posted by Stephen Reilly on Mon 12th Mar 2007 17:47 UTC
IconI have been both a Windows and Linux user for a long time (I started with Windows 3.1 and RedHat 5.1 kernel 2.0.x if I recall correctly) and have stuck with both for various reasons. I'm writing this article not as a DIY lofty vantage platform by which I can bash MS nor as a 'Why you should switched' flame bate piece, but have tried to keep an open mind and reflect the actually experience that I have had with Vista so far, regardless of OS political propaganda. Please keep in mind this is still an opinion piece and most probably to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Being a gamer, I often upgrade my PC but my AthlonXP 3200+, although really good, was swiftly falling behind the vanguard of computing and I wanted to make the leap to 64 bit (or so goes my reasoning for spending lots of money on some new kit). I decided to build a new PC with PCIe, SLi and hardware virtualisation, support so I bought a Core2 duo E6600 system with 2 GB of ram, an ASUS motherboard with nVidia nForce 590 chip set and two Geforce 7600 cards. Now that I had my new PC, It was time to look into operating systems.

The Linux part was easily solved (PCLinuxOS does the job really well for the moment) but I really wanted a good Windows system. I had been beta testing Vista 32 bit on my old PC and was actually quite impressed with the system, so I decided to order the Ultimate 64 bit OEM version (199). Three days later the DVD arrived and I was set.

A quick side note: This is the first time I personally bought a version of Windows as I was always dead set against it. For years I either copied or cracked the version I was running and always for different reasons (can't afford it, don't pay the man, because I can...) but in resent years this has become more annoying, WGA anyone? I think another reason for buying is that the older I get, the less romantic the notion of rebel becomes.

Vista's installation is a cinch and for the first time has a nice GUI from start to finish. Although it's a bit limited as far as installation options go, that was no big surprise as every other version prior to Vista has no option for any kind of boot manager configuration or installation on a non primary partition. What did strike me as strange was I could not find any optional component selection menu. I remember having the option to select which components I want during installation as far back as Win95 and although I don't remember any such option menu for Win3.1, I'm willing to bet there was one.

Having finished the installation, I created a new user and quickly found out that UAC still applies to the Admin user, a good thing in my opinion. The only issue I have with UAC is not actually UAC itself but that most ISVs have been let off the hook in Windows, at least as far as security goes, and every installation or attempt to update trigger the UAC dialog. I promptly turned it off awaiting a more Vista compatible time.

The driver situation for Vista was (and to a certain extent still is) a bit lacking as far as stable, fully functional drivers are concerned. I had a fare idea that SLi would not yet be supported buy nVidia and that I would need to wait a while to get the full benefit of my graphical hardware. Having run Linux for quite some time I am well used to driver issues and, as I like to tinker, I was not put off by this in the least. What did annoy me was the lack of drivers from Creative Labs. I have a Sound Blaster X-Fi platinum, again mostly for gaming purposes, and I swiftly found out that the only available 64 bit drivers for Vista where not only still beta but also gave me poor output. In the mean time, nVidia has released stable drivers without SLi as well as beta drivers with SLi support and both work exceptionally well. Apparently this lack of descent support by Creative is not just with Vista but also with the 64 bit version of XP. The amount of people complaining on Creative's own forum is truly amazing. I do understand that allot of this is due to a completely revamped audio framework but if nVidia can do it, so can Creative.

In the mean time, Vista 64 bit support seems to be getting there with every other hardware vendor. My Logitech cordless mouse works great with the latest SetPoint download and my MS curvy keyboard is much better supported than when I first started beta testing Vista.

As far as hard drive read, write and access time goes, I was really let down to begin with. Copying files from one partition to another, on the same disk, slowed my system right down to a crawl. After Googeling the problem, I found out it had more to do with my chip set than Vista, so I downloaded the latest drivers, which increased disk access, read and write times to what I was used to in XP.

On the other hand, the new indexing system in Vista will trash to crap out of your hard drive for the first few days and as I was still using the original SATAI hard drive from my previous PC, this soon turned sour. The limited lifespan of hard dives has never become more apparent to me as when I started hearing heavy clunks coming from my new black box. I decided to go for two 300 GB SATAII hard drives in a RAID0 configuration, something I have wanted to do since I bought my new motherboard. All is well until, after reinstalling Vista, I needed to reactivate it. The automatic on line activation failed so I needed to call their telephone activation line and as I live in Luxembourg, the closest activation number to call is in France. I called, was asked to input 54 digits divided into nine times six digit groups by a pre-recorded voice message. After this had completed, I was asked if this was to first time I was reactivating Vista and how many machines this copy was installed on. I was then put through to a customer service representative who asked me the same questions again, asked me to wait until the clearance code came through and after about 2 minutes on hold, told me their system was down and I would have to call back in ten minutes. I promptly hung up without answering.

Two hours later, having sufficiently calmed down, I called the number for Ireland (my home country) and after having input the same numbers and answered the same questions, I was put through to, for once, a really nice guy with a very heavy accent that I still can't place. After working out what we where trying to say to each other, we managed to get my system reactivated. After all that, I started wondering if it would not have been easer to just crack Vista and be done with it. I am sure other people have thought the same.

I have been reading allot about Vista and DRM and although I have had not issues with DRM so far, I am not at all happy with the path that MS chose. Wasting money on trying to restrict what people can do with what they have purchased is a crime in my honest opinion. The only positive side to this is that no matter the kind of DRM, it has always been cracked. The day that the entertainment industry, MS, Apple and anyone else involved learns this, the better.

The little things make a big difference when I compare Vista to XP. Superfetch does make the system allot more responsive. I find Aero to be more than just eye candy as it does leave the processor free for other tasks, again adding to a more responsive system. I'm sure people will think the 2 GB RAM helps but my last system had 2 GB and in no way did XP feel this snappy.

As far as software compatibility goes, all my favorite application work fine and although the selection I use is not all that large, I am still very happy with this result. Most importantly, all my games run flawlessly now that I have descent SLi support.

I wouldn't recommend a switch to Vista, especially for Linux or Mac users as you will definitely get nothing new here. For XP users wanting to go 64 bit I recommend waiting for another few months at least but for people like me who want to run one of the latest desktop operating systems you could do much worse than Vista.

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