Even though Windows Vista will run on lower-specification PCs (it’s fine on my ThinkPad T40 with 512MB RAM), once you add a few applications (like Office 2007), it really starts to bog down and I was struggling recently with 1GB RAM on my work notebook (it’s been fine since I added another gig). If you also run virtual machines (e.g. for product testing or demonstrations), then its not long before the requirements for physical RAM run up against the limits of a 32-bit address space.
Last week, my colleague Alistair (soon to be an ex-colleague as he’s off to Conchango – where I used to work, proving that the UK IT industry is a very small world!) was raving about the Corsair Flash Voyager USB drives. Not only are they shock and water-resistant, but the GT model is ReadyBoost compatible, meaning that if you need a bit of extra RAM in your PC you can plug in your USB key. USB will be slower than on-board memory, and other ReadyBoost compatible drives are available, but the Flash Voyager GT is heralded as one of the fastest such devices available today. Even better, the ReadyBoost memory is a separate address space, so you can exceed the 4GB limit for a 32-bit architecture.
There’s a useful ReadyBoost FAQ at Tom Archer’s blog.