Monday, April 14, 2008

Microsoft Vista - An Update

Last week I posted a little rant about my dismal failure to get Microsoft Vista running on my new computer. An update is in order.

I've already 50% apologized to a friend at Microsoft. Let me explain . . .

As you'll recall, I had struggled to even get the Vista Installation DVD working, as it kept crashing early on. I had to replace the $30 video card I bought with a $200 one that was Vista-compatible. Once that was done, you can imagine how much my heart sunk when I still had exactly the same problem!

So then I installed Windows XP. Everything appeared to be fine with it and thus I naturally laid all the blame with Vista. But strange things soon started happening with XP too! For example, I could get the blue-screen-of-death to occur every time I tried to copy more than a few files. Let me summarize my thoughts when this happened: #*!%#!^%$!%#@$!

But as many will attest to, "stubbornness" is my middle name, so there was no way I was going to give up. I sought technical help via e-mail from the local store I had bought it from, NCIX.

Their advice was prompt but I found it odd. The tech said to "increase the voltage going to the RAM (memory)". Huh?! Why on earth should I have to tinker with such a thing on a brand new computer?! I was skeptical and frustrated and told them so. But they insisted that I try it. So I did.

First I raised the voltage to +0.4 Volts (above normal). Windows XP started but then immediately got locked into an error. It trapped it without crashing but then the error repeated endlessly. So I reduced the voltage to just +0.3 Volts. Voila, everything worked perfectly! I lowered it again to +0.2 Volts and it still worked fine, though when it went down to +0.1 Volts it started malfunctioning again.

In hindsight this actually makes sense. When you do something that requires more memory, like copying files, literally many more transistors in the RAM need to be activated, thus more power is needed. Think about plugging a string of Xmas lights into the wall. Fine. Add a second. Fine. But if you keep on adding more - 5 strings, 10 strings, 20 strings of lights - eventually so much power will be needed that the circuit breaker will be thrown and all the lights will go out. Windows was acting like that circuit breaker.

Once I knew that XP was working, I decided to try installing the 64-bit edition of Vista, all of its patches via Windows Update, and even the newly released Service Pack #1. Note: I did this installation with some inside knowledge given to me by the NCIX tech: there must be less than 3GB RAM present during initial installation; after that a special patch has to be applied. If the 4GB I have had been present then it would have crashed ... and I would have never known why. In fact, the voltage issue was perhaps a blessing in disguise because if XP had worked perfectly then I probably would have foregone installing Vista. A vivid reminder that sometimes short term disappointments are necessary for longterm happiness.

And boy am I happy! The computer has run perfectly ever since! The Vista interface is slick and absolutely beautiful. The computer is much more responsive than my old Pentium 3.

Where I think Microsoft went wrong with Vista is two-fold:

  1. Implying in their marketing literature that it would work well on older computers. The fact is, it won't.
  2. Not fixing the huge number of bugs that Beta-users must have brought to their attention.
My guess is that marketing won out over the technical group at Microsoft. This is an absolute danger for any technology company. Perhaps one day an insider will write a book about what really happened with Vista!

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