Special report: Windows XP - The new Windows eXperience

This month, the launch of Windows XP fulfils Microsoft's dream of having a unified 32-bit platform. Windows NT and 2000 users have benefited from a stable operating system for years. Now the rest of the Windows world can take advantage of the same reliable 32-bit core.

Add to that an exciting new interface, a variety of multimedia enhancements, improved networking and Internet support, along with tonnes of other new features, and it is easy to see why Microsoft thinks this release is as important as Windows 95.

Getting ready for Windows XP

- Why should you upgrade to Windows XP?

There are many compelling reasons to upgrade to Windows XP. The reliability and performance improvements are more than enough to convince anyone currently using Windows 98/Me to make the switch. Add to that the comprehensive plug-and-play support, enhanced security and impressive multimedia features, and you've got yourself an operating system that is almost too good to be true.

Windows 9x users will have the most to gain by installing Windows XP, as long as their system can handle it. Businesses still working with NT4 will definitely want to move to Windows XP, but the advantages a Windows 2000 user will gain are minor.- Minimum system requirementsWindows XP is an exceptional operating system, but only if you have an exceptional computer to back it up. What the Windows XP minimum requirements mean (see the box at right) is that if you have a system more than a year or so old, you will have to upgrade it in some way or another, or perhaps purchase an entirely new computer. For more information regarding system requirements, check "Upgrading your Hardware" below.- PricingIf you decide that upgrading to Windows XP is the way to go, then you will have to decide which flavour of XP to purchase. You must decide whether to get the Home or Professional version and you must also consider whether you need the upgrade or the full version of Windows XP.

Windows XP Home is aimed at the consumer side of the market that Windows 98/Me occupied in the past. If you currently use Windows 98/Me, then you will most likely be happy with Home, while NT and Windows 2000 users will want to upgrade to Professional. To be eligible for the Professional upgrade you must currently be running Windows NT4 or 2000. For the Home upgrade, you need Windows 98 or Me.

There is a substantial price difference between Home and Professional. The price for the Professional version is $675 ($462: Upgrade) while the Home version is cheaper at $462 ($238: Upgrade).Minimum system requirements:- Pentium 233MHz
- 64MB RAM
- 2GB hard disk with 650MB free to install- CD-ROM Recommended minimum system requirements:- Pentium II 300MHz
- 128MB RAM
- 1.5GB of free hard disk space
- CD-ROM
- Internet connectionSystem requirements for business:- Pentium III 500MHz or Athlon equivalent- 256MB RAM- 10GB hard disk- 17in monitor or two smaller monitors- CD-ROM- Internet connectionSystem requirements for enthusiasts:

- Pentium III 1GHz or Athlon equivalent

- 256MB RAM

- 20GB hard disk

- 19in monitor

- DVD drive

- CD-RW drive

- Video card with 32MB video RAM

- Sound card

- Internet connection

Upgrading your hardware

- Don't settle for the minimum

No other consumer operating system has anywhere near the hardware demands of Windows XP. Windows XP relies on high processing power and large amounts of memory to provide the stable 32-bit environment that consumer and professional users want, along with the multimedia features that have been pushing consumer computing forward in recent years.

To get the most from this new operating system, you will want to strive for more than the minimum requirements. Getting Windows XP to run on a Pentium II 300 with 64MB of RAM may be an achievement, but being able to use it properly on that sort of system will be an even greater achievement.

If you have an older system with a configuration similar to Microsoft's minimum requirements, you must decide whether to upgrade. If you can't afford to upgrade then it would be in your best interest to forget about Windows XP for the time being. There is nothing worse than having the latest technology but not being able to use it properly.- How to get the most from Windows XPTo get the most from Windows XP, there are a number of hardware components that you can upgrade that will increase your system's overall performance. The most important component to upgrade is your memory. Aim for a minimum of 256MB of RAM, and if you use many programs at once, then go for 512MB.

Windows XP's multimedia features are very impressive but you will never reap the benefits if you only have a stock-standard system. A DVD-ROM drive, a high-quality video card and some big speakers will turn your humble computer into an entertainment system that will make all your friends jealous.

A decent-sized monitor is a must. Watching DVDs and playing games on a 21in monitor is much better than a 15in or 17in one. With XP's support for multiple monitors, you may even want to fork out for more than one so that you can increase the size of your desktop.

Digital cameras and video cameras are at the stage where the quality is acceptable and the price is affordable. With Windows XP, it has never been easier to transfer and store your own digital media, so there is no better time to make such a purchase.- Designed for Windows XPWhen purchasing new hardware, the easiest way to see if it will be compatible with Windows XP is to look for the "Designed for Windows XP" logo. If it has such a logo, then you can be pretty sure that it will work with Windows XP. This logo means the manufacturer has built and tested its product in line with Microsoft's specific instructions.

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Kieran McNamee

PC World

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