Of every 100 North American corporate PCs, 88 are powerful enough to run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 7 operating system, which is much higher than the 50% of PCs with the minimum specifications to run Windows Vista at its launch three years ago, according to a survey released Thursday.
Moreover, 65% of PCs are powerful enough to run most of Windows 7's advanced features, such as its Aero graphics, compared with just 6% of PCs at the time of Vista's release, according to the reseller Softchoice Corp.
PCs may be ripe for upgrades. Softchoice also found that 93% of corporate PCs are still running the 8-year-old Windows XP operating system. More business PCs are running the 10-year-old Windows 2000 operating system (4%) than are running Windows Vista (3%).
"It's pretty clear that hardware upgrade costs won't be the stumbling block for Windows 7 that they were for Vista," said Dean Williams, services development manager for Softchoice.
Softchoice collected data from 450,000 PCs between November 2008 and August 2009 at 284 North American organizations, for which it provides IT assessment services.
The greater readiness of corporate PCs to run Windows 7 reflects several things, Williams said. Despite a stalling of CPU clock speeds, PCs continued to get faster in the three years since Vista's release. And despite widespread reports that money-strapped companies have extended the lifetime of their PC hardware, "some PCs have been cycled out," Williams said.
Finally, Windows 7 is either only a little hungrier than Vista for system resources, or, if you trust many anecdotal accounts, actually less ravenous.
Microsoft says Windows 7 requires at least a 1 GHz single-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a 16GB hard drive. Vista's minimum specs: 800 MHz single-core CPU, 512MB RAM and 20 GB hard drive.
To run Vista's "premium" features, Microsoft said users needed a 1 GHz single-core CPU, 1GB of RAM and 40GB of hard disk space.
Microsoft has not given guidance on what is needed to run Windows 7's premium features. So Softchoice, a close Microsoft partner, created its own: 1.6 GHz single-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of hard disk space.
Of the 12% of PCs that failed to meet Windows 7's minimum specs, all required both a RAM and hard drive upgrade. To meet Windows 7's premium specs, 35% of PCs needed more RAM while 21% needed a bigger hard drive.
Memory and hard drives are cheap, and the upgrades can be done simultaneously with Windows 7's installation, minimizing IT labor time, Williams says.
So does that mean companies should keep their existing hardware and do the in-place upgrade to Windows 7? Not necessarily, says Williams, who notes that Softchoice's research shows support costs "tend to escalate" for PCs past the 42 month mark, making it financially wiser to buy new hardware at that point.
Williams also acknowledged that Softchoice did not factor in the PCs' graphical capabilities, provided in laptops and business PCs via non-upgradeable GPUs built into the motherboard. Those GPUs are less powerful than consumer add-in graphic cards, meaning they may not be powerful enough to run Windows 7's premium Aero graphical features without some lag or delay, he said.