Since Microsoft changed its standard operating system from Windows XP to the new Windows Vista, PC users are wondering whether to upgrade and when and how to best go about it.

Most of us are “far better off buying entirely new systems than upgrading existing units,” says Randy Johnston, technology consultant and vice president of Network Management Group ( Although modifying existing systems is possible, Johnston says, running Vista requires major upgrades to a PC's hardware, such as:

  • A stronger-than-average processor — “We typically recommend a 64-bit processor, but you're even better off if you have two, such as the Intel Core2 Duo or an AMD 64x2,” Johnston says. “That's a lot more horsepower for not a lot more money.”
  • About 2 GB of RAM — using XP you could get by with just 512 MB.
  • A minimum 100 GB drive — Johnston recommends a drive with a speed of at least 72 rpm. “The drive speed is important for how the desktop works,” he says.
  • 128 MB of video RAM — which is required for Vista's new visual experience, called Aero. Most computers today are equipped with 32 MB or 64 MB of RAM. “This is what forces many people to have to upgrade [to a new unit],” Johnston says.
  • Users currently running QuickBooks software should also be careful in upgrading: Vista won't support versions older than 2006. Even the 2006 and 2007 software require a patch before the upgrade can take place.

    Although Vista's setup is vastly different from that of XP, it is “much more intuitive,” says David Merrick, of Merrick Design and Build, in Kensington, Md. “It's worth the effort to relearn.”

    Merrick has been using Vista Business Premium on his four networked PCs since January and says it's been an easy switch. “The real strength of Vista is in Microsoft Office 2007,” Merrick says. “It integrates fantastically with SharePoint Version 3 — an Internet-based file sharing and management tool.” The only inconvenience, he says, is that Office 2007 stores files in XML format. Non-Vista users will need the MS Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 (a pop-up prompt will direct non-Vista users to this free download).

    One feature in particular that Merrick enjoys: “If you're at home, the ability to block the kids from installing unwanted programs is huge.”

    While the new OS boasts increased speed, beefed-up security, and improved usability throughout, Johnston and Merrick agree that there is no compelling reason to upgrade immediately if you're not already buying a new PC.