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Thursday, May 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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An easier upgrade to Vista is foreseen

Seattle Times technology reporter

For most people, the normal time to upgrade to a new operating system is when they get a new computer.

Some hardware makers and Microsoft see that changing with the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.

They envision a way for more customers to move to Vista on their existing machines by upgrading specific hardware components such as dynamic random access memory (DRAM, pronounced dee-ram) and graphics cards.

"An investment in DRAM and graphics will quickly get many computers into a high state of readiness for Vista," Tom Trill, director of DRAM marketing for Samsung Semiconductor, said Wednesday at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle.

With previous Windows operating systems, fewer than 10 percent actually upgrade their PC to the next version, said Greg Sullivan, group product manager with Windows Marketing Communications.

"The vast majority get their copy of Windows on a new PC, or through a volume licensing agreement," he said.

Still, Microsoft has upgraded versions of its operating systems to serve the technology enthusiasts who want to put a new version on an old machine. Even though it's a small market, this group is strategically important to the company, Sullivan said, because they influence their friends and associates.

Upgrading to Vista — due out in fall for business customers and in January for consumers — is being designed to be easier than it was with previous operating systems, and Sullivan said the company expects to see "a significant number of upgraders" beyond the enthusiast crowd.

"It's a more viable scenario than it has been previously because of the tools that are in place" to assist with upgrading, he said.

Vista is the first Microsoft operating system to scale itself based on the amount of computer memory. The minimum requirement is 512 megabytes, but to run the snazzier display a computer needs at least 1 gigabyte.

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Last week, Microsoft introduced a test version of a program, Upgrade Advisor, to scan a computer and determine if it has the hardware and systems to run Vista.

At Samsung's booth, Trill demonstrated three computers equipped equally, except for their DRAM and graphics capabilities. The computers with more memory and better graphics cards scored progressively better on the Upgrade Advisor.

But having new silicon installed may be more trouble, and expense, than it's worth to most consumers, said Jim McGregor, a principal analyst at research firm In-Stat.

"I think that's highly optimistic," he said. "It just seems unreasonable in most cases and a lot of it gets down to price."

With computers costing in the low- to mid-hundreds, many will opt for a new machine, McGregor said.

"Most consumers realize you're almost better off sticking with what you've got — especially if it's working fine — rather than upgrading, until you upgrade your entire solution," he said.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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