Hardware makers get ready for Windows 7

New laptop and desktop designs are on tap as PC and hardware makers start tweaking components to take advantage of Windows 7.

New laptop and desktop designs are on tap as PC and hardware makers start tweaking components to take advantage of improved features in Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 OS.

Microsoft has announced many improvements with Windows 7, like support for more hardware and touch-screen applications, which hardware makers hope to take advantage of. PC makers like Dell and Fujitsu are redesigning hardware to offer more wireless networking options and touch-screen capabilities, which give users an easier way to input data or move images by simply touching screens.

Dell on Thursday launched Studio 19, an all-in-one PC with multitouch capabilities where users can simultaneously gesture with two fingers on a screen to zoom, pan, tilt or rotate elements in photos, edit playlists or browse the Web. The multitouch capabilities give users a more immersible multimedia experience than keyboards or mice would, Dell said.

Studio 19 is an early manifestation of what Dell's future Windows 7 PCs may look like. The PC maker already has touch-screen capabilities with the Latitude XT2 laptop, and a Dell spokeswoman said the company would build in touch capability across its desktops and other laptops over time.

Dell has perhaps been the most vocal in its ongoing efforts to tailor hardware to take advantage of Windows 7 features. Dell officials didn't offer further details on how they plan to further hardware tweaks, but the company sees the OS as a way to rejuvenate the slumping PC industry. Dell saw a drop in desktop shipments, while its laptop shipments were flat during the previous quarter.

Windows 7 will definitely impact the way hardware is designed, and Fujitsu hopes to engineer its hardware to implement the improved wireless communications, security and touch capabilities, said Paul Moore, senior director for mobile product marketing.

The company hopes to build improvements into laptops it sells to vertical markets and customers. Fujitsu has plenty of experience with tablet PCs and the company is definitely thinking about adding touch screens, Moore said. He didn't provide a timeline on when the company may release touch-screen laptops.

Beyond multitouch screens, Windows 7 will also recognize new hardware and is designed to work better with multicore processors and storage products like solid-state drives, a Microsoft engineer wrote in a January blog entry. For example, it will transfer data to SSDs in larger data blocks, helping sustain high data throughput from storage drives.

With that in mind, companies like HP are working with Microsoft to bring Windows 7 capabilities to their hardware.

"We work very closely with Microsoft ... and being the single largest partner, Microsoft [is] also very dependent on HP, and so before they make any change to their software they work with HP extensively to ensure compatibility with all of our products," said Fred Bullock, vice president of marketing at Hewlett-Packard.

One example where Windows 7 could fit in is HP's TouchSmart PC, which may showcase the core functionality of Windows 7 capabilities, including touch-screen support, Bullock said. HP also plans to build its own touch-screen capabilities that will differentiate it from Microsoft's touch-screen applications.

Additionally, chip makers including Qualcomm and Nvidia have already gained certification to boost Windows 7 communications and video capabilities.

Qualcomm has said its Gobi2000 3G embedded chip will run with Windows 7, which is designed to let netbooks and laptops access multiple 3G networks incorporating HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) or EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized). The chip supports improved data speeds. Nvidia also announced beta drivers for its Ion netbook platform that could bring full high-definition video to Windows 7.

The much-anticipated OS has garnered praise from beta testers, who have said it is zippier and less resource-hungry than the current Windows Vista OS. The OS has worked effectively on PCs ranging from gaming desktops to small laptops like netbooks, which are light on memory and processing speed.

But like all previous Windows releases, customers may be smart to wait in buying a new laptop till the initial kinks of Windows 7 are worked out, said David Milman, CEO of computer repair firm Rescuecom. Some customers may be impatient to upgrade as soon as possible from the failed Windows Vista, but he is recommending customers wait till the first service pack comes out, which could be in 2010, Milman said.

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