Longhorn system requirements

Mary Jo’s comments about the system requirements for longhorn have been stirring up quite the discussion about the “average” Longhorn machine would be.  Robert picked this up with some insightful commentary on it as well.  And I figured I’d toss in my own two cents.

First off, Robert’s totally right about the developer machines here.  Longhorn’s being developed for the most part on 3gHz or lesser machines – my test machine’s a year old hand-me-down 2gHz P4 (no HT) with 700M of RAM.  Longhorn works just fine on it.

And it’s important to realize that we’ve barely started performance tuning on Longhorn.  There are WAY too many processes running on the system, and far too many things going on behind the scenes that suck down performance.  When we’re done, things will look very different to the way they look today.

Now, on a vaguely related historical note:

One of the reasons that Windows 3.x was so successful is directly related to the development lead for Windows at the time.  The dev lead, Phil Barrett, insisted that the dev team for Windows 3.x run on the machines that the Windows team’s customers were running.  At the time, the cutting edge machines were 33 MHz 486 boxes, the doublespeed machines (66MHz machines) were just hitting the market.  Many Microsoft developers had these machines (we tend to get new development machines every two years or so).

But Phil REQUIRED that his developers run on 386/20’s.  With 1M or 2M of RAM.  At the same time, most developers were running 486/33 boxes with 4 or 8M of RAM.  But, because the expected customers of Windows 3.x were running were 386/20’s, that’s just what the Windows development team ran.  His logic was that if the developers were forced to run the same machines that their customers ran on, then they’d make darned sure that the system ran just fine – it forced them to feel their customers pain and ensured that they’d make the system as small and as fast as possible.

In many ways, we’re still doing this today in Longhorn, but instead of looking at the machines our customers are running today, we’re running on the machines that the vast majority of our customers will be running 18 months from now.   Today, without even trying, if I go to Dell.com, I can find a Dell Dimension 2400, with a 2.6gHz P4 processor, 40G hard disk, a 48x CDROM and a 48X CDRW drive, and 128M of RAM for $599.  That’s almost comparable to my test system (I’ve got a bit more disk space and RAM). 


18 months from now, what will be the $500 computer?


Comments (18)

  1. Anonymous says:

    How long was the development cycle of Windows 3.x. Did Phil require his team use computers that the customer would be using when the product was released or at the time of writing?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Don’t know. It was more than a year though.

    Don’t forget that the pace of hardware inovation back in the late 80’s early 90’s wasn’t nearly as astonishing as it is today. Two years ago, a tricked out computer was a 1.4GHz machine. Nowadays a baseline system is a 2.6GHz machine. The machines that customers were running in 1988 were likely to be the same type of machines they ran in 1990.

    The other thing to keep in mind was that those machines cost well over $2000, so there was a huge barrier to upgrade. This was back when Gibson’s rule still applied.

    If you don’t know what Gibson’s rule was, Steve Gibson (http://www.grc.com) used to have a rule: "The computer I want costs $5000". This rule stood firm until the late 90’s when PC prices started plummeting.

    Today, with price points being where they are today, buying a new computer is not nearly as significant a purchase as it was 15 years ago.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I only ask because I rather like my main computer (4321: P4 3GHz, 2Gig Ram, 1TB HD) I hate to think that 18 months from now it’ll be the bare minimum to run Longhorn. I know you’re right that times have changed significantly in 15 years. Back then people kept their computers longer and maybe that’s the reason the transition from 16 to 32 bit OS’ took as long as it did. Does this mean that we should see a sharp decrease in the amount of time it’ll take to transition from 32 to 64 bits? If so will we need to worry about 128 bit operating systems very shortly after that (sorry, I’m taking this to extreme) like in the Blackcomb time frame?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I don’t know what will be the minimum reqs when we ship. I do know that the "$500 computer" is likely to be close to todays top-of-the-line rigs. But that doesn’t say ANYTHING about the requirements for longhorn.

    There were very clear and strong demands for the switch from 16 to 32 bit computing. Systems (and applications) had CLEARLY outpaced the 16 bit world by the early 90’s (and in the datacenter in the mid 80’s).

    I’m not as sure that we’ve yet outpaced the 32 bit world on the desktop. And it’ll take quite a while before desktop apps start pushing the limits of a 32 bit address space.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh, btw, the computers I have at home:

    My daughters: A 1Ghz P3 with 128M of RAM.

    My sons: A 1Ghz P3 with 512M of RAM.

    My wife’s machine #1: A 120Mhz P2 with 32M of RAM

    My wife’s machine #2: A 1.4Ghz P3 with 128M of RAM

    My wife’s laptop: A 2.8Ghz Pentium Mobility with 256M of RAM.

    My machine #1: A 600Mhz P2 with 256M of RAM

    My machine #2: A 2x933Mhz P2 with 256M of RAM

    I understand the feeling.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’d rather spend $$$ on software than hardware, so base the user xp on last year’s baseline. This route could only help sales. And again, it promotes devs to optimize, optimize and optimize.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s seriously disturbing that Dell is selling PC’s with 128 MB. The commit charge in Windows XP can use up pretty much all of that memory before you even start running any apps.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So longhorn is a 64bit OS. Will it still be compatable with 32bit processers?? When longhorn is release I intent to upgrade to a top of the range computer with all the bells and whistles so when it is released it hopefully won’t be a problem performance wise.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Where’d that come from (lh’s a 64 bit os)? Longhorn is a version of NT. It supports a variety of platforms, including both 32 and 64 bit flavors.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The perf team is pushing that the user experience on "XP class" machines be scaled back from the "all singing and all dancing" UI that folks like Hillel Cooperman like to demo at events like the PDC. Their plan is to deliver a very comparable user experience on the same hardware that runs XP.

    We’ll see how close things come; there’s a lot of good base perf work going on. The question is whether, like usual, more goop in the middle and top of the UX expands to suck up the headroom enabled. My team’s baseline perf testing machine configuration is a 733 mhz P3 with 256mb of memory and integrated video.

  11. Anonymous says:

    In my perception of things looking from a customer standpoint, I believe that the time and dedication that Microsoft is putting into Longhorn will make it one of the best products ever released.

    I am also glad to see that Microsoft is having you design the platform on "yesterdays" technology. I have installed Windows XP on a PII 266, with 256MB of RAM and an 8GB HDD and it has run solid for my grandparents ever since, of course with the updates that have been handed it, keeps it running well.

    One other question I want to ask… Is Microsoft going to allow development of things for the GUI such as StarDock and TGTSoft have been doing?

    Thanks again, you guys ROCK!!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have no idea Paul, sorry 🙁

  13. Anonymous says:

    Do you think perhaps this could be passed to the higher ups? As the dev community would love to know this.

    Oh, forgot to mention, I recieved the MS MVP award this year…

    KUDOS to MS

  14. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations Paul.

    I can ask around. The good news is that apparently one of the guys from Stardock is currently working on the Avalon team (see http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2004/05/23.html#a7554), so it’s likely it’ll continue to work.

    But I can’t guarantee anything.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I can understand… Plus the fact you most of you, including myself have signed NDA’s…

    Thanks though for passing it along…

  16. Anonymous says:

    I do not know if this true, but it makes perfect sense from a business point of view. Why limit yourself to high end users. I have three systems, and only one is a high end machine by todays standards, and in one to two years, it will be a medimum system.

  17. Anonymous says:

    i got a overclockt tunderbirt do 1470 with 896ram and a disk 80gb 7200 will it run with longhorn?

    mail me tommekk@siol.net

  18. Anonymous says:

    Well, I have MSDN Package and have a P4 and 512 MB of RAM. This by far doesn’t do nearly nothing — As you can imagine, I have a notebook, (which it almost seems impossible that Longhorn will even run on notebooks!)

    You again, however, could see a turn in MS by releasing a new version in the next several months — remember they have not made much on XP — people continue to use 2000!

    BTW… Longhorn is not 64 bit system…

    It’s just going to be much more graphical and much more of a different GUI.

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