OK, I am warning those that know me well to sit down because I do not want you to fall over when I say this: Vista is not that bad! Actually, to be perfectly honest, I like Vista. I like it a lot! Now, still keeping it real, I have installed a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate
that will time out in thirty days as I simply wanted to know if any of our equipment was up to snuff or would we be forced to upgrade our hardware across the board. The answer to that question is mixed, as I will explain in detail. I will say this though; there is no f**king way that Bill and the boys will get me to cough up $400 to install Ultimate on each of our machines. I may buy a new machine and work out a premium to move from Vista Premium to Ultimate (a price difference of about $141 retail) or I will install it on one main media machine and leave the rest on XP Professional as they are now. Anyhow, let me tell you what the install process is like.
I started with DW's machine as hers was acting up and was getting a reinstall and a transplant into a different case anyhow. I cleared a hard drive and booted off the Vista Ultimate DVD (yes, it is so large it requires a DVD to hold it all now as ALL versions are supplied on a single disc). I recommend that you do a clean install on a drive that has nothing you would be upset at losing. The install process is so much less involved than XP's; it is a welcome change from the multitude of assinine questions you are typically asked. The transfer of the files and the initial setup is the easy part of the process, as I was soon to learn. The hard part comes when it tries to initiate the video subsystem (i.e. produce a picture) and when it renumerates devices (i.e. figures out what the heck you have and the drivers it needs to install). And that is where I ran into issues.
No BSDs (blue screen of death) here. Instead, just similarly annoying pretty screen freezes. LOTS of them. I had to Google(TM)
a number of different items that cropped up. Found out that video is a big issue with Vista installs. Another one is not having any USB devices plugged in (I had an external DVD writer doing the install and had to unplug it to move forward). No matter what though, and three days of trying did not change things, I could not get it installed on a P4 2.6GHz, ASRock motherboard, 1GB of memory, an ATI All-inWonder 9700 Pro, an LG Lightscribe optical drive and a Western Digital 320GB hard drive. In no way a sloth of a system but it refused to get to the inital login screen. So, consider this a failure and move one; which we did. DW's machine is now running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005 and the Xbox 360 connects to it and sees the media files just fine.
OK, so we now had a dead media machine sitting in its aluminum Antec P160
case (mine does not have the acrylic window as seen in the link). The Asus PC4800-E Deluxe motherboard has been a bit suspect from the start and as we wanted faster conversion for the video we record (this is our PVR machine with four TV tuners), we were considering upgrading this unit to a Core 2 Duo motherboard, CPU, new memory and PCIe video card. However, that is a near thousand dollar upgrade that we simply should not (but can) do right now so I decided to try Vista on what used to be a flagship motherboard from stalwart Asus.
Andromeda, as she has been named for some time, is a large aluminum tower. It needs a new power supply as the Antec 550+ that used to reside in it had some issues on teh 3.3V rail and was causing stability issues. One thing, fellow system builders, to always keep an eye on is clean power to all system parts. Anyhow, with the P4C800-E, the machine has a P4 3.0GHz HT CPU, 1GB of Dual Channel PC400 memory, a Pioneer DVD-115 DVD-ROM, a Pioneer DVD-110D dual layer DVD writer, an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro, almost 1.8 TERABYTES of storage across five hard drives (almost all full), sound/network/firewire/usb/RAID/ are all integrated in this great motherboard, two Hauppauge PVR-500 MCE dual-tuner
analog TV/FM tuners, one DVB-TV digital tuner and all of that showing up on an HP f2105 monitor.
You would think that should be enough firepower to run Vista, right? Damn skippy! Now, while I did get the Operating System (OS) installed successfully, it was not without a decent share of issues, trials, concerns, tricks, caveats and cursing. I know you are laughing at me Famine, but you KNOW I have to try things out myself.
So, in a nutshell, Vista Ultimate installed just fine, I created my login and everything was good. I marvelled at the super clear, very vibrant visuals. The Aero interface is a marked improvement over the XP interface as much as that one was over the Windows 98 interface was. However, pretty things are typically shallow on the surface and I was to learn painful lessons very quickly. My nephew was over and I had him fire up the Xbox 360 so we could connect this as an MCE server. Shortly afterwards, it hung and I had to reboot the system. I was watching a movie clip on Windows Media Player 11 and playing with the sound level and it hung, requiring a reboot. I was performing some updates and it hung, requiring a reboot. I stopped counting after a dozen hangs and while it was annoying that it was doing this, it was not unexpected.
See, I understood going in that anything older than today's current hardware was a crapshoot at what works and what does not. Some things work wihtout issue and somethings do not. Our monitor, printer and video falls in the former category while the motherboard, sound chipset and scanner falls in the latter category. Honestly, if the TV tuners did not have Vista drivers, I was not even going to bother attempting the install on this box and would have simply forced the need for the upgrade on it. As it seems to be sitting stable (I wrote all today's posts on it and have been catching up on some old Y&R while I work in the office), I think we can safely put the upgrade on hold until after the garage sales.
So, as a final note, would I recommend Windows Vista? Yes and No. If you are buying a new machine anyhow AND ALL the peripherals you are connecting to it have certified Vista compatibility, then I say you should absolutely go ahead and get it. Enjoy the new interface (oh yeah Flip-3D is super sweet), the better security (though UAC is a PITA), better visuals and various updated pieces. If, however, you are looking to upgrade your existing system, STOP and do your bloody homework before you do anything else. You will avoid much frustration and heartache getting your new install working. Vista Ultimate, if you have a TV tuner, is the only version I consider worth the hassle but I simply do not see coughing up the cost of a stereo receiver for it. If it is a matter of adding $150 to upgrade your new system from Vista Premium, I say it is money well spent.
And just one last tweak. The $400 you may think about spending on Windows Vista Ultimate could (and should) be considered as almost halfway to the cost of upgrading to a Mac Mini Duo Core
machine with Mac OS X Leopard (10.5)
installed and the ability to dual boot with XP or Vista if you should choose (using Bootcamp in 10.4 or its integrated cousin in 10.5). The OS will have more features than Premium and about on par with Ultimate minus the MCE component but plus iLife '06/07, Core Animation and Time Machine (think Flip 3D on steroids as you "flip through previous versions of documents).