Vista Whoas and Woes

Finally, after 4 years of hard work, one of our trusted workstations finally gave in and decided to die on us. I guess the pre-Core 2 Duo Prescott processor couldn’t handle the workload any more (running PhotoShop CS2, Premiere CS2, Firefox, Opera and a host of other programs at the same time isn’t exactly kind on the processor). So we were forced to get a new system, and with it came the inevitable transition to Windows Vista.

I’m one of those guys who has an aversion for adopting new and untested technology no matter what it is. And when it came to the new Microsoft OS I would rather have waited for the first Service Pack to come out before making the transition. After all there are always some major kinks that have to be sorted out before any new OS can be considered completely trustworthy (something that rings true even in the “infallable” Mac world as the latest release of Leopard has shown). Thus my policy was simple: I’m not switching to Vista until I get a new computer. And with the death of our old workstation my hand was forced.

After installing the new OS and getting the new computer up and running I have a few thoughts and realizations (I’m sure I’ll have more later on – the system arrived on three days ago) that I’d like to share – some good, some bad.

The System Itself
First off I just want to describe the system itself so you get an idea of the baseline. My wife who uses this computer does a lot of video editing, primarily for her lifestyles blog Dabbler.ca . Knowing this we decided to go for an Intel Core 2 Quad processor (the Q6600 I believe) . The system also boasts an ASUS P5K se motherboard, 4gb of ram, two 500GB Western Digital hard drives and a monster CoolerMaster power supply. The only thing we cheaped out on was the graphics card so instead of the store recommended GeForce 8800 we went for a GeForce 8400 with 256mb RAM. Considering we don’t do any 3d gaming the 8800 would be a colossal waste of money and we saved over $360 on the smaller card (which retailed for an astonishing $69!).

The computer came fully assembled but without any software installed. I had three discs in my hand: Windows Vista Home Premium OEM, the ASUS motherboard system disc and the graphics card drivers.

Installation
Installing Vista took a mind-bending 10 minutes. This was quite surprising – installing XP on my old system took at least 4 times as long. And apart from my moronic accidental choice of Canadian French as the system language (which took me almost 20 minutes to rectify – guess I should have just started from scratch) the install was completely unproblematic and went smoothly. Once the OS was up and running I inserted the ASUS disc and installed all the drivers (onboard audio, networking etc). This required two reboots which were done by the computer – I could have just left the house but it only took 7 minutes to complete. Once the networking was in order Vista started downloading updates but the download and install of these was putting a negligible load on the computer and I could easily move on to the next steps. Installing the graphics drivers was just as easy and once installed my weird monitor setup was immediately recognized and set up properly. In XP I always had trouble calibrating the two monitors (one ViewSonic and one LG) but this was all done automatically. I don’t know if I should credit Microsoft or Nvidia for this but it was impressive none the less.

Graphics
This brings me to an interesting point: When Vista came out I read and heard a lot of complaints about how you needed a supercharged graphics card to run all the fancy new visual effects and such. This just isn’t the case. Like I said, the graphics card in this computer was a $69 GeForce 8400 and I had zero problems running the full Aero interface with all the bells and whistles AND rendering out Premiere video while having both PhotoShop, Firefox and numerous other programs in the background.

I did encounter one weird problem with the graphics that took a while to rectify: For some reason the video monitor in Premiere was severely aliased causing all sorts of crazy strobing and line effects in the output. This problem did not appear when playing back video in Windows Media Player or any other application which lead me to believe it had to do with the graphics drivers. After some fiddling I found the problem in the way the graphics card was set up. Because Premiere utilizes the graphics engine in the graphics card to render previews the card needs to be told Premiere is to be considered a 3d application even though it’s not. Once this was done the aliasing problem disappeared.

Networking
Once the system was up and running with all it’s components it was time to install all the external components we have. Most importantly we run a NAS drive as a server and this needed to be set up immediately. The 500GB Western Digital NetCenter comes equipped with a small program called WD EasyLink which I installed from it’s disc. The program went in and went active with no problems and the little WD icon appeared on the bottom right hand side of the screen as it should. On my XP machines I had to mount the two volumes on the drive by mapping them in My Computer so I did so without really paying attention only to find that Vista had already done it for me so I now had two links to each of the drives. Because I’m a curious guy I uninstalled the app and reinstalled it to see if Vista really did find my drives for me and I was pleased to see it did. This bodes well for future expansions of my server system. I will further explore the networking capabilities and functionalities once I find some extra time.

Drivers
Another thing people have been complaining about has been the lack of working drivers and incompatibilities with existing programs. I installed all the programs from the previous system (Adobe Production Studio Premium, Macromedia Studio MX2004, Microsoft Expression Suite, Firefox, DivX and a pile of other nicknacks) without running into a single issue. I am curious to see what happens when I try to install Nero Burning Rom 6 which already had some issues in XP.

The only driver problem I encountered was in installing our Canon N670U scanner. The Vista driver on the Canon site would not open properly and Vista just spat out a message about the archive being corrupted. I tried downloading it several times with the same result. Then I remembered that I’ve seen a similar problem before and I downloaded the scanner driver from a different country’s site (I believe it was New Zealand?). Not surprisingly this driver worked perfectly and the scanner turned up as a TWAIN source in PhotoShop.

Dual Monitor Problem
As I said before the system has two monitors. And with that comes one problem that makes absolutely no sense to me at all: When you right-click on something that is resting on the left-hand monitor, the menu appears in the gadgets bar on the right hand side of the right hand monitor. This problem is persistent and only applies to the secondary monitor. Needless to say it is quite annoying, especially when dealing with drop-down menus. I’ll need to do some further research into whether or not this is a screen driver issue or a bona fide Vista glitch.

Other Hardware
It took me a little bit of time to figure out how to mount and format a blank harddrive on the system – all the menus have changed and things are not where they “ought to be” but the integrated search function made quick work of figuring this out.

All my external components (WaCom Tablet, camcorder, several external hard drives etc) were identified and installed without any fuss.

The only thing I still haven’t figured out is the ReadyBoos function. The computer came with a special high-speed 4gb ReadyBoost USB drive that I plugged in when I fired it up for the first time. I vaguely recall setting up something with it but I was too busy figuring out exactly how the new OS worked to really pay attention. Now I can’t find any reference to ReadyBoost in the help files and I’m a bit lost. I’m sure it just requires some minimal research but here again is that time issue. I’ll get to it eventually.

Conclusion
Overall my first impression of Vista Home Premium is very good. I did not encounter any of the problems I thought I would, all the software and hardware works perfectly and I’ve not seen any plug-and-play issues as of yet in spite of the non-standard setup. I’m sure I’ll have more to say in a week but for now I am very pleased with the transition.