SAN FRANCISCO (02/22/2000) - Without proper preparation, upgrading your operating system to Windows 2000 is a lot like jumping out of an airplane without first testing your parachute.
"You need to test your equipment and make sure you're ready to jump," says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of research at the Gartner Group Inc. "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 Corp. 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 your first clue. Microsoft lists Windows 2000 Professional at a suggested street price of $319 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 Win 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 Win 2000 system requirements. The developer recommends at least a 133-MHz 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 166 MHz 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 Win 2000.
More Windows Open Soon
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.
If your equipment passes the test, you'll find Win 2000 on hundreds of Web sites and retail outlets. It's a good thing you have lots of choices, because supply is already getting tight in some places.
The price leader, Egghead.com, offers free UPS shipping with those $248.99 copies of the new OS, although its site does not list upgrade availability or pricing.
The Silicon Valley chain Fry's Electronics has the full package in stock priced at $298.95 and sells the upgrade for $179.95.
While PC Connection's site reveals that no copies of Windows 2000 Professional copies (priced at $279.95) were available, the retailer offers upgrade copies for $189.95.
Comp USA's Web site lists the upgrade for $219 and the full version for $319, but offers no listing of availability.