Windows Vista – To upgrade or buy new??

It seems like I’ve been asked quite a bit by friends and family whether or not they can upgrade their computer to Windows Vista or if they need to buy a whole new computer.

Well, here’s the scoop… unfortunately, if you have a computer that’s more than a couple years old, an upgrade to Windows Vista is probably not going to perform as great as you’d like. Windows Vista is a hog – granted, it offers some excellent benefits, particularly for security – but it’s still a hog. If you take a look at the System Requirements for Windows Vista, you’ll quickly see that with the exception of the Home Basic edition (which I have a hard time recommending to anyone), Windows Vista recommends 1 Gigabyte (GB) of RAM (memory).

I’ll be honest – it’s taken everything I have to be able to convince friends and family to get their Windows XP computers up past 512 Megabyte (MB) of RAM to 1 GB. And when Microsoft makes a recommendation on requirements, such as memory or hard drive, you quickly learn while in the field to double it or you’re going to run into problems. With that in mind, you basically want to plan on about 2 GB of RAM for your PC. If you right-click on “My Computer” and select “Properties,” you should see the amount of RAM installed in your computer. Chances are it’s probably around 512 MB (or less) on an older computer – particularly on computers running a version of Windows prior to Windows XP.

RAM is one of the biggest performance makers or breakers. If you don’t have at least 1 GB of RAM (and again, I recommend 2 GB), Windows Vista will most likely run like a dog. Mind you this is just one point, but a very important one. Kingston is reputable manufacturer of inexpensive RAM. Head on over to Kingston’s website ( and do a search for memory (RAM) for your computer. Take a look at the price of RAM to get your computer up to 1 GB or 2 GB and see how much it would run you. It’s likely going to cost you a pretty decent penny. Now keep in mind that you can get a basic computer from Best Buy or Circuit City for maybe $500 (with Windows Vista already included in the price!).

Then look at the cost of the operating system upgrade – Windows Vista Home Premium will run you about $150. A lot of numbers being thrown around here!!! But basically, if a RAM upgrade runs you $150, for example, and the Windows upgrade costs you another $150 – that’s $300 right there… for an old(er) computer! And that’s only looking at the computer memory. There’s still plenty of other factors that can come into play – CPU speed, hard drive capacity, etc.

In my book, Just the Computer Essentials, I talk about some of the other things you also need to take into consideration. For instance, just going back to our RAM example – let’s say you have 512 MB of RAM in your computer and you determine you want another 1 GB of RAM in your computer to be ready for Windows Vista (to have 1.5 GB of RAM). You order the RAM and then when you go to put it in, you find out that your computer actually has two 256 MB sticks of RAM (2 x 256 = 512 MB). That’s a surprise – no empty RAM slots! Now what? You can take out the one stick and have put in the 1 GB stick (which now only brings you to 1.25 GB). Well, not great, but we’ll deal with it. Now what about other possible problems? Maybe the memory has to be installed in pairs – two identical sticks of memory. Or maybe the computer only supports a total of 1 GB of RAM. These are some of the possible problems you have to think about if you’re considering upgrading.

As you can probably guess, in most cases, I’m an advocate of either sticking with where you’re at or buying a new computer. Windows XP is an excellent operating system – anything less and you’re probably ready for a new computer anyway. Now, let’s say you got a new computer a lot more recently and think it would really be worth your while to investigate upgrading. In that case, Microsoft has already thought of you! Take a look at the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor. If you download and run this tool on your computer, it will take a look at what you have and then present a report showing you the things that need to be done (if any) to make sure your computer is ready to be upgraded. An invaluable tool if you want to see what needs to be done to make your computer Vista-ready.

So, just to recap – in almost all cases, if you’re ready for Windows Vista, you’ll probably want to look at a new computer. The exception would be if you have a computer that you just got probably in the past year. Hopefully, this helps you get ready for Windows Vista!

— Jim