My 7-step Windows Vista reliability action plan

My 7-step Windows Vista reliability action plan

Summary: Here's how I plan to transform the troublesome Windows Vista into a stable platform suited to hard work.

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TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft
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Over the next few weeks I'm going to be building a brand new quad-core PC (two, actually) that will both run Windows Vista.  I'm also going to be taking my current main Vista PC off the grid, wiping it and re-applying Vista.  These three systems are going to be 100% work horse systems.  Not systems to experiment with Vista on, not systems to crap up with beta software and junk, not systems that I want to have to be hand-holding on a regular basis. 

So how do I plan to transform the troublesome Windows Vista into a stable platform suited to hard work?  Well. I'm going to take what I've learned of Vista over the many months that I've been using it (and watching others use is) and put this information to work for me.

So, what's my action plan?  Well, before I tell you what it is, let me tell you what it isn't. 

  • It's not giving up on Vista and moving back to XP.
  • It's not giving up on Vista and moving to Linux (simply not an option for the work these systems will be doing).
  • It's not giving up on DIY systems and buying a ready-made system (if I'm going to go down that avenue I might as well buy a Mac - one of the things that I love about the PC platform is the ability to build a system to suit my specification, not the specification that suits an OEM).

OK, with that out of the way, here's my Vista reliability action plan:

  1. I'm resigning myself to spending money to fix problems Most Vista problems come down to dodgy hardware or software.  The quickest and easiest way to solve these problems is to junk any problematic hardware or software and take the opportunity to upgrade.  Since I'm not moving to a 100% Vista PC Doc HQ, there's always going to be a happy home for incompatible stuff.  Since these systems I'm building are work horse systems it makes sense to spend the money now to get them working right.
  2. Start with a blank hard drive Forget upgrading and transferring setting from a previous version of Windows.  The only reliable way to set up Windows Vista is to start from a blank hard drive.  This is nothing new; it's been the same as far as I'm concerned for all previous versions of Windows.  Upgrading a flaky OS just leaves you with a new flaky OS.  Just delete the partition and start from scratch.
  3. Scope out drivers in advance One of the main source of grief for Windows Vista users is drivers.  Installing one dodgy driver onto your Vista system can transform it from having Fort Knox-like strength and integrity into having the stability of a house of cards.  I'm relying on four things to make sure that the drivers I use will be stable: - Time is on my side:  Vista's been out for a while now and most of the good hardware and software vendors out there have their act sorted out enough to have come out with at least half-decent Vista-compatible code by now. - Past experience:  After months of using Vista I've got a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't. - Check for Vista compatibility:  If it doesn't say Vista compatible on the box, it's not going into my systems.  Period.  There's a lot of cheap junk out there and cheap junk usually means cheap drivers, and cheap drivers lead to a town call "Headache," not somewhere I want to be. - Experiment:  I'm going to set up a testbed system to check out the affect that hardware and their associated drivers might have on the system. 
  4. Keep it simple Tweaks and crazy customizations can be a lot of fun and can allow you to squeeze a few percentage points of additional power of activate a dormant feature, but they're also a very bad idea if what you what ultimately is stability.  These new systems will run with the minimum of tweaks and customizations - to put it simple, any change will have to be justified on the grounds of usability.
  5. Sensible security I'm not going nuts on security either.  I'm going to keep this simple by installing an all-in-one package such as Kaspersky Internet Security 7.0.  Eventually my plan is to shift all firewall, antivirus and antimalware duties to a separate appliance, but for the time being I'm happy with the protection that Kaspersky offers.
  6. Image the system regularly One of the best magic spells that you can have against having to reinstall is having an image of your system handy.  In the event of a problem you can go back to an image that you know is good and reload it over the top of your hobbling system and get it back working again.  The key to making an image system work is separating out OS and applications from data so that you can create system images that are separate from data.  I already do this so it's not a problem.  
  7. Make greater use of virtual machines Virtual machines are a very good thing.  A good way to avoid trashing your main OS installation is to have a number of virtual machines running a variety of operating systems.  You can take the free Virtual PC 2007 route or spend some dough and buy the far more versatile VMware Workstation.  I intend to make use of both.

Thoughts?

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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220 comments
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  • A bit over the top

    Your article implies that you have to go to extraodinary lengths to run Vista reliably. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While many of your steps are valid ways to improve the experience you are setting a false preception.
    ShadeTree
    • Only #7 is over the top

      The others are pretty sensible for any system builder. Especially scoping out the hardware for their driver support.

      Even with a stable XP there are certain pieces of hardware that just won't play nice with others. For instance, I built an XP machine in which the combination of the video card and NIC I used caused the sound card to not work. Changing the sound card did nothing to solve the problem, but if I changed the video card or NIC to another brand, everything worked fine.
      Michael Kelly
      • Pretty common problem...

        I ran across the same problem twice. Both times were from friends of mine getting broadband for the first time and installing the free nic sent to them as part of their installation package.
        jasonp@...
      • Would be interesting to install a non-Windows OS...

        ...to see if the problem was unique to Windows or the hardware configuration. I assume this is past tense so you cannot experiement?
        ye
        • Yes it is past tense

          Funny though because I only just retired the thing a few weeks ago (after having replaced the NIC years ago of course). And yes it did run SuSE Linux (8.2 or 8.3, I forget) with no problems. It was an IRQ conflict, which I believe was caused by poorly coded drivers. As far as I know properly coded XP drivers have no business having IRQ issues.

          Anyway since off-the-shelf computers and laptops are now more than powerful enough for my needs I don't waste time and sweat building my own anymore, so that solves that problem I guess.
          Michael Kelly
          • Ah the good old days. IRQs, DMA, I/O Ports...

            ...expanded memory, extended memory, upper memory, high memory, segmented
            memory, 640KB, 384K, QEMM, HIMEM.SYS, loadhigh. Real mode, protected mode,
            ISA! Sigh. Seems boring these days :-)
            ye
          • Er.. "Good old days"..?

            [b]IRQs, DMA, I/O Ports...
            ...expanded memory, extended memory, upper memory, high memory, segmented memory, 640KB, 384K, QEMM, HIMEM.SYS, loadhigh. Real mode, protected mode, ISA! Sigh. Seems boring these days.[/b]

            Just because that stuff seems to be "extinct" doesn't make it so. Some of it actually is - DOS based stuff like QEMM, Himem.sys, ISA and Real Mode are, of course, toast. But all current versions of Windows operate in "protected mode". The difference: Windows makes a lot of things more or less transparent because it automatically configures everything for you via the "magic" of plug and pray...er..play...

            If you delve into the Device Manager and dig deep into the properties of each bit of hardware, you'll still see things like IRQ settings, DMA (if applicable) and i/o ports (as applicable)...
            Wolfie2K3
    • Shadetree, what color is the sky in your world?

      You are obviously biased. By refusing to even entertain the prospect that there may be some problems with Vista, you eliminate the possibility of even a modicum of credibility.

      Pick up your screwdriver and get back to work.
      Michael Of Atlanta
      • Huh?

        [b]You are obviously biased. By refusing to even entertain the prospect that there may be some problems with Vista, you eliminate the possibility of even a modicum of credibility.[/b]

        I dunno.. I never read anything in that post that suggested there were NO problems with Vista. He never said anything of the sort. He DID, however, suggest the article in question made it seem a bit too dramatic to get a box running properly with Vista. And to a degree, I have to agree with him.

        A bit over a year and a half ago, I built a Vista compatible box in anticipation of wanting to do the Vista beta. I used off the shelf components, nothing too extravagant. And everything worked on the first try.

        How I managed that feat - before there were Vista certified components? Simple. I read the specs and planned out my build. I bought components that met the recommended specs. Nothing over the top, nothing dramatic. Just common sense.
        Wolfie2K3
        • My only beef...

          I'm okay with some of the stability issues. In fact, I have found Vista to be pretty stable. However, there is one thing that really makes me crazy. I have a new computer (Dell 1501, 2gb) and I can not get most USB devices to work. I've even resorted to Microsoft support on this, and no joy. I honestly don't think the problem is the obvious conclusion that the drivers are not available, as most of these devices are new. I think there is some funk in my installation. I upgraded my system from XP, which I have since learned is a bad idea. I am to the point of formatting the hard drive and doing a virgin installation. Unfortunately, I do not have the option to go back to XP as this computer has been designated as our Vista testbed. Besides, I really like Vista. I just wish my devices worked with it. Please don't ask me to be specific as I have done so multiple times in the past and not gotten any resolution.

          Whew. A good vent is an excellent way to start the day! :)
          Michael Of Atlanta
    • Vista Problems Are Over The Top

      Why bother? Stick with Windows Xp. It does everything Vista does, uses less memory, costs less money, and has much less overall overhead.

      Or just try linux. Personally, I like Mandriva, Suse, and Fedora.
      chessmen
      • I would love to use Linux if...

        if only the programs I use would work on Linux. I did not spend a small fortune for programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, MS Office Premium, MS Streets & Trips, Quickbooks Pro, Alk Copilot Laptop, Alk PcMiler and many other programs I need. Yes, I've tried Gimp and Open Office. I was not impressed. What about all the other programs I need that don't have Linux alternatives. Until major software suppliers start providing Linux versions (like some of them do for Apple), then Linux is nat a viable alternative for me and I'm sure many others.
        jescocom
  • New revelation!

    Wow....this scheme is different from what? I don't see anything earth shattering in your steps. They call that good old common sense.
    ninhead79
  • Your list

    could be for every operating system. Though i don't understand why you would pay for the workstation version of VM as there's a free version available as well...

    I use almost the same list when buying new systems though they run linux:

    1. only hardware related
    2. makes sense, though i'm thinking about leaving this one after recent experiences as the upgrades went really wel
    3. For me this is mostly related to the hardware, f.i. no ATI stuff, and expecially wireless im very very hesitant to try something new
    4. True, kiss rules
    5. already moved to the appliance level
    6. No images, full separation of data and OS in place and regular back up of the data
    7. yeps, vmware server runs :)
    tombalablomba
    • The only issue with VMWare Server...

      Is that you need another system to connect to it, to use the VM's
      mrlinux
      • localhost

        You can connect to localhost :)

        @ least that is what I've been doing constantly.
        tombalablomba
        • Well the last time I used VMWare server...

          there was no gui at the console, so exactly what are you connecting to ????
          mrlinux
          • Also...

            What are you connecting with ???
            mrlinux
          • re

            There now is a gui you can used, if you're running gnome or KDE of course. Else you would have to install another component which is webbased.

            Out of this gui you can connect to a server, regardless whether it's running localhost or on another machine.

            Installing it is pretty easy as you can apt-get it.

            I haven't installed it at a headless server because I don't need it there ;).
            tombalablomba
          • VMware Server

            I run VMWare server on my workstation, and on several servers. The GUI runs on Linux or Windows, and is fastest when run pointed to localhost.

            I have VMWare Server running on the following hosts: Ubuntu(Fiesty), SuSE(10), Windows 2003 Standard Server, Small Business Server, 2000 Server, Windows XP Pro. I don't think I have tried anything else. It's not as full featured as the GSX//ESX server stuff, but it's a good way to get your feet wet, and provide some real consolidation, or test platforms.

            Happy VMWaring.
            Red_Beard