The Many Versions of Windows

Unlike Windows XP which initially launched with only the Home and Professional versions, Microsoft is coming out of the gate with numerous different versions of Vista to target different market segments. There's a lot to talk about, so let's first take a look at the different versions, their prices, and their features:

Windows Vista Prices
  Retail Upgrade OEM
Home Basic $200 $100 $100
Home Premium $240 $160 $120
Business $300 $200 $150
Ultimate $400 $250 $200

Windows Vista Feature Comparison
  Home Basic Home Premium Business Ultimate
Aero Glass   X X X
Mobility Center   X X X
Meeting Space   X X X
Media Center   X   X
Parental Controls X X   X
Previous Versions     X X
Remote Desktop     X X
BitLocker       X

All things considered, as the most stripped down version of Windows available to consumers, Home Basic is not really an option as too much is removed for it to be truly useful to a lot of people. While Aero Glass tends to be as much eye-candy as it is a useful feature, it does serve its purposes. This leaves most users to pick from Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate.

Given the price of the Ultimate edition of Vista - higher than any previous version of Windows - it's hard to recommend it right off the bat. For anyone that needs every last feature on a computer there's really no other option, but otherwise there's a lot of money to be saved by skipping out on a feature or two that may never get used. BitLocker is the only feature that the Ultimate edition has that no other edition has, but given it requires a Trusted Platform Module to be used - which few computers have - on its own it won't sell many copies of Ultimate. Microsoft has also released at least one other Ultimate Extra, but again most people won't want to spend the extra money for a poker game.

As for the Home Premium and Business editions, our best guess would be that it will be the Business edition that becomes the enthusiast standard like XP Professional was before it. Media Center is still an application better suited for use with a TV, whereas Business comes with Previous Versions and Remote Desktop, the latter of which is largely responsible for selling enthusiasts on XP Professional over XP Home. However, Microsoft has done a fairly good job here of splitting features between the two to entice users into buying the Ultimate edition. Business lacks the Parental Controls functionality and Home Premium lacks Previous Versions, and the only way to get both is to grab the Ultimate edition. In short, picking the right version of Vista will be about compromises, either giving up features you may want or giving up more money in order to get everything. Microsoft has also indicated that users will be able to purchase incremental upgrades to Vista, so if you start at Home Basic you may be able to upgrade to Premium and eventually Ultimate over time. Details about what upgrades will be allowed as well as the upgrade prices are not yet finalized.

It's on this note that the issue of piracy comes up, as it's a poorly kept secret that Windows XP Professional was easily and quickly pirated due to there being a version for large businesses that used volume license keys. Microsoft has since then rectified the situation somewhat with the Windows Genuine Advantage system for alerting users who are using pirated copies and locking them out of various Microsoft services like Windows Update, but nonetheless XP was fundamentally easily broken in terms of anti-piracy features. So far however this does not appear to be the case for Vista, as Microsoft has done away with VLK in favor of requiring activation on all copies, with the Enterprise version of Business using a keyserver. The lack of an immediately piratable version of Vista will undoubtedly slow its adoption compared to XP, and the Business versions' popularity will not be as lopsided.

We've also had several questions since our initial articles about what can be done with legitimate versions of Windows given that Vista has better activation controls than XP. Among other poorly kept secrets, it's known that Microsoft did not stick to the End User License Agreement for XP very well for OEM copies - while the EULA for an OEM copy of XP made it clear that it was for installation on a single machine only and tied to that machine (or rather its motherboard) for the rest of time, Microsoft has been letting XP users reactivate anyhow without trouble. As a result users who had purchased OEM copies of XP back in 2001 have continued to reuse it up through today, which is an excellent deal for them given the low price of the OEM versions spread over 5 years. While the EULA has not changed for Vista as far as this policy goes, there have been concerns and rumors that Microsoft will be clamping down on this practice.

To be fair, we have no way to predict exactly what Microsoft will do here. It's possible they will continue this policy, but that's not a good enough answer as they can change it at any time given that they control the activation system for Vista. Simply put, the only way to be sure that a purchased copy of Vista will be transferable to a new computer is to get a retail version, either as an upgrade or a full version. Going with an OEM version may work now, but it will always be a gamble on if/when Microsoft will clamp down on transfers.

The retail upgrade versions also deserve a quick disclaimer here about how they have changed since XP. Previously you only needed to prove ownership of a previous version of Windows to use an upgrade disc for a clean install, which was as easy as inserting the disc for an older version of Windows. According to Microsoft's own notes this is no longer the case; Vista upgrades work as upgrades only and a previous version of Windows must be fully installed and activated to let the upgrade install. As this requires a user to effectively install two operating systems if they have an upgrade disc, this is not a welcome change - new installations will take much longer now as the gains made by Vista's new image-based installer will be offset by the slow installation procedures for old versions of Windows. This change is a fundamentally poor decision by Microsoft. A workaround has already been found, but it still requires installing Vista twice.

More New Features The 64-bit Factor
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  • nishzone - Saturday, May 24, 2008 - link

    Hi,

    I'm glad tnat your memory usage is similar to mine and therefore I might finally understand this. You have 2 gig of Ram...I understand that superfetch is the reason free ram is 0 (cache increases as free memory decreases). But why is the memory usage 45%? so around 1 gig?

    I also have 50% usage on startup. Is vista using 1 gig memory? There is something I don't understand here because you recommended 1 gig for general users.

    Regards,
    Nishzone
    Reply
  • Dataland - Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - link

    I think Microsoft needs a performance reset. As I've said in some previous posts, I think software in general, and Microsoft software in particular, is getting slower at faster rate than hardware is getting faster. And this problem acutely affects Vista. I think Microsoft needs... (Pingback)

    Performance Reset
    http://dataland.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/performan...">http://dataland.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/performan...
    Reply
  • Kondado - Saturday, February 10, 2007 - link

    I've done my own tests. I sent the same amount of data (51 files, 2,5 GB) once from XP to Samba, then from Vista to Samba (OpenBSD). Then I did the same from XP to XP, and from Vista to XP. XP was always a LOT faster.

    I would really know if it's the drivers or the stack...
    Reply
  • jonp - Monday, February 05, 2007 - link

    It seems like the budget system area was a little overlooked in this review of Vista. So I have some questions:

    "Memory in Vista..." - It appears that acceptable multitasking performance is found somewhere in the 3GB to 4GB memory size area. Many budget systems have only two memory slots and many new ones support dual memory access. This will force budget systems to 4GB which is fairly pricey now and probably will be for some time.

    "CPU Performance..." - Your love for anything Core2 Duo shines here. But what about the dual core Pentium Ds? Like the D915 2.8GHz processor. Yes it is Netburst, but also easier on the budget than a Core 2 Duo processor. We need something more specific here in terms of benchmarks/guidelines.

    Video adapters - I didn't see anything that talked about integrated video adapters vs. VGA/PCIe video adapters. Are any of the integrated graphic engines, like Intel 950GMA provide acceptable performance for VISTA? How about older video cards? Minimum graphics memory? Graphics engine speed? Again we need more specific guidance here.

    Hard drive - You addressed hard drive performance, in a way, in the "Vista Search for Fast Drives Only" section. But again no specific device selection guidelines like: RPM, cache size, average access, size, data transfer rate, ...

    Virtualization - It appears that MS forbids the use of virtualization products with Vista Home Basic and Home Premium editions forcing budget users to more costly editions of Vista.

    Upgrade or "clean" install? - Not strictly a budget system issue; the web if full of warnings about NOT trying to upgrade to Vista --- that it should only be a "clean" install situation. That upgrading is fraught with too many pitfalls that it isn't even worth trying. And not all editions of Vista are allowed to do in-place upgrades of the XP editions; oh, and you can't do an in-place upgrade of anything prior to XP. See http://tinyurl.com/36ljxv">http://tinyurl.com/36ljxv for some upgrade details.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 05, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Even with a lengthy preview article, there is still a lot of ground to cover when taking a close look at the final release version of Windows Vista. We have attempted to create a comprehensive look at the new operating system, but even then there are still plenty of items that will have to wait for another day before we can truly evaluate them.


    Basically, a lot of that falls into areas we are going to look at in future articles. Given that we don't really recommend most people upgrade to Vista yet, the lower-end your system is the less we would consider Vista. Pretty much all of the DX9 NVIDIA and AMD cards do fine with the Vista Aero Glass UI, but IGP solutions are slower. Individual tolerance for the UI will vary; I'm sure plenty will be okay with GMA950 and Glass, while others won't want anything less than a $100 discrete GPU. Oh, and GPU drivers for Vista are still flaky, IMO. :)

    HDD, anything 7200 RPM should be fine. CPU, really with a decent GPU the requirements aren't all that much higher than XP. RAM is more important - don't even think about Vista with less than 1GB - but HDD and CPU most people with anything made in the past two years will be fine. Just my opinion there - individual usage and preferences will again play a role.

    I wouldn't say 3-4GB of RAM is even remotely necessary for most people. A few will like it, but 2GB is still sufficient for about 99% of people.

    Virtualization and Upgrades... I'll have to defer to others there. Again, I recommend discretion, so I would tend towards doing a full backup (Ghost or similar) of any system before doing a Vista upgrade. I believe Gary is about to revert his system for the time being, as Vista has just had a few too many glitches. The number of people that worry about virtualization - really intending to use it, not just for test purposes - is again very small. I think mostly we're seeing the vocal minority complaining. Still, I find it odd that MS even worries about whether or not people run the OS via virtualization - unless the glitches are aggravated by such an environment, which is entirely possible.
    Reply
  • jonp - Tuesday, February 06, 2007 - link

    Thanks Jarred...you insights are always very helpful and I am glad that these topics will get more focus in the future. Jon Reply
  • jonp - Monday, February 05, 2007 - link

    Both of the charts in the Compound TCP section for Windows Vista say "Compact" and not "Compound". Reply
  • duploxxx - Sunday, February 04, 2007 - link

    Its probably me that's missing a page or so but could you guys explain what system you used for these tests? Reply
  • funk3y - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    Hello

    I also spent some time testing the network part of windows vista, and I discovered some quite interesting things:

    Windows Vista is reducing the network I/O when an application using the audio interface is launched, I discovered this when copying large files over my network.

    When I copy large file through the network the average speed is 40 mb/sec and the taskmanager whow 30-50% of network use, as soon as I start an application playing sound (WMP, Skype, Warcraft III, ....) the rate drop to 8 mb/sec and the network use in the taskmanager never go beyond 12.5%

    I achieved those test on different hardware, with differents drivers and the results are always the same; it is just impossible to get further then 12.5% of network use while playing a sound.

    My guesses are that microsoft voluntary did this, in order to avoid sound crackling. Because of the new driver scheme, bad written drivers having to do many I/O could lead to sound degradation (I had this issue while using my raptors RAID on a NF4 board; making a lot of I/O on the disk just killed the sound quality).

    As you where streaming a film while benchmarking, you may have been in this situation. It could be nice if you could rerun some benchmark taking into account all what I have written.

    As I am already posting, here are some other consideration about DOS and vista:
    -It is just impossible to launch a DOS application in fullscreen mode! This functionnality lack can be really painfull in environnement where DOS application are still well used; I just don't understand microsoft's choice
    -I don't think that vista x64 is still able to launch 16 bit apps anymore (keep this in mind before upgrading to x64!)
    Reply
  • ministerchief - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    I have a "Corsair Flash Voyager 4Gb" usb stick and I can't use it to "BOOST" my system.

    So, how anandtech could use it ?

    Can someone tell me how to use this flash drive with the "READY BOOST" feature.


    THX
    Reply

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