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When we kicked off our investigation into Windows Vista's hardware requirements we glossed over the graphics part of the system requirements and simply said that you need DirectX 9 hardware. It turns out things are rather more complicated than that plain statement suggests, and that may mean trouble ahead for Intel.

A Windows Vista Capable PC does indeed require "a graphics processor that is DirectX 9 capable", while a Windows Vista Premium Ready PC has more stringent specifications. The difference between Vista Basic and Vista Premium is the Aero user interface, which adds glass-like effects to the appearance of the GUI.

A Vista Premium Ready PC requires a DirectX 9 GPU that supports a WDDM Driver, supports Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware and defines colours using at least 32-bits per pixel. These are the important features and, in addition, the GPU also requires adequate graphics memory which Microsoft defines as:

  • 64MB of graphics memory to support a single monitor less than 1,310,720 pixels (resolution below 1,280 x 1,024)
  • 128MB of graphics memory to support a single monitor at resolutions from 1,310,720 to 2,304,000 pixels (between 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,920 x 1,280)
  • 256MB of graphics memory to support a single monitor at resolutions higher than 2,304,000 pixels (greater than 1,920 x 1,200)

That looks straightforward enough. After all, DirectX 9 Shader Model 2.0 chips are ten-a-penny and every graphics card on the market has at least 128MB of graphics memory these days

It turns out, however, that the situation isn't quite that simple.

There’s another unstated part to the hardware requirement that is based on WinSAT (Windows System Assessment Tool), which is part of Windows Vista. It’s not a benchmark as such but instead is a tool that assesses how well a PC or notebook supports Windows Vista by running a series of tests. There are five of these checks - Graphics, Direct3D, Storage, Processor and Video Decode - of which we are interested in the first two as they directly relate to GPU requirements.

The Graphics assessment checks the memory bandwidth of the graphics sub-system to determine whether the PC can run Aero, while the Direct3D test checks out the gaming ability of the graphics. You’ll get a test result with any DirectX 9 hardware but integrated graphics currently get a red light from Microsoft as they don’t have the grunt to drive Aero and the same is true of the earliest DirectX 9 graphics cards.

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