I've seen a handful of comments in the press lately about what kind of graphics hardware will be necessary in order to run the new Windows Aero UI features on a Windows Vista computer. So as an experiment, I thought I'd take a few minutes and price out some hardware over on newegg.com to see how much it would really cost to put together an Aero-capable configuration. Obviously there are many different systems out there that will run Aero just fine, but I thought it would be interesting to price out the lowest cost system I could build.

Here's what I found:

Product Description Total Price
POWMAX 3304 BK Black All metal construction (SGCC) MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 230W Power Supply - Retail
Model #: 3304 Black
Item #: N82E16811145003
$34.99
Intel BOXD945GTPL Socket T (LGA 775) Intel 945G Micro ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
Model #: BOXD945GTPL
Item #: N82E16813121294
$99.99
Intel Celeron D 326 Prescott 533MHz FSB LGA 775 EM64T Processor w/ Execute Disable Bit Model BX80547RE2533CN - Retail
Model #: BX80547RE2533CN
Item #: N82E16819112207
$64.00
Patriot Signature 1GB (2 x 512MB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Unbuffered Dual Channel Kit System Memory Model PSD21G667KH - Retail
Model #: PSD21G667KH
Item #: N82E16820220070
$77.82
Seagate U Series X 20 ST320014A 20GB 5400 RPM IDE Ultra ATA100 Hard Drive - OEM
Model #: ST320014A
Item #: N82E16822148051
$30.00
Subtotal: $306.80

Just over $300! Not a bad buy... of course you'd have to BYOKMD, and the hard drive is on the small side, but plenty of room for basic tasks like creating office documents, browsing the web and sending email.

So lets say we added a $129 graphics card, bringing the total to $435.80...

SAPPHIRE 100145 Radeon X1600PRO 512MB GDDR2 PCI Express x16 Video Card - OEM
Model #: 100145
Item #: N82E16814102652 $129.00

What does the better graphics card get you? Better performance in a number of scenarios:

  • In window management scenarios, having more local graphics memory means that the system can handle having more windows open simultaneously, and drive larger displays. You'll see better responsiveness when you move a window or use Flip3D and have more windows open at the same time.
  • Better performance when using applications that make use of your GPU. These could be traditional Direct3D based applications like games, or Google Earth, and also new applications developed using Windows Presentation Foundation, like Microsoft Codename Max.
  • Improved video playback when watching video encoded using any format that benefits from hardware accellerated decoding.

Does this mean  you need a super-high end graphics card to run Aero? No. The system described above uses baseline integrated graphics that are built in on the motherboard, and will run well for traditional Windows scenarios. You will however definitely see much more tangible benefits in the experience of using Windows as you scale up to more powerful graphics hardware with larger amounts of faster local video memory.