I need to know if it is possible to upgrade my Dell Dimension computer to use the new Windows Vista operating system. It has a Pentium III microprocessor. The memory is 384 megabytes, SDRAM. It has a 32-meg Nvidia TNT2 M64 graphics card and a 20.4-gigabyte Ultra ATA hard drive. The operating system is Windows 98.

- Florence Faraone, verizon.net


No. I know that was pretty curt, but it's best to take the bad news up front. As Microsoft Corp. pulls out the stops for its marketing to sell upgrades to the coming Vista operating system, millions of people with computers will share your curiosity about whether their machines have the horsepower to run the enticing new software.

Your Windows 98 machine fails to meet even Microsoft's notoriously overoptimistic stated minimum requirements. At prices starting about $150, the company hates to tell possible customers that they should not buy in.

The biggest visible features that Vista adds to the well-known Windows display deal with viewing photos, playing videos, recording and downloading music, and, of course, running the new memory-gobbling programs like Office Live that will be available along with Vista when it arrives Tuesday.

Microsoft says all these bells and whistles can be had with a machine endowed with at least a microprocessor with 800-megahertz speed, while your dated Dell languishes at 600 mHz. I'd suggest that 1 gHz be considered the bare minimum.

Speed and memory are the biggest issues with things like highly animated displays, memory-hungry transparent overlaying of individual windows, and heavy use of software running in the background.

Again, your 384 megs of RAM are below the minimum of 512 megs stated by the company. I do agree that 512 megs of memory will be pretty much sufficient, but it should be noted that Vista tends to run a lot of stuff in the background, and this can deplete 512 megs when running more than a couple of programs.

I find it bizarre, but the 20.4-gig hard drive in your clunker does meet the Microsoft minimum of 20 gigs for computers to run Windows Vista, which all by itself eats up, maybe, 8 gigs. It wouldn't take long for a Vista-enabled PC to clog the remaining 12 gigs with temporary Web files, photos and music.

Worst of all is your old-fashioned video card with 32 megs of memory on board. While the official Microsoft specifications say any SVGA card will do, testers have found that it is all but hopeless without a separate video card with its own memory and the ability to run the DirectX 9 graphics software built into Windows. As to video memory, consider 128 megs or even 256.

To summarize: Windows Vista needs a PC with a 1-gHz chip or better, and a 60- to 80-gig hard drive is all but essential. Be particularly sure that the video card has a stiff amount of memory of 128 megs or more, and I'll wager that those who try to get by with 512 megs of RAM soon will find themselves at Best Buy's memory counter for an upgrade to 1 gig or more.

Reviving a drive that has flopped


How can I restore my floppy drive to usefulness now that Internet Explorer 7 has trashed it?

- Jacqueline McElfresh, yahoo.com


It's never wise to say the word "never" when poking around with Windows problems, but I've never heard a peep about floppy-disk problems caused by the new IE 7 Web browser, and it's hard to see how the newly designed browser could have any impact on the floppy drive.

It's more likely that you've developed a problem with the floppy drive built into your computer. Most new computers do not even come with floppy drives because CDs have taken over. But there is a hearty marketplace where one can buy a floppy drive that connects to a USB port rather than the built-in connection used by those 3.5-inch floppy disk drives.

You can get one of these drives at most computer stores or from outfits such as Amazon.com, where prices ran between $17 and $31 when I checked.

Got a question on personal technology? Send a note to Jim Coates at askjimcoates@gmail.com. Questions can be answered only through this column, which originates in the Chicago Tribune.