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I am currently looking for a notebook to replace my desktop. I am in no rush to buy it, although it would be nice to have it now. My desktop is a little sluggish, but it still does everything I need it to do. I was wondering what your thoughts are about waiting for Windows Vista to come out vs. buying a notebook now. Also, if I do buy a system now, approximately how much would I need to spend to get a system that will transition smoothly to Vista when it comes out?

In many ways, it really depends on how long you're willing to wait. As we all know from direct experience, once you purchase a computer - any computer - a newer/better/faster/sexier model comes out just moments later.

Adding Windows Vista to the mix makes things even more difficult.

Between the time I got this question, and the time I'm writing this answer, the press is once again full of rumors that Windows Vista is slipping yet again. The current "official" release date is the beginning of 2007, if I'm not mistaken, but the press has that date moving out further.

Personally, I don't know who to believe. Having been there, I know that shipping software of huge scope and complexity is incredibly difficult, and predicting when it will be done is even more so.

All that is my lead up to say simply this: don't wait for Vista. Unless there is something specific in the operating system that you need to have, the ship date is simply too unreliable to make plans around.

Even after Vista ships, my advice to the average user will, in fact, be to avoid it. Let the pioneers and tech folk experience the upgrade and inevitable problems first. Once those get ironed out (I'd say three months after release or so), then if you're interested and so inclined, go for it.

Given the current schedule, with that padding, that takes you out about a year from when this is being written.

If you need a new laptop, get a new laptop. You'll have a year's worth of increased productivity under your belt with a faster machine before you need to think of Vista.

Unfortunately, there's no real way to put a dollar amount on what a good laptop will be. There are too many variables. However, when selecting a new laptop, I would look for (in order of priority):

"The bottom line is that many things could change before release."
  • 1 gigabyte of RAM to start, but make sure that the machine can be expanded to 2, or perhaps even 4, gigabytes. This is perhaps the single thing that will extend the useful life of that laptop through operating system, and other software, revisions.

  • I typically choose the highend processor, minus one. Meaning that if the current top of the line processor is a 3.2 gigahertz dual core Intel, then I'd look one step down (probably a 3gz). The cost/performance tradeoff for that last little bit of performance is, to me at least, not worth it.

  • Make sure that the video adapter supports advanced 3D hardware. This is about the only Vista-specific item I'd throw in the mix - my understanding is that the Vista UI will take advantage of graphics accelerators when present to present either a richer, or faster, UI. Normally, these types of adapters have been targeted at gaming systems, but they're making their way onto laptops of late as well.

  • It's actually difficult not to get enough disk space these days, hard disks have become so huge. But make sure you're starting at the 100gigabyte and up range, and if you can, select a drive at a higher rotational speed (say, 7200 versus 5400 RPM). The faster rotation translates into a faster transfer of data on and off of the hard disk.

This article: Will Your PC Run Windows Vista? addresses the issue in a little more depth, and also spends a lot of time on the graphics card issue. It's important to note that the article is also 9 months old - an eon in Windows development time - and Microsoft actually hasn't released "minimum hardware requirements' for Vista. The bottom line is that many things could change before release.

In my opinion, that's just more justification for not waiting, and just getting a fundamentally good, but expandable, machine now.

Article C2642 - May 3, 2006 « »

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.

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1 Comment
Greg Bulmash
May 5, 2006 8:10 PM

IMO, a Microsoft OS isn't ready for production use until after the Service Pack 1 release. And then, I'm still wary.

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