A practical guide to buying Win2K

"You need to test your equipment and make sure you're ready to jump," says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of research at GartnerGroup. "You jump only after you've made an informed decision."

For example, do you need to jump at all, and where are you heading anyway? Microsoft launched Windows 2000 amid much fanfare, but the newest version of the operating system is primarily intended for use on network servers.

The price is the first clue. Microsoft lists Windows 2000 Professional at a suggested street price of $US319 for the full version and $149 for an upgrade from NT 3.51 or 4.0. You may find it for as low as $248.99 (the bargain price we found on Egghead.com), but that's still a little steep if you're running a desktop system.

The high marks Windows 2000 has received for stability and performance might be enough to warrant the jump. Still, you need to check your hardware for compatibility.

Microsoft's upgrade site lists 5765 PCs that conform to the Win2K system requirements. The developer recommends at least a 133MHz Pentium-class system with at 64MB of memory, and a 2GB hard disk with a minimum of 650MB of free space. PC World's tests indicate that 166MHz or more improves responsiveness significantly.

What's more, be sure your PC's manufacturer offers Windows 2000 BIOS upgrades, if necessary. Your BIOS -- code that lives directly on your PC's motherboard and boots the computer -- describes some hardware characteristics to the operating system. It's crucial that your PC has an ACPI BIOS.

"In general, the older your hardware, the more likely there are going to be no drivers, and there might be BIOS problems," Gartenberg warns.

If you're willing to shell out for a new system, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Compaq, Gateway, Toshiba, and other vendors now offer systems preloaded with Windows 2000.

Stay with your current Windows 9x if you're happy with its stability and security, or if you mainly use your PC to play games or use it for home computing. If you are in this category, your needs will best be served by 9x's successor, Windows Millennium Edition, expected later this year.

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Alexandra Krasne

PC World
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