You've waited for the first Service Pack update, and now you can upgrade to the newest Windows for business. Mmm . . . Windows 2000. Tastes great, less filling? Not quite. It may be the most stable Windows yet, but it has an appetite for hardware. You might have to kiss your 486, Pentium I or even Pentium II goodbye. To really get the most out of Windows 2000, make sure your hardware is up to the task.
Don't be fooled by the name Windows 2000. It's not an update to Windows 98, which will be replaced by the Millennium Edition (ME) next year. Win2K is actually the next step up for Windows NT 4.0 and is best suited for networked offices. It comes in three versions: Windows 2000 Professional for workstations; Windows 2000 Server for servers; and the heavy-duty Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, targeted at dotcoms.
For Microsoft's official stance on how much computing muscle you'll need for Windows 2000, go to www.microsoft.com/windows2000/upgrade. The minimum requirements are: 133MHz or higher Pentium-compatible processor, 64MB RAM and 2GB hard-drive space with 650MB free. That doesn't sound too bad, does it? Except that we've been burned by Microsoft minimums before. To see if your older desktop can limbo under the requirements, visit Microsoft's Windows 2000 Hardware Update page (www.hardware-update.com)-or, better yet, ask its manufacturer.
The MB and MHz aren't the only concerns. Microsoft recommends that you check your BIOS for compatibility. If you try to install Windows 2000 with an incompatible BIOS, "your computer may stop working properly." See the instructions for checking your BIOS at the Hardware Update page, visit your computer manufacturer's page, or, if you have a no-brand machine, check with the motherboard manufacturer.
Don't forget your peripherals and software. Follow the "Check Hardware and Software" link at the Microsoft Windows 2000 site (www.windows2000.com). Download and run the Readiness Analyzer before you install Windows 2000. You might be able to prevent some unpleasant surprises later on.
Now we know what Microsoft says. What are other people saying? The Council on Computing Power (www.rammatters.com) recommends 128MB RAM for Windows 2000 to run properly. That alone sounds like a lot, but then they go on to say, "For heavy multitasking and graphics use, 192MB or 256MB is ideal." If you rely on Abobe PhotoShop, Adobe Premiere or Sonic Foundry Sound Forge, you may want to pop the hood on your desktop and soup up the memory.
At the Council on Computing Power's Windows 2000 site (www.rammatters2000.com), we found this ominous statement: "The fact is, anything much slower than a Pentium II-300 with 64MB RAM is going to feel like it's mired in mud when running Windows 2000." What were those "minimum" requirements again?
You older-PC owners who are brave can struggle through a Windows 2K upgrade if you like, but buying a new system with Windows 2000 already installed may be better. Consider that the retail price for Windows 2000 Professional is $319 ($219 if upgrading from Windows 95 or 98, and $149 if upgrading from NT 4.0). If you're going to spend that much money, only to find you need more memory, hard-drive space and even a processor upgrade-a new sub-$1,000 PC may be a better value. And a pre-configured machine takes care of hours of dirty work.
For those of you into networking multiple computers, one Win2K option is to purchase a legacy-free set of desktops. One of the top examples in this area is the ethernet-ready Compaq iPAQ Legacy-Free (www.compaq.com). Although it looks svelte, the iPAQ is designed for business and network environments. With Windows 2000 installed, the iPAQs start at $499 with an Intel Celeron 500MHz processor, 64MB RAM (at least) and a 4.3GB hard drive. IBM's Netvista (www.ibm.com) and Hewlett-Packard's e-Vectra series (www.hp.com) are similar small-profile business machines with a Windows 2000 option.
Windows 2000 may not taste like your cup of tea, especially if it's just you and your computer and not a whole office full of business machines. In that case, you might try waiting for Windows ME. Hardware requirements won't likely be quite so stringent-we hope.