Sunday, 9 September 2007

Install Windows Vista (any edition) – Is it a good idea?

My definition of a successful clean install:

  1. Accomplished within the minimum possible time
  2. All devices work
  3. All software installs and works
  4. No loss of personal data
  5. All maintenance tasks are automatic
  6. System optimized for best performance
  7. Reinstalls will require a fraction of the initial amount of time

Several scenarios are possible, depending on your specific needs:

  1. Install Vista and start using it as it is, any applications and tweaks will be applied in the future on an "as needed" basis: fair enough, it will take some 30 min
  2. Install Vista with all your apps and system tweaks, you don't plan to repeat the process on another machine: approximately 10 hours depending on how many and which apps you need. A reinstall will take 3-4 hours
  3. As above, but you plan to repeat the procedure on several PCs: 15-20 hours. Subsequent installs will take 5-6 hours.

The one major factor that prolongs installation time and makes it into a long suffering is problems that occur during the installation process. Most of these can be avoided though. In the case of a Vista (any OS really) install, the following check-list is a must

-Hardware: does your hardware support Vista?

  • The PC as a whole: the manufacturer's web site will give an indication, I highly recommend googling for some reviews and user feedback
  • Any attached peripherals: web cams, printers, USB flash drives, external hard drives........... Same as above: check manufacturer's web site and independent reviews and user feedback.
  • Hardware requirements (real world, not MS defined)

    -CPU: AMD or Intel, but Dual Core. The AMD platform is still cheaper, the latest Intel CPU are faster and don’t run as hot as they used to.

    -Motherboard: tough choice! There’s a plethora of them out there in a wide range of choices. The most important question is “What do you plan to use the PC for?”. If you are into movies and music and intend to hook the PC to a wide screen HDTV and watch protected content.....don’t get Vista. The work around where you pipe in the sound to the graphics card for HDMI output in Vista has the added twist that you can no longer use the PC speakers.

    -Memory: 1GB of RAM. Anything less and you're in for a very frustrating experience.

    -Graphics: get a good card that supports DirectX 10, but beyond that.....all the fancy HDMI/HDCP stuff comes at a premium cost and “allows for playback of high definition content on HDMI enabled devices”. Emphasis on “allows”: it will play, but if you are a true media type you won’t enjoy it as the video might be what you expect, but with all current implementations the sound part takes a hit. The only reason to pay the extra money for this kind of feature is if you already have a top of the line HDCP compliant TV which you want to hook up to your PC (most of them don’t allow video display if the source is not also HDCP compliant)

    -Sound: most sound cards will work in Vista. More advanced features like echo cancellation and EAX won’t. Partly re-written architecture, mostly DRM-related, it’s going to be a while before more advanced features will work in Vista. Soundblaster’s Alchemy is the only software that often/almost works, and is only available for high end cards.

-Software: make a list of all the apps you use and repeat the steps above for each of them.

-Personal data: is it recently backed up? Is the backup readable from within Vista? A "user files backup" should include documents, music, pictures, video, but also mail folders (mails, contacts), favourites and user names/passwords for various sites, various kinds of digital certificates, licenses and serial numbers for proprietary software, personalized settings for applications that allow personalization, saved games.

At this point you might face some hard choices, if all your hardware and software is not Vista-compatible. In most cases there are workarounds or a newer edition available. The first option might result in loss of functionality, performance or both. The second might prove expensive. If installing Vista is still an option we will start gathering the various bits and pieces necessary for a successful installation in my next post.