Trick or treat...64-bit drivers?

Trick or treat...64-bit drivers?

Summary: Halloween is only a week and half a way, but I got my own treat this week (and just a few too many tricks for my taste).

TOPICS: Processors, Hardware

Halloween is only a week and half a way, but I got my own treat this week (and just a few too many tricks for my taste).  The treat was particularly cool...I got myself a new laptop and, since I managed to build it into a student loan for the masters program I'm in, I went pretty high end.  17" screen, dedicated video, Core 2 Duo, 2 gigs of RAM, the works.  I tracked this badboy all the way from China (Go Fedex!  4 days from Shanghai, give or take an International Date Line crossing) and sent one of my Introduction to Computers students racing to the main office as we watched the Fedex truck pull into the school.  She came back grinning with a laptop-sized box from HP and we turned the unveiling into a class party (and a lecture on the benefits of 64-bit computing).

This was actually the source of considerable excitement for the geekier among us, since the Core 2 Duo processor allowed me to run 64-bit Windows (and 64-bit Vista and 64-bit L'Unix) and eek out every last little bit of performance those little silicon cores could muster.  I'd just ordered the laptop with XP Home since I had copies of both 32- and 64-bit XP Pro and wanted to save a hundred dollars and change.   

Some of you probably know just how naive I was.  In my defense, 64-bit enabled processors are not toys with which we readily get to play here in K-12 Ed Tech.   So I blithely go home, break out my Windows CDs and get to installing.  Should I have verified the availability of 64-bit drivers?  Of course.  Should the attractive teenagers not plunge into the dark and foreboding woods in search of axe murderers in your average horror film?  Probably not.  But it wouldn't make for much of a story if any of us showed common sense in these scenarios.  Besides, the sticker below the keyboard said Windows Vista Capable.  That's all the encouragement I needed to wipe out that lame Home install and go 64-bit!

As you may have guessed, I ran into a couple of snags. XP doesn't have built-in support for SATA drives, so you need a special utility from Intel during install (f6flpy64.exe, by the way) from Intel to get the setup to even recognize your drives (you know that F6 option at the beginning of Windows installs?  It's for SATA, too, not just SCSI and RAID as the little message suggests.)

My particular video card didn't have any 64-bit drivers either.  800x600 on a 17" widescreen is heartbreaking, so this was almost a deal breaker.  Fortunately some clever folks over at  pointed out that Nvidia (manufacturer of my particular card) used the same driver architecture for all of their cards and were kind enough to modify an inf file to enable 64-bit support for all recent Nvidia cards.  This didn't exactly thrill Windows, which noted that the driver was unsigned, but since I'm now typing this at 1680x1050, I can live with that.

I still don't have audio either.  I haven't found a hack for that chip yet and I think I need another beer before I start looking for my Ethernet driver (wireless works, so who cares?), but at least I'm running, after too many hours fiddling with a brand new laptop. 

So what's the moral of the story?  Marc Wagner has said it repeatedly in his Vista posts.  TEST, TEST, TEST!  Get your copies of Vista, 64-bit or otherwise, find out what drivers and utilities you have, need, or can't get, and TEST!  The first few times you do this, make sure that you have an Internet-connected computer next to you with a floppy drive and a CD-burner.  There's lots of help floating around the Net, but if you can't access it, this might be a lot more challenging. 

All this cost me was a few nights and a few beers to keep frustration levels in check.  Obviously these kinds of unforeseen difficulties can be a lot more troublesome in for IT staff, teachers, and students out in the real world.

Topics: Processors, Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Maybe the good folks at Novell can help you out.

    Hrothgar - PCLinuxOS User
    • Inches away...

      Believe it or not, as I was hassling with all of this (and still don't have sound, but do have one hell of a fast PC), I almost broke out a Linux distro. If I didn't need some specific Windows admin tools and a few other Windows-specific apps, I probably would have made the jump already. SUSE's still looking pretty sweet - sure would like to hear something coming out of those big Altec Lansing laptop speakers. We'll see how things go - bluetooth is working at least.

    • Novell & 64bit? That's funny!!

      Novell doesn't make a 64bit Client... Not for XP Pro or for Server 2003... Heck, they don't even make a 32bit client for XP HOME!!!

      see their own page on this:

      Our school purchased 2 labs of XP 64bit machines for our higher end labs (CAD/CAM & Multimedia) and then ended up DOWNGRADING to 32bit XP because Novell sucks... I can only hope that someday our Network Geeks will retire and we can get some new geeks that know Windows Servers instead... Maybe then they will become compliant with all our other issues too!

      (BTW, our network was down for 4 days last week after Novell's latest 'patch' - even the geeks FROM Novell couldn't figure it out!!)

      Maybe SOMEDAY they might...
      • Novell & 64 bit

        Likely, they were not referring to the Novell client but rather to installing the 64-bit version of SUSE Linux in it's desktop incarnation. I'm currently using SUSE Linux Enterprise for Desktops 10. So far, I've been able to find the drivers I've needed. A much better experience than with Windows XP 64 bit which seems to be in the same boat as Windows Millennium when it came to driver support. No one wants to support an orphanned operating system.

        As for a client for XP Home? You do notice the Home in the name? Check out the hoops you have to jump through to allow a XP Home laptop to make minimal use of the resources of a Win2k/Win2k3 domain.
      • Actually, YOU suck...

        Novell NetWare 6.5 (OES) supports NFS and CIFS natively, so you don't need a client on your workstation.

        as for servers being "down" - maybe your network guys shouldn't be hired from your Windows group:
        Dave P.
  • Isn't computing fun?

    I always do this too -- I get a brand new toy and forget to go to the manufacturer's website and download all the drivers BEFORE I blow away a hard drive!

    The last time I did this in a BIG way, five minutes later my wife's water broke (she wasn't due for nine weeks) and what started out to be two hours without a working PC in the house turned into two weeks! (My son is SEVEN now.)

    If your wireless is from Linksys, you may have a wait on your hands. They have no publicly available Vista drivers (and there is no public beta) for their wireless cards -- all they will say is 'wait'!
    M Wagner
    • Linksys

      Although the older Linksys cards use a broadcom chipset, which both vista and XP x64 both support out-of-box ^_^
      • Wireless was no problem...

        That was something that actually went right - I was online wirelessly long before I found the 64-bit driver for my wired connection. Now if I just had sound :) I keep waiting for a patch to the M$ UAA (since I think that's the problem, although if anyone else has a clue, please talk back), but I'd hate to wait for Vista to be able to watch a movie without closed captioning on my 17" widescreen.

  • Buy a mac?

    You are telling a story about buying a BRAND NEW computer and you can't get audio or correct video without hacking the thing. You shouldn't have to "test, test, test" basic functionality. There are enough real issues and cutting edge features that we would all prefer to hear you spending your time.

    I'm not trying to sound like a troll here, but it's kind of hard not to say something when I can bet that the new MacBookPro users are not going to have any issues with the drivers on their new 64 bit laptops.
    • Good topic

      I'm sure Macs are way ahead in the preparation of the 64 bit drivers, configuration, etc. when it comes to OEM out of the box packages. Sure, it's a big 'ol pain in the butt to take a system configured for 32 bit and re-invent the wheel by going to 64 on that same exact system but I'm sure more and more PC manufacturers will have 64-bit ready consumer units ready to go in time. It's just market conditions - the demand hasn't been enough to make it financially compelling to create those packages for most consumers. They are out there though - especially for business/IT, of course.

      Having said that, I'd rather run a non-Mac OS on a PC box in 64 bit vs. the alternative from the cookie-cutter Macintosh camp.
    • Brand New

      These are stories of upgrades, NOT BRAND NEW computers. Of course if these were bought retail of course they would work out the box. We "Windows" users tend to be tinkers mix this with that and see if we get more bang for our buck. See how much real "tweaking" you can do on a MAC hardware wise. Windows for all its complexity is still pretty decent at dececting hundreds of thousand different pieces of hardware by hundreds of manufacturers. Lets see your Mac do that. Im am not a Microsoft "fanboy" but the Mac users petty attitude that apple is so much better than ibm compatible is almost becoming insufferable! If you like a Mac enjoy... we like to tinker and try new things with different hardware, software, operating systems. let have our gripes among ourselves we just need to vent sometimes. Find a MAC forum and gloat amonst yourselves how blissful an exsistance mac users have. Thanx in advance
    • Macs won't even run essential software.

      Anyone running a small business needs vertical industry software to work with vendors and clients. This software is only rarely available for Mac OS. So the Mac platform is a useless toy unless you use one of the clumsy solutions to run Windows on a Mac platform. Then you still need the drivers.

      And where is the 64 bit OS for Mac?
      • News Flash!

        OS X has been 64-bit for YEARS, and even if you aren't using the exact same enterprise software, chances are that you can get a Mac version that will play nice with your Windows machines. I'm not sure which "vertical industry software" it is to which you're referring, but you can always either:

        a)dual-boot with Boot Camp, or;
        b) use Parallels Desktop for virtualization.

        The question, however, was fairly ridiculous. Ever since Apple started using the G5 the Macs have been true 64-bit machines, and there have been 64-bit versions of Linux since before Microsoft thought of it.
    • Re: Buy a Mac?

      I thank you all for being so polite, I'm not trying to convince the whole world to switch to a Mac. I use one at home, but it's all PC at work, and I'm fine with that. I agree that there is a long list of business software that doesn't run on Macs.

      And it is not an upgrade, the second sentence of the story is "The treat was particularly cool?I got myself a new laptop and, since I managed to build it into a student loan for the masters program I'm in, I went pretty high end." It all just seemed like a lot of effort to get a brand new piece of equipment to work, that's all.

      And the MacBook Pro is 64 bit now and the OS supports 64 bit applications too.
      • You're right...but I just couldn't resist

        the call of the latest and greatest. I also figured that this would make for an easier upgrade to, and good test for 64-bit Vista, which I hope will have tolerable driver support.

        You're entirely correct, though - This was a lot of work and Apple has supported 64-bit out of the box for a while now; they certainly have that leg up on M$. I'm actually repartitioning my drive this weekend to see how 64-bit SUSE stacks up, too, but I need too many Windows apps to look at Mac. We'll see how things fall out with Vista.

        • Good Luck

          I hate to say it, but I am actually waiting for Vista to come out before I buy my next Mac. I figure I might as well get something that can truly run both platforms successfully.
  • 64-bit drivers are just the beginning of the headaches...

    Let's assume you actually do get all the 64-bit drivers you need for your machine. Which I did, in my case, as nVidia is a leader in 64-bit support for its nForce platform. Not only do you need 64-bit drivers, and they all need to work right (mine didn't, as there's a problem in the video driver that it won't recover from standby mode, and the trackpad goes haywire when you're typing on the keyboard and accidentally press it with your palm among other things) you also get to have two Program Files folders and get to guess at which one has your 64-bit and which one has your 32-bit apps in it. You also get to have two Internet Explorers, one 32-bit and the other 64-bit. If you also like to use Mozilla, you get to have two of those as well. And then, if you decide you want to use the 64-bit version of your favorite browser, all its plugins and/or ActiveX controls have to be 64-bit too - like all the essential Macromedia plugins, which don't exist in 64-bit land yet. Including Windows Update. And for the handful of games that have been rewritten to native 64-bit, there's either no performance increase or it's actually slower than the 32-bit version (such as the disappointing case of UT2004).

    In short, there is absolutely NO reason to bring all this hell down on yourself for a desktop or a laptop computer. There currently exists no "killer app" for the desktop which requires so much memory that you need a 64-bit machine. It only makes sense for seriously powerful servers with 8, 16, 32GB of RAM and beyond - unless it's a web server, in which case all your ISAPI filters have to be 64-bit too, and most aren't!! Save yourself the agony, it's just not worth it.
  • You need to look in the right place...

    <shameless plug>
    PlanetAMD64 is the premier website for 64-bit computing and contains the largest 64-bit driver database on the Net. You would have been able to find all that you needed there. Trust me. I own the place.
    </shameless plug>
    • Not quite everything...

      Actually I should have plugged you myself...I found a number of drivers and utilities out there at PlanetAMD64. Still no sound, though - I found lots of potential fixes if I had ATI components, but none for my Nvidia/conexant components. I'd shamelessly plug you some more if you can get me working sound :)

      Great site, by the way, and by providing the resources you do, hopefully more folks will adopt 64-bit and OEMs will follow right after.

      Chris Dawson
    • Not the point

      I think the point to the article is that he even HAD to look
      elsewhere to get a brand new laptop to do what it was supposed to
      do. This is unconscionable. BTW I have one of the Apple 17"
      laptops running Windows both in a VM and booting natively. I don't
      need a PC laptop.