Study: More Than Half Of All Business PCs Can't Run Vista

A study of 112,113 desktops at 472 North American companies shows that, in general, any computer two years old or older probably won't be able to support Vista, according to Dean Williams, a services consultant for Softchoice, the technology and services provider that conducted the study.

Since many companies have PC lifecycles of 48 to 60 months, he says, that means it could take two years before IT managers can adopt Vista without worrying about hardware upgrades.

"It was pretty jaw dropping for us, but it does line up with what we've seen in terms of companies hanging onto PCs for as long as possible," says Williams, adding that Softchoice's survey shows that 51% of business PCs are more than three years old. "Despite whether they want to deploy Vista, the question is, will they be able to? Can they support this? The answer is largely no, they can't."

Even if IT managers plan to wait a few years before adopting Vista, what machines they've bought in the last few years, or even today, will affect how easy it will be to migrate to the new operating system.

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"A lot of organizations may feel like they have no immediate plan to deploy Vista," says Williams. "They might deploy it in two or three years, but the purchasing decisions they're making right now affect those plans. The specs for PCs coming in the door will [affect] how easy or difficult a Vista rollout eventually is."

When it comes to computers that are able to meet Microsoft's "premium" vista requirements, 94% don't measure up.

To be considered Vista-capable, a machine needs an 800 MHz processor, 512 Mbytes of RAM, and a DirectX 9 capable graphics card. To be considered Vista Premium Ready, a computer needs a 1 GHz processor, 1 Gbyte of RAM, and a DirectX 9 capable GPU with Hardware Pixel Shader v2.0 and WDDM Driver support.

The difference in CPU requirements between Windows XP and Vista is a big one. The change represents a 243% jump. According to Williams, 12% of business computers will need a CPU upgrade to be able to run Vista. "A CPU replacement isn't only a fairly major undertaking, but with notebooks it typically is not possible," he says. "Those would be targeted for decommissioning. It just makes more sense to replace them outright."

Williams also notes that 41% of the computers that don't meet requirements didn't meet them because they need a RAM upgrade. He estimates it would cost around $62.50 to upgrade the RAM in a PC.

Seventy-seven percent of PCs that don't meet premium requirements would need graphics card upgrades, Williams also points out.

"The reality is that there will be a lot of organizations that wait and see how [Vista] is received and how big the business value of adopting it really is," he says. "Thirty-three percent of those surveyed are planning to wait one year to deploy Vista, and 27% are planning to wait up to 2 years."

Even if they wait a year or two, they may still have some older machines kicking around.

The Softchoice survey found that 59% of company executives say they have an official lifecycle limit for their machines. Forty-four percent say they're beyond that limit, and they're running computers that should have already been retired. "Forty-eight to 50-month lifecycles are not that uncommon," Williams says. "They're going to have to upgrade half of their computers, and that's obviously quite an undertaking. And that's just to get by. To fully take advantage of Vista, they'll need to upgrade nearly all, or 94%, of their computers."