Saturday, August 09, 2008

Vista Ultimate 32-bit first impressions

This is a follow up to my first post
Making Sense of Home Theatre PCs

Last night, I experimented with Vista Ultimate, 32-bit for the first time. My intention was to use Windows Media Center to access all my digital media and to feed Media Center my Comcast HDTV connection. As I was going to install Vista on a 1.8Ghz Pentium IV with 1.5GB of memory, I knew the system was underpowered for Vista and that the install didn't have much of a chance of running smoothly.

I was correct for a number of reasons:
1) First, the Vista install did not recognized my Sil0680 IDE RAID card.
This was a bummer, as I thought I could make up for the lack of CPU horsepower by running a stripe set. During the install, Vista is smart enough to allow you to stop and look for drivers. It also allows you to search for drivers on a USB flash drive, so I found Sil 680 drivers from here:

and then copied them to the USB. However, when I loaded them on the box, Vista did not recognize the drivers as the correct drivers for the Sil RAID card. This is doubly disappointing as the Ultimate install DVD I had was SP1. Argh.

So, I had to back off and install the base OS to a regular IDE drive that I had floating around. That was problematic too, as the primary partition was not marked as active. So, I had to boot up with a floppy, mark it as active and give it a base format. Surprisingly, Vista still did not recognize the partition as usable. So, just to see if an older XP install would recognize the partition, I booted with XP. Luckily, XP did see the partition. In fact, though fdisk reported only one partition on the drive, the XP install disk saw two partitions. Strange. Using the XP installer, I deleted both partitions, created a new one and reformatted as NTFS. This seemed to do the trick and the XP install continued and installed XP.

After the XP install finished correctly, I reinserted the Vista install DVD and gave the install another shot. Because I had fixed the drive partition problems with XP, Vista now saw the partition correctly and I was able to install the OS successfully.

2) The install process took interminably long and did not give you adequate feedback about where it was in the process and when that part of the process was going to be finished.

3) ATI's All-in-Wonder Radeon 8500DV does not work with Vista.
This was also a great bummer, as I wanted to try out some of the TV functionality with Windows Media Center. Reading the install README from the Catalyst download section on ATIs website:

it seems that older card is not supported under Vista. I was hoping to take advantage of my older equipment. With Vista, again, this was not to be.

4) Vista is a resource hog.
Once I got Vista running, the OS did seem to run fairly smoothly on this low-end equipment. However, Vista is heavy:
- base install requires about 10GB with the default install selections
- memory usage is about 540MB with nothing running

So, Vista is a hog. And it is designed for the latest and greatest equipment. I would not recommend the operating system for users who want to take advantage of older equipment they have lying around. Vista just won't run it. This might be Microsoft's way of weaning old equipment off the supported hardware list. Which is here if you need it:
Vista Hardware Compatibility List

As I experiment more with Vista, I will let you know my impressions of the OS. Right now, I'm a bit saddened that Microsoft has kicked the old folks (READ: old equipment) out the door in favor for the new.

Aren't we supposed to care for our elders?

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