With its first public beta of Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008, released last week, Microsoft coincidentally highlighted one of the reasons why Windows Vista adoption figures have remained near-nonexistent in the enterprise - its expensive hardware requirements.

One of users' gripes with Vista is its significant memory needs - a minimum of 1GB for all versions except the bare-bones Vista Home Basic.

It's one thing to compare this with the memory requirements of, say, Windows XP, Linux or Mac OS X. But a more relevant contrast is at hand: Windows HPC Server 2008, also known as "Windows for Supercomputers," which can run on 512MB of memory.

The new server software is aimed at the growing high-performance computing (HPC) market, with its stringent performance needs. It is designed for efficient HPC clusters, such as the 2,048-core production test cluster Microsoft used to test-drive the software.

It is the successor to Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, and is based on Windows Server 2008. Microsoft is recommending it for high-throughput applications such as service-oriented architecture (SOA) web services.

Vista, on the other hand, is intended for home and office desktops. On top of the 1GB minimum memory requirement, Microsoft recommends 2GB or 4GB to achieve the best experience.

Microsoft explained that Windows HPC Server 2008 also needs additional memory to perform at its best. "The minimum hardware requirements for Windows HPC Server 2008 are similar to the hardware requirements for the x64-based version of the Windows Server 2008 Standard operating system," the company said in a white paper on HPC Server 2008. "Windows HPC Server 2008 supports up to 64 GB of RAM."