NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Future Perfect: Microsoft's Spec for Your Next PC
It's great. Here's why

by David Coursey, Executive Editor, ZdNet AnchorDesk, April 2001

ANAHEIM, Calif.--What's the perfect PC for the "experiences" promised by Microsoft's forthcoming Windows XP operating system? That's one of the topics Microsoft is talking about with hardware developers here at the company's annual Windows Hardware and Engineering Conference, which ends today.

Microsoft has developed a set of guidelines and recommendations for PC manufacturers seeking to label their machines with the Windows XP logo. These aren't finalized yet, but I want to share them with you so you can consider them when purchasing your next computer.

Some of the items I've listed are requirements and others are mere recommendations or best practices; for simplicity's sake, I have made no distinction between them. Interestingly, while the "PC Design Checklist for Windows XP" includes just about everything else, I see nothing about processor speed. I guess "faster is better" goes without saying.

The hardware design goals are to create a PC that excels in a number of areas, which give you some idea of the design goals for Windows XP itself. The guidelines and requirements are intended to create a PC:

  • You can live with: Always available.
  • For creating digital experiences: Photos and video.
  • That brings it all together: The hub for digital devices.
  • That makes it happen: The best appliance for entertainment.
  • That helps build stronger relationships: Real-time communications.
Following are the specifics of how Microsoft wants hardware manufacturers to help it accomplish these goals:


  • At least 128MB of system memory, plus 32MB or 64MB (recommended) of video memory.

  • The system must not display any BIOS text during start-up and must meet these start-up times:
  • Cold boot to desktop in 30 seconds or less.
  • Resume from hibernate in 20 seconds or less.
  • Resume from standby in 5 seconds or less.
  • A sleep button on the keyboard suspends the PC.
  • An off button on the front of the PC that hibernates the PC.
  • A power-off button on the back of the PC. Laptop battery life must support playing a feature-length DVD or three hours of typical application use.

  • The system includes at least four USB ports, with two on the front panel or keyboard for user convenience and two on the back of the PC. A built-in USB hub is recommended.
  • The system includes at least two, and preferably three, IEEE-1394 FireWire ports for high-speed devices. Mobile devices need only one. Three are recommended for desktops, however, with one port on the back of the system unit.
  • The system does not allow end-user access to expansion bus cards. This means users will no longer routinely open their PCs to add peripherals.

  • Supports 3D DirectX 8.0 features.
  • Graphics subsystem includes a digital video interface (DVI) connector, allowing the user to add a flat-panel display with the assurance of a good upgrade experience.
  • Minimum 1024-by-768-pixel screen resolution; 1280 by 1024 is recommended. Monitor is a flat-panel display.
  • Flat-panel display cable integrates USB and 1394 connections at the monitor for an uncluttered desktop.
  • Monitor integrates other components, such as speakers, cameras, array microphone, USB hub, and so forth.

  • The system includes a 10/100 Ethernet adapter that, for desktops, must include "Wake on LAN" capabilities.
  • Microsoft would like DSL or cable modems to be available as options on build-to-order systems.

  • High-performance hard drive, at least 40GB. CD-RW and DVD playback devices included.
  • A combo drive is recommended. (I prefer systems with dual drives for easy dubbing.)

  • A quiet PC, never more than 37 decibels, so the machine is welcome in kitchen, bedroom, and living room.
  • No noise during any supported sleep state. Ultra-small enclosure.

  • Many of theses guidelines, like a powered USB hub, are included in other guidelines. Here are some of the others:
  • Flatbed color scanner included with system. Photo-realistic printer included with system. USB Webcam included with system.

  • System includes two speakers and a subwoofer. System includes a microphone or headset for voice input.

  • HDTV tuner card included. Graphics subsystem includes TV-out capabilities.
  • Obviously, creating a system that meets all these specs will come at significant cost -- thus most of the really expensive items, like the HDTV tuner, are recommendations rather than requirements. Microsoft says the main obstacles in creating low-cost "value PCs" will be the 128MB memory requirement, improving power management to make the computer "always available," and complete support for plug-and-play devices.

    Since Microsoft wants PCs to carry the Windows XP logo, there will be some give-and-take, and the requirements won't end up being so high-end as to create only high-dollar machines. But I thought you'd want to know what the ultimate Windows XP box would include.

    Click here to return to top