Windows Aero refers to a new graphical user experience included in all editions of Windows Vista except Starter and Home Basic. From a typical user’s perspective, Windows Aero is a merely a color scheme that makes the GUI look glassy, essentially by applying a blurry kind of transparency to windows. Technically Windows Aero is much more than that. Windows Aero builds on the new Windows Desktop Composition (WDM) technology in Windows Vista that allows for the transparent Aero color scheme but also Flip and Flip 3D, live taskbar thumbnails, and an overall improved ‘painting’ process of the GUI. Desktop composition can use a DirectX video card to paint windows, buttons, menus, etc. instead of the slower GDI (Graphics Device Interface) that is used for the basic/classic Windows-look as found in Windows XP/98. The following image is a screenshot for several overlapping Windows and the start menu with Aero including transparency turned on.
Computers that just meet the minimum hardware requirement for Windows Vista will run the Windows Vista Basic user experience. The enhanced Windows Aero user experience will be enabled by default if the computer on which Windows Vista is installed meets the minimum hardware requirements for Windows Aero. However, being able to run Windows Vista does not necessarily mean the computer can support Windows Aero. The minimum hardware requirements for Windows Aero are:
- 512 MB system memory (RAM) + 1GHz CPU
- A DirectX 9-class graphics processor that supports WDDM driver
- Pixel Shader 2.0
- Color depth of 32 bits per pixel
- A refresh rate greater than 10 Hz
Another essential requirement is the amount of graphics memory. Although some systems with 32MB may be able to run Aero, officially you need:
- 64 MB for a single monitor at a resolution lower than 1,310,720 pixels (1280x1024 and lower)
- 128 MB for a single monitor at resolutions from 1,310,720 to 2,304,000 pixels
- 256 MB for a single monitor at a resolution higher than 2,304,000 pixels
Additionally, the graphics memory bandwidth of the graphics card must be at least 1,600 MB per second. You can determine this information by running the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor, or by running a free utility as provided by most of the popular graphic card manufacturers. Also, make sure a proper driver is installed by downloading the latest through Windows Update or the manufacturer’s site. There are many possible reasons why Windows Aero fails to enable or even disables itself. The most common problem is that the computer, typically the graphics card, doesn’t meet the minimum hardware requirements, or isn’t properly recognized. Obviously since Aero is only included in Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate, the computer should meet the hardware requirements for these editions as well.
If the computer didn’t meet the hardware requirements for Windows Aero, but you later upgraded the video card for example, you may need to update the Performance Score of the computer to let Vista know it can run Windows Aero. You can do this in the Control Panel, by opening System and Maintenance, clicking Performance Information and Tools, and select Update my score. You can also run winsat formal from the command-line to achieve the same.
A rather unique feature of Windows Aero is that it can scale back based on the actual performance of the computer. For example, if you attach a second monitor, increase the screen resolution, or painting the all the windows in the GUI requires too much memory, Windows Vista will notify the user and if necessary disable certain visual effects (e.g. transparency) or Windows Aero entirely.
If for some reason Windows Aero is not enabled automatically, or you, Windows Vista, or an application disabled it, you can enable it manually through the Visual Appearance section in the Personalization section in the of the Appearance and Personalization control panel applet, as shown below.
Troubleshooting Windows Aero
The most common reasons the Aero experience is not available is that the computer doesn’t meet hardware requirements or doesn’t use the proper drivers. But, there are also several Windows Vista settings and features that can prevent Aero from being available. For example, the Windows Vista theme (or a custom one based on it) needs to be selected. You can do or verify this through the Theme option in the Personalization section of the control panel. Another requirement is that the color scheme on the classic Appearance dialog is set to Windows Aero, as shown in the following image. (available through the Open classic appearance properties option on the Change your color scheme show in the image above).
Visual Effects performance options can also prevent Aero from being enabled. You can verify these by opening System and Maintenance in the Control Panel, click Performance Information and Tools, and then select Adjust Visual Effects in the left task pane. For example, if the user enabled Adjust for best performance, desktop composition and transparency will be turned off. You can also explicitly disable desktop composition and/or transparency by configuring custom Visual Effects settings.
Applications that do not work properly with Windows Aero and Windows Desktop Composition (WDM) in general, can turn it off when needed. You can specifically have an application disable Aero and WDM by checking the corresponding option on the Compatibility tab of the shortcut to the application as shown below. You can also disable desktop composition and configure the other compatibility settings by starting the Program Compatibility Wizard and selecting the application for which the settings will apply.
Because Windows Aero relies on WDM, disabling the latter will also disable Aero entirely.
If you verified the hardware requirements and the settings but Aero won’t run, you may be able to find relevant information in the Application log of the Event Viewer. By using the Filter Current Log option and selecting Desktop Window Manager in the Event Sources box you can display only Desktop Window Manager events (hence including Aero).