Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vista RC1 and RC2: Impressions

Over the last couple of days I've installed both vista RC1 and RC2 at home, and today installed vista RC2 at work. Here's a quick brain dump of my thoughts about various things that have cropped up: Except for where I explicitly say so below, RC1 and RC2 are pretty much the same.

Aero Glass (fancy graphics):

My home machine is an Athlon 64 3200+, with 512 RAM, and a Radeon 9700 graphics card w/128Mb. The graphics card is the main thing that gets hit by aero, and in RC1, aero wasn't enabled by default after the install. A quick look at the control panel to turn it on, and it was fine. I really liked it. Sure, it's just eye-candy, but who said computers have to be ugly? All in all I was very happy....

HOWEVER: RC2 decides that I need 1 gig of RAM to enable aero. I haven't been able to find any overrides as of yet. This is stupid. Someone at the Microsoft marketing department has gotten their nose into this or something, because I KNOW aero runs fine on this machine with 512 RAM, having just run it the day before. W T F.

Minor gripe: The "flip 3d" thing they have is useless. It offers less usefulness than just the standard alt-tab. To add to the blogosphere whining, why didn't they just verbatim rip Expose from the mac?

The Vista Basic Theme (low rent graphics):

You could just download a theme from deviantart or elsewhere for windows XP, and you quite literally wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It's debatable as to if this theme is uglier than the default XP theme, it's certainly not much  better that's for sure.

Performance (superfetch smart memory management and caching)

This is a bit strange, but overall I was suitably impressed. Example: When I'd play Warcraft III on windows XP, quitting would bring a 30s to 2 minute "crunch", while everything got paged around the place. On vista, with identical hardware, it's much more responsive

Think of it like this:
In XP, when you load a large program, it gets loaded into ram, then 100% of your CPU/HDD resources are free for use. When you quit, or do some other memory intensive thing, the system takes a dump for a while to sort all itself out.
In Vista, when you load a large program, it gets loaded, but only 95% of your CPU/HDD resources are free, the other 5% are used by superfetch tinkering away in the background - which means that when you quit (or other memory intensive thing), all the stuff it's done in the background pays off and your system just runs a bit slower instead of just falling over.

Programs which you never run take about the same time to load, and basically everything performs the same. Frequently used stuff like firefox loads MUCH more quickly, even though...

Memory usage (oh noes! those horrible background tasks!)

From (my admittedly fuzzy) memory, a vanilla install of XP RTM would use about 90 meg of RAM. Post installing SP2, it would use about 180. After I did the customary beatdown of all the unnecessary services, it'd use about 120 megs.

Vista seemed to use about 300 megs of ram post install. After the services beatdown, it got down to 200 meg (not counting disk cache of course). Aero adds about 50 meg to this. However, the system overall seemed just as responsive as XP did - This is basically a testament to how good superfetch is, but vista still whores teh RAM.  Hopefully it won't be quite so bad when they RTM it, but I'm not holding my breath.

As an aside, this is probably why they don't let you run aero on a machine with 512 RAM - 300 for vista + 50 (at least) for aero doesn't leave much for applications. I can see the reasoning behind it but how about instead of disabling aero on low-ram systems, however there definitely needs to be an "I am not a retard" switch, so that I can use the free ram I got by turning off all the useless background crap to run aero. As I said earlier, I KNOW aero runs fine on this PC. WTF.


I didn't test this on RC1 because I didn't have the memory stick then, but on RC2 I am using an entire 1GB usb2 memory stick for Readyboost. I can't provide any actual numbers or anything, but from my very limited experience, it seems to make a noticeable difference in responsiveness. I'm very happy with it, and I'm usually picky about these kind of things.

PS: Note I said "responsiveness", not "performance". Stuff still runs the same, just those "Crunch" moments like when you load firefox or alt tab out of a game or other "beat the crap out of the pagefile/disk" moments are a whole heap better.

PPS: No, adding 1 gig of readyboost to a 512 MB system still doesn't let you run aero. bastards.

Other neat things

I had mp3's playing, and upgraded my graphics drivers without rebooting or even skipping a beat in the mp3s. It thrashed for a while, the screen went black for a second or 2, and presto new graphics drivers. Seriously impressed.

Being able to type arbitrary commands, like "net stop server" into the search box in the start menu, and into the explorer address bar is awesome

Windows explorer and media player now use the same format for album art as itunes, which is sweet.

The new task manager/performance stuff is great.

And the winner is!

Overall, I'd have to say my favourite part of vista overall thus far would have to be the new windows explorer. I like the new clickable address bar format. The revamped 'documents and settings' thing is so much nicer. The customizable 'favourite links' panel is great. The searching and filtering is brilliant. The new start menu is insanely good.
Oh and not to mention the facts that a) it doesn't hang when you try access network shares, and b) if you're copying/moving/deleting a bunch of files, and one of them fails, it carries on with the rest instead of just falling over like a useless pile of crap like XP and everything before it did. I could go on for hours. I love it. A million points to the shell team at MS.

And the loser is!

This is so cliché I know, but user account control sucks. I agree with the principle in theory, but it's implementation just seems to suck.

On the one hand you have some of the things like when you copy a file to a "restricted" folder - you should get one popup asking for confirmation, but you also before that get a dialog warning you that if you continue you will be prompted for confirmation. They could quite literally rewrite it to the following text: "If you try and do this, we will annoy you with another dialog after this one, are you sure you want us to pop the second dialog so you can click yes and be annoyed"

On the other hand you have things where it just doesn't kick in. If I use explorer to copy and paste a file to a "restricted" folder, it pops me for confirmation and succeeds. If however I drag/drop the file, it just fails with 'access denied' and no prompt or way to get around it. It seems to have no awareness of things other than explorer in some situations too - I can't save files from firefox to some places; doing things from the command prompt pretty much just doesn't work, etc.

IMHO, it looks as if they haven't actually implemented UAC as part of the windows OS or API, they've just made administrators into restricted users, and made explorer dick around with permissions when it launches applications. My recommendation? Turn it off like everyone else, and wait another 5 years, maybe MS will get it right next time.


Vista overall is worth upgrading from XP. I don't know how much I'd pay for it, but it definitely is an overall improvement and there doesn't really seem to be many other downsides apart from the odd piece of software here and there. Almost everything runs just fine, and it's rock solid stable. Just remember to turn off UAC :-)

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