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If you have an older machine your upgrade options may be limited; Windows XP might be cheaper, but both it and Vista may be out of reach.

When I fist purchased my PC it came with Windows 98. In taking it to a shop for repair the tech installed Windows Millennium. My question is that I wish to update my programs but do not know if I should choose Windows XP or Vista. As always money is a issue; would I be able to get a better deal choosing XP.

I'd guess that XP will be a better deal, but I'm also guessing that you have a much more significant roadblock ahead of you. Something that to correct will be a lot more expensive than the cost of the operating system.

If your machine came with Windows 98 originally that would indicate you probably got it before or in the year 2000. In technological terms, that's a fairly old machine.

It simply might not be able to run either Windows XP or Vista.

Let's look at the system requirements for Windows XP Home:

"I almost always double the published minimum RAM and CPU requirements and consider that a more practical minimum for a usable system."
  • 233 megahertz or better CPU

  • 128 megabytes of RAM or more

  • 1.5 gigabytes of hard disk space.

  • 800 × 600 or higher resolution video

  • CD-ROM or DVD drive

Windows Vista has higher demands:

  • 1 gigahertz or better CPU

  • 512 megabytes of RAM or more

  • 20 gigabyte hard drive with at least 15 gigabytes of free space

  • Video hardware that supports DirectX 9 and has at least 32 megabytes of graphics memory

  • DVD-ROM drive

The problem is actually worse than this. My opinion has always been that "minimum system requirements" are just that: the bare minimum required to get the operating system to run. Sort of. As soon as you try to actually do anything, then the minimum requirements are in reality nowhere near enough. Things may "work", but they won't work well.

I almost always double the published minimum RAM and CPU requirements and consider that a more practical minimum for a usable system.

For Windows XP, my guess is if you run into trouble meeting the requirements then it'd be with either CPU or RAM or both. For Windows Vista, it's quite easy not to meet any of the requirements with a machine as old as yours.

So, what if your machine doesn't meet the minimum requirements, practical or otherwise?

You have two options:

Upgrade your hardware. You might be able to get a new motherboard with a faster CPU and more RAM. Or you might just upgrade your RAM alone if your motherboard supports enough when maxed out. For Vista perhaps you can add a new video card, DVD player, and a larger hard disk as well.

Buy a new machine. In all honesty, this is almost always the preferred approach if you can pull it off. Particularly if you want Vista, you could end up upgrading your machine piece by piece and end up pretty close to having a new machine. If that's going to happen, then you might as well just get a new one.

Ultimately the options for an older machine are fairly limited. You can try upgrading to XP or Vista without any of the hardware upgrades, but based on the age of your machine I'm guessing you won't be happy with the result.

If it's at all an option for you, various Linux distributions will run just fine on your older machine, though you'll need to make sure that the software you need to do whatever you use your computer for is available and compatible.

But outside of those options I really think you're looking at a new machine.

Article C3196 - October 29, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

October 29, 2007 7:58 PM

You forgot option 3... Linux. Linux runs great on older hardware. But, your comments on the hardware are on the mark. My phone has a faster processor, more RAM, and (with a $40 SD card) more drive space than the computer I bought in 1998.

Yes, if you want to cheap out, you can add another year or two to your machine's life by replacing Windows with Linux. But if you can get a phone that blows your PC out of the water, it's time to get a new machine.

November 3, 2007 10:06 AM

I tried to upgade my windows me to xp, & yor are right, it didn't want to work But I put it on my laptop that had windows 98 & it upgraded fine. I bought the full version of xp & it installed fine on windows me.

March 19, 2009 11:41 PM

help me upgrade from win me to xp

Ron Lucas
May 3, 2010 6:55 PM

I can't thank you enough, Leo! I"m computer illiterate and bought a used (2002) compaq presario with Millinium Edition on it. Want to get with it---computers. Now I know where I stand and my options.-Ron

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