First off, I'm not one for bothering with every interim build (frankly, I have a life and lately, new builds have escaped from the pen on almost a weekly basis) and so I ignored the pre-release candidate (5536) that was doing the rounds last week. In any case, build 5536 was only available in x86 format and I've been testing the x64 flavour, as I am today.
So what's new in this build?
First off, the installation process has been tidied up a lot and now looks a lot slicker than earlier builds - in fact, this almost looks like a final release, at least as far as the install is concerned. Secondly, RC1 will not allow you to upgrade from an earlier version of Vista so if you've already got a build on your machine, then it's time to say goodbye (old installations are saved under a Windows.Old folder as in days gone by). After entering your licence key, simply select the drive you wish to install to and then go and make a cup of tea. Installation is a lot quicker than beta 2 and completed in just 21 minutes - nine minutes to copy and unpack files onto your HDD and another 12 to install various options and carry out configuration. This is a good 10 minutes quicker than beta 2 and around half the time it took me to install XP the last time I had to reload.
You now have the option to automatically activate the installation as soon as it has completed - since I'm feeling generous, I graciously concur.
Upon booting your new installation for the first time, the Windows Experience Indexer is automatically run. This tool is a lot fairer than the one in earlier Vista builds and now rates my system with a performance index of 4.1 as opposed to a previous index of 3 (which downgraded my rating due to the capacity of the primary' HDD of only 80GB - of course, it ignored the other drives I had installed). This new version checks data transfer times of your HDD instead of capacity and rates your drive accordingly - much fairer, in my opinion.
Now time to install some AV software (Avast and Trend supply free AV software for Vista) and after a definition update, it's happy and so am I.
The start menu hasn't changed much since beta 2, but now there is an option to install Windows Live Messenger, and there is also a new Email client - Windows Mail, already installed, which replaces Outlook Express.
So what else is new? Well, the flip 3D which was omitted from beta 2 is now included in the installation. This looked a little disappointing in earlier releases but anti-aliasing was added to this a while back, and whilst not perfect, it does look a lot better than some earlier builds.
My wireless network was automatically detected and the machine configured with practically no intervention from me - all I had to do was tell the software I was working from home instead of an office and everything was taken care of by the system. Impressed, I am.
The new Vista cursor set is included in this release, which replaces the arrow pointer with a shorter, wider one, and the hourglass signifying the system is busy is replaced with a spinning ring, similar to the front of an Xbox 360 when booting. No sight or sound of Fripp's riffs when booting (we're still greeted with the familiar sounds of an XP machine starting up) but at least we can turn this off - for now, anyway.
Overall, this build is much slicker than earlier ones, and it has to be said that this is now looking more like a finished product than ever. It's clear to see that Microsoft has been pulling out all the stops in the past couple of months trying to get Vista ready. The size of the image file is down to 3.7GB from the 4.4GB of beta 2, further suggesting that a lot of programming code has been tightened up.
Graphical windows are a lot snappier than earlier builds and the whole system is a lot more responsive, although that's not to say it's perfect, so here's the downside. Memory usage is still way too high at 55% when idling (no other programs loaded) although CPU usage has improved a lot and now hovers at the usual 1% or 2% mark, rather than idling at around 7% as beta 2 did.
Also, User Account Control, (a new security feature introduced with Vista which is supposed to make it more difficult for rogue alterations to the system settings) is still as annoying as ever! This feature still challenges the user at almost every turn - in addition to the usual Windows warnings about installing software which pop up when you run the installer. This combination of features popped up half a dozen times when installing Windows Live Messenger from the Start menu - strangely enough, this is Microsoft's own software and I would expect this feature to be improved by the time of the final release, otherwise I predict UAC will be counter-productive as most users will be so annoyed with it, one of the first things they will do is turn it off!
So overall, although not perfect, this release is a great improvement over earlier builds and for the first time ever, I can actually see them getting Vista finished in time for a January 2007 release.
Athlon FX55 (2.6GHz, single core, IMB L2 cache)
IMB PC3200 CL2 RAM
XT 1600XT PCI-E Graphics
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