Do it Yourself Mojave

Yup. I'm now a Vista user. As I mentioned in a previous post, circumstances have recently required that I buy a new desktop PC.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Yup. I'm now a Vista user.

As I mentioned in a previous post, circumstances have recently required that I buy a new desktop PC. It's not that I wasn't happy with my old PC -- it was a generic ASUS M2N32 Athlon X2 5000+ with 4GB of RAM and an ATI HD 2400 graphics card and various removable disks that I had pieced together for various different types of application and OS testing. I ran XP SP3 and various distributions of Linux on it, and I was more than happy with how it performed. I had a number of various quirky problems with different permutations of Vista on the box over the last year or so, and could never get it to run properly -- but interestingly enough I was able to get Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V running on it just fine. For the most part, I simply avoided using Vista for most of my software testing, except in the case where I could virtualize it on my servers which had plenty of RAM and CPU to spare -- I didn't have the desktop horsepower to really run it correctly. I also had no business reasons for using it, the applications which were designed for it such as Office 2007 ran just as well on XP, and quite frankly, I'm a server/mid range OS guy and most of the glitz and fancy features of the OS just don't appeal to me.

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Nevertheless, fate intervened. My wife, Rachel, has been using a 4 year old HP XW4100 Dual Pentium 4 for several years now. Rachel has been part time real estate agent, restaurant consultant, and general queen of the household -- she keeps track of the bills, takes care of my appointments and some of my press correspondence, and in general, functions as my unpaid admin. That system running Windows XP with 1GB of RAM and Office 2003, Firefox, and a number of her other favorite programs had been running pretty well and fit her needs accordingly. In the 4 years since she's been using it, it had a second OS re-install, because like many of my testing machines, it gets a lot of abuse.

Recently, the machine which was upgraded in the last 6 months to 2GB of RAM has been less than responsive with the more demanding applications she wants to use. It was time for Rachel to get a better machine -- so I decided to give her my existing desktop, fully cleaned up, with a new XP SP3 install with all her applications re-installed and her data migrated over. She's now up and running, and happy as a clam.

Of course, this left me without a desktop computer besides my work laptop, which I had dare not do any software testing on -- my ThinkPad is to be treated like an acropolis, because without it, I can't do most of my job-related work. So I searched the Internet for a moderately priced machine that would be more or less equivalent to what I had before and I wouldn't care too much about if I had to junk it in 3 years. I picked a Dell Inspiron 530 from COSTCO's web site, which is currently on sale for $599 without a monitor. The Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk was more than sufficient for my purposes, and I'd be hard pressed to build a cheaper machine from OEM parts myself that was as well integrated and had a 2 year on site support warranty. It also came preloaded with Vista Premium.

I contemplated  wiping the machine and throwing Ubuntu and XP on it, which is my preferred workstation OS dual boot combo. But after hearing all the news of the Mojave Experiment, and reading the various TalkBacks to several of my arguably "anti-Vista" posts on this blog, I decided to run my own little usability study -- I would stick with Windows Vista for at least a month as my primary productivity and workstation platform. Linux would be relegated to my virtualized server OSes which I could console in remotely.

My Inspiron 530 arrived this week, all shiny and new. I thought I would be able to use it as-is out of the box with Vista, but to my surprise, the Quad-Core 4GB machine barely would run my most favorite Windows applications adequately with all the Vista bells and whistles turned on. It performed like a slug, to put it gently. Sure, I could have turned a bunch of the effects off, but if I was going go use a machine designed for Vista, why wouldn't I want to run it with its most optimal settings so I could experience it as Microsoft had intended it?

What would have been a powerhouse for XP or Linux turned out to be a very entry level machine for Vista, and it needed a bit of  "pimping" to get up to spec. For starters, despite having a fully-capable 64-bit CPU, DELL handicapped the machine with the 32-bit version of Vista Premium instead of the 64-bit edition, and the box only has a single built-in 10/100 Ethernet connection instead of a Gigabit -- fine for your average home user with a SOHO broadband Internet connection, but I move some pretty big files around on my network. I guess this is where they shaved off some of the costs. So much for using Dell's OEM pre-load -- I ended up having to wipe the disk with an new Vista SP1 64-bit Ultimate install, courtesy of my MSDN account (and what would normally cost $400 retail)  and shoving in one of my spare Netgear PCI Gigabit Ethernet cards, something that would cost about $25-$40 if I had to go out and get one.


My machine's Vista vitals after upgrading to 64-Bit Ultimate and a new nVidia GPU.

After playing with the machine a bit, I also discovered that the built in Intel graphics chip was woefully underpowered for running the default Aero configuration and doing any photo editing. It only had an analog SVGA output -- my high end Samsung 20" monitor with DVI inputs wouldn't look so good with that. So I ran out to Staples and grabbed the baddest graphics card they had in stock, a PNY NVidia GeForce 8500GT graphics card,  a mid-range business graphics adapter for Vista which I arguably overpaid $30 for.  I re-ran the Vista-built in performance tests and came up with an overall score of 4.8. Not too shabby for  $750-$800.00 worth of Tier 1 OEM Chinese-manfactured hardware. Woohoo!

After getting the hardware all set, I threw my standard suite of applications and utilities on the machine. Before my beloved "hecklers" cry foul and accuse me of putting some weirdo software and tweaks on the box, you can see for yourself what's on the list:

Admittedly, for my single "tweak" I disabled User Account Control (UAC) because after running for several hours, it drove me absolutely berserk every time I had to install a new app, and as a sysadmin-type with a root god complex I wasn't going to let this OS push me around. It also interfered with the operation of Synergy2, because every time the UAC prompt went off it would sever my remote mouse and keyboard connection from my docked laptop. Call it amateurish, call it unsafe, it was either going to be that, or this experiment was ending and this albatross was going to become a full-time Penguin.

Now that I resolved the initial hardware issues, so far, so good, although I can't say that there are features in Vista that are so compelling that my applications really run any better now than they did on an equivalent 2GB Windows XP VM running under Ubuntu, or in a XP dual-boot on the old machine with 3.5GB RAM, which I still perceive to be a more responsive configuration due to the much lower hardware requirements on a very respectable desktop box. I did notice a considerable increase in application startup performance after sticking a 1GB USB keychain into one of the spare USB 2.0 ports for ReadyBoost, but geez, wasn't 4GB of RAM enough for this thing?

Because of a recent PC migration, have you also decided to run your own "Mojave" tests? Talk Back and let me know.

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