Get some recommendations for purchasing workstation hardware today so you'll be able to transition customers to...
Vista when it is released in early 2007.
64 bit systems
64-bit workstations are a good investment. A computer with a 64-bit Athlon processor costs about the same as one with a 32-bit CPU, but a 64-bit can run either a 32-bit or a 64-bit operating system. It makes sense to invest in workstations with 64-bit CPUs so you can run 32-bit operating systems now and move to 64-bit operating systems when you're ready without having to buy new computers.
Having a dual-core processor is like having two processors integrated into a single piece of silicon -- but dual-core processors cost more than single-core processors. The price differential isn't huge, but if you're helping a customer invest in a lot of workstations, the price difference will be an issue.
Windows XP, created primarily for use on a single-processor machine, doesn't gain a big advantage from running on a dual-core processor unless its needed for a lot of multitasking. Consequently, most of the code in XP is single-threaded. A single thread of execution cannot be divided among multiple processors or processor cores. That's not to say that XP can't take advantage of dual-core processors. If you run multiple, high-demand applications concurrently or if you run multithreaded applications, you might see a performance gain from a dual-core processor.
Vista is a multithreaded operating system specifically designed to take advantage of dual-core processors. If you're serious about basing your channel offerings in Vista, start moving your customers to workstations that have dual-core, 64-bit processors and are backward compatible with 32-bit operating systems.
Windows Vista is an absolute memory hog. Vista caches applications to help them respond more quickly, but the caching process consumes a lot of RAM. If you are helping customers invest in workstations today with an eye toward an eventual upgrade to Vista, I would order them with at least 2 GB of RAM. XP can benefit from having a couple of gigs of RAM even if they don't upgrade.
For example, I've been using an application to scan in receipts in an effort to prepare them for my tax return. A 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 with 1 GB of RAM became sluggish once I'd scanned about 200 receipts into the database. Adding an extra gigabyte of memory to the system greatly improved the machine's performance.
By now you've probably heard about Aero, Vista's GUI. Since Windows 3.1, Windows has been designed so that the desktop is composed of overlaid bitmap images. Aero mostly does away with the bitmap imaging and instead renders the desktop using vector graphics. As you might imagine, rendering the Windows desktop in real time consumes a lot of video memory and a lot of processing power.
In my experience working with Vista so far, a PCI Express video card with 256 MB of RAM does a great job of running Aero. But you need not worry about the video requirement yet because video cards can be added on at any time. Right now, a basic 3D graphics card with 256 MB of RAM and a dedicated processor will cost anywhere from $100 to about $500, depending on how fast it is. By the time Vista hits store shelves, there will be such a demand for high-end video cards that there will likely be bargains available.
Unless your customer absolutely needs a video card now, hold off. A card with 256 MB of RAM does a great job of running Aero, but graphically intensive applications, such as games or CAD programs, could benefit from even more memory that's not yet available at the store. I'd be willing to bet that graphics cards with more than 256 MB of RAM will be available by year's end.
Hard disk space
Good news: When it comes to preparing for Vista, hard disk space isn't an issue. Sure, Vista consumes a lot of disk space, but with the capacity of hard drives shipping with PCs these days, disk space shouldn't be a consideration. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know exactly how much disk space Vista consumes, but I do know that current beta of Vista and the current beta of Office 12 are loaded onto one of my test machines, and collectively, they consume about 11 GB of disk space.
When it comes to hard disk, I'd just be sure your customers invest in workstations with SATA hard drives. Vista is going to be specifically optimized to take advantage of SATA drives.
About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. He writes regularly for SearchWinSystems.com and other TechTarget sites.