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How Microsoft Vista will cope with the real world

First INQpressions Not all roses in the garden
Wed Sep 06 2006, 12:29
FOLLOWING on from our earlier piece about Vista build 5600 - otherwise known as RC1, we bring you part two which details what to expect when configuring and using the OS in the real world. As this is the x64 version and the software is still in beta, it's not all roses, although hopefully some of the information contained here will be of use to people who want or need to get ready for 64-bit computing.

So what else have we discovered with this new build?

First off, I told you that RC1 was memory-hungry, right? Well, not only that, there is a minor bug in the software in that if you let the system manage the size of the pagefile, it doesn't allocate enough hard drive space. Best to go in and adjust the pagefile size manually. It's no big deal, but it will ensure you're not bombarded with messages about the system running low on virtual memory.

Other areas of interest include:

Playback of home movies and video clips is quite straightforward and little has altered here (although WMP11 sure looks purdy when running under Aero). I have yet to find 64-bit versions of the most popular codecs, but this wasn't necessary as the x86 ones I tested worked fine (and I tested a great many). Win32 emulation performed flawlessly and allows the x64 bit version of Vista to use all of the most popular x86 codecs for playback. I experienced no lags or jagged playback, and the system remained responsive at all times.

Cyberlink's PowerDVD version 7.0 steps up to the plate and provides playback of DVD movies, and you can even download a free, 14-day trial version from their website.

One area that is still lacking support is CD/DVD burning. Yes, Vista comes with basic support for burning to disk, but it doesn't have anything near the sophistication of Nero or Roxio, so no encoding dvds for now - although I'm sure the guys are toiling night and day to get a new version out that works with the x64 build of Vista (you are, aren't you guys?)

Another thing you may want is a good disk defragmenter. Vista comes with a built-in defragger that schedules itself to run in the background when your system isn't busy. It will analyse your disk but tells you nothing about the state it's in, only if it needs defragging or not. So, if you're like me and want to know exactly which drives are fragmented and by how much, you'll want a version which is a bit less of a wallflower and a bit more forthcoming with information. The main players do not yet have a version that works with the x64 version of Vista, although they have recently released updated versions which work with the x86 builds. Fortunately for us, there is a small, no-frills defragmenter available from Auslogics, It works fine - and as an added bonus, it's free!

Found new hardware tries to install drivers

Most people will have a device or two that will need a driver update, and as is the case with Windows XP x64 edition, these need to be specifically written for the x64 version of the operating system. This new build of Vista comes supplied with a whopping 1GB of drivers for the most commonplace hardware, but even so, it still didn't have a driver available for my trusty old Epson CX3200 all-in-one printer/scanner/copier.

Fortunately, Epson had created a 64-bit version of the driver for this hardware when Windows XP x64 edition came along, so we can use that one. In fact, a lot of the drivers written specifically for XP-64 will work with this new version of Vista, although you may find a lot of them are unsigned and as such, Vista refuses to load them.

As there is only room for one control freak on this rig (and it ain't the OS!) Microsoft have added the ability to turn off the enforced driver signature checking via the boot menu (press F8 for advanced boot options). Doing this lets Vista allow you to load the unsigned driver for your device. BCDEdit (a command-line utility to control how the OS boots) also used to have an option to disable the requirement for signed drivers, but this has now been removed as of RC1.

My only other piece of hardware which Vista couldn't configure during the install was my TV capture card. This was acquired in spring (an HVR1300) and I am still waiting for the manufacturers to supply some x64 drivers. Fortunately, they have a rough workaround on their website which enables you to load some modified drivers, but even so the inf file needs modifying to get them to load and you still have to turn off driver signature checking - this is not only beyond the scope of the average user, but is a ridiculous method for anyone to have to resort to, in my opinion.

If you like speaking to people face to face when they're on another continent, then I suggest searching the web to see if there are drivers available for the webcam you have in mind. Looking around various forums, webcam support seems to be a bit of a mixed bag, with only certain manufacturers providing drivers or workarounds. Checking the manufacturers' forums is usually a good place to start when looking for some help, as are the various independant websites dedicated to 64-bit computing.

And that brings us to a downside to Vista x64 - the need to search for drivers and the modifications that you may need to carry out in order to coax the operating system to accept them. The blame for this cannot be laid at Microsoft's door, in my opinion. Windows XP x64 edition (final) was released over 16 months ago and was available as a beta well before that in order that manufacturer's could compile x64 versions of drivers for their products. As noted before, many XP x64 edition drivers will work on Vista x64 with little or no modification, so why are people still having problems installing certain mainstream brand webcams, tv cards, sound cards etc - not just in Vista x64, but also under XP x64 edition, which has been a mainstream product for well over a year?


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