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Windows Vista on a "Mature" Notebook

by Drew Dunn
2007/03/27

Originally, this was going to be a guide to installing Windows Vista. I had some grandiose plans for screenshots, step by step instructions and a whole list of doís and doníts. It didnít come about, though, for one simple reason Ė the whole process was so easy and fast that it just didnít warrant an installation guide.

If youíve installed any previous version of Windows, youíll remember a number of dialog screens, many reboots and, possibly, a lot of frustration over finding the right driver for your peripherals. Part of that is because previous versions of Windows came on a single CD, with compressed files full of the various bits and pieces that it takes to create an operating system. Those files had to be copied to your hard drive, then expanded, put in the right place, then configured. Vista takes a different approach.

The big difference, obviously, is that Vista comes on a DVD. Right off the bat, Microsoft gets the opportunity to put a lot more data on the media Ė and they do it in a pretty smart way. Vista doesnít contain a bunch of CAB files, nor is there any difference between the different versions of Vista installation DVDs (other than the label). Instead, a complete disk image is on the DVD Ė it merely needs to be copied to your hard drive. Everything is there, but you only get the features that you paid for. If you bought Vista Home Basic, all of the Vista Ultimate features are installed, but the product key that you enter only unlocks the Basic features.

That makes two things very easy. The first is the installation. Itís short, itís sweet and itís simple. The second is upgrading. Want to go from Vista Home Basic to Vista Home Premium? Just purchase the upgrade, type in a new product key and your system is instantly upgraded. No new media, no risk of data loss, no wasted time.

Now that Iíve convinced you that the installation process is easy, perhaps the question at hand is just how easy is it? In my case, I installed Vista Ultimate on a two year old Toshiba Satellite M45. Itís a solid, middle of the road system with a Pentium M 1.8GHz processor, a 75GB hard drive, Intel 915 chipset and 1GB of RAM. You can get a much better system for the same price that I paid two years ago, but this one is still pretty competent. It originally had Windows XP Home Edition installed.

To upgrade XP Home to Vista Ultimate, you pop in the DVD, wait for the installation window to pop up and tell the system to upgrade. And then realize that there is no upgrade path from XP Home to Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate. A fresh install is required.

Microsoft recommends that you backup all of your data before the installation. I recommend that, too. The installation will not erase everything on your hard drive, but it does clear out the Program Files folder and may axe everything in your My Documents folder. I just backed everything up and forged ahead. Thatís when it got easy. Everything in my system was detected and drivers were installed. The whole process took about 45 minutes, including the time to backup the hard drive. About the only real decision that I was faced with was to select the version of Vista that I was installing.

Once installed, Vista completed the registration process by checking in with Microsoft, then downloaded a few updates from the Windows Update server. I installed my application software, copied my data back from the portable hard drive that I used as a backup device and I was finished.

Except that Vista was painfully slow. Excruciatingly, maddeningly slow. And a quick look at the Performance tab of the Task Manager showed why Ė Vista was using 65% of the available memory to do nothing. And as soon as I launched any application, the memory use pegged and the system started swapping.

Thatís not a good state to be in, so I shuffled down to the store and purchased another 1GB of DDR SDRAM, bringing the total up to 2GB. And that helped. A lot. The system memory use dropped to around 40% and it became the snappy, responsive notebook that I was used to.

Now, in terms of software, I use Microsoft Office, iTunes, a couple of CAD programs, Firefox and a few other common programs. They all work just fine, just like they did with XP. But not all programs work. Nero version 6 does not, however, Ahead Software has released a new version that does. Most of the proprietary Toshiba programs did not work with Vista, although I can honestly say that I never used them, so I really donít care. Also, my antivirus software required an update Ė XP compatible versions will not work with Vista.

Hardware-wise, Vista needs memory. 2GB seems to be a reasonable amount. Vista also demands a fairly high end video card to allow access to all of the features that the Aero interface provides. Suffice to say that the integrated graphics adapter of the Intel 915 chipset does not support Aero. This isnít really a problem with Vista as much as it is with the lack of the proper driver from Intel. Also, based on some forum posts and a bit of information on Intelís web site, it may be that the chipset simply isnít compatible with Aero, so Intel has no plans to update the driver to enable support.

At the end of the installation and hardware upgrade, and after a few weeks of using Vista Ultimate, I had to ask myself if the upgrade was worth it. Were there advantages that Vista had over XP? In the end, I have to say that itís a wash. Vista does offer some features that donít come standard in XP, but that can be had from third party programmers. Aero was a non-starter, obviously. I had to spend some extra money to upgrade my hardware. On the positive side, the Windows Media Center has a nice DVD player. There werenít any particular problems with the OS, but nothing really stood out, other than a slightly different, more ďMac-likeĒ interface. I honestly have a hard time recommending that you run out and purchase a Vista upgrade if your hardware is more than a couple of years old. I canít recommend against it, though, because, fundamentally, thereís nothing wrong with Vista. In the end, I was left a little bemused because Vista seems a little less like a ground breaking, all new version of Windows and a lot more like an incremental update to Windows XP. But if youíre buying a new system and it comes with Vista, or with a choice between XP and Vista, then I donít have any problem recommending Windows Vista.

 

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