to spare than it did with XP as well – you'll need at the very least 128MB of memory and it should support DirectX 9 too.

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