PC vendors rushed to launch souped-up computers on Monday, offering faster chips and larger hard drives to handle the demands of Microsoft Corp.'s new Windows Vista OS.
Microsoft will begin selling Vista to consumers on Tuesday, following its launch for corporate users in November, sparking a flare of new desktops and notebooks from Dell Inc., Gateway Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Lenovo Group Ltd. and others.
Vista offers users a brazen graphics interface, demanding PC upgrades to provide optimal performance for its Aero glass translucent desktop windows and other features. In an era when sinking prices for chips and memory have pushed PC makers to slash their prices, vendors are jumping at the opportunity to add advanced components to each PC and add dollars to its sticker price.
On Monday, Dell recommended that Vista customers upgrade their PCs from single-core to dual- or quad-core processor, from 1G byte to 2G bytes of memory, from graphics integrated on a motherboard to a dedicated graphics card, from standard display to widescreen, and from standard to fast-spinning hard drives. Vista can also run on slower PCs, but it will automatically disable certain features, said Alex Gruzen, senior vice president of Dell's product group.
"If you installed Vista on an older system with a minimum performance level, you would frankly be overpaying if you paid for Premium or Ultimate, because the operating system scales itself to the capability of your hardware platform," he said.
Dell opened a Web site with advice for consumers looking for the best PC to support their flavor of Vista -- whether Vista Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate.
"Vista has changed the user experience. In the past, for gaming you might get a discrete graphics card, but otherwise all those recent hardware advances went largely untapped if you were simply editing a document or browsing the Web," Gruzen said. "What's exciting about Vista is that it brings those hardware advances to bear in your day-to-day experience, instead of saving all that horsepower for discrete applications."
For example, Vista allows users to play a video instead of displaying a static photograph as the "wallpaper" on their everyday desktop. Dell began taking orders for those computers on Saturday, and reported a 20 percent rise in Web activity compared to the previous weekend, leading to the sale of 10,000 Vista-loaded PCs. Microsoft will allow vendors to start shipping those PCs on Tuesday.
HP launched its own fleet of Vista-ready PCs, including its full HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario lines, lead by the TouchSmart desktop and Pavilion tx1000 notebook, which allow users to augment Vista's graphic interface by navigating through a touch-screen display instead of a mouse. Some of those PCs are further upgraded to support the greater computing demands of Vista Premium.
The company is also selling migration consulting services, helping users transfer files, photos and system preferences to a new PC. Its technicians can even do the work remotely by connecting to a user's PC over the Internet. HP charges $59.99 for a 45-minute session of that SmartFriend service.
PC vendors acknowledge that many consumers and businesses will wait to upgrade their PCs until they are more comfortable with Vista's new features. But they say that Vista is here to stay, whether a buyer is upgrading tomorrow or next year.
"Vista will become the new standard. The only question will be which version of Vista you want -- are you a gamer, a writer, someone who does 3D design work or digital video?" said Ken Walker, chief technologist for Gateway.
"You will be hard-pressed after [this] week to find an XP system available on store shelves," although Gateway will continue to sell the old OS through its online store, Walker said.
Indeed, retailers like Micro Electronics Inc.'s Micro Center offered deep discounts for Windows XP-based PCs from Acer, HP and Toshiba over the weekend, granting $150 rebates in an effort to clear the outmoded notebooks off their shelves. The stores also plan to stay open between 12:01 am and 1 am Tuesday to accommodate eager buyers.
Gateway's designers used the Vista launch as an opportunity to make more changes than just the necessary graphics and memory, Walker said. They also switched from Intel Corp.'s BTX desktop motherboard design to the more common ATX, and moved from a USB 1.0 to high-speed 2.0 data port. Gateway will support Vista on its DX430 desktops, NX270S notebooks and eMachines Q1 line.