OS Scratch Load Times

I reload the operating systems on my laptops quite frequently. On the Linux side, it is because I am trying various distributions, while on the Windows side it is more often because something gets fouled up or stops working.

I reload the operating systems on my laptops quite frequently. On the Linux side, it is because I am trying various distributions, while on the Windows side it is more often because something gets fouled up or stops working. Occasionally it is because I am changing to a new disk drive that is larger, faster, or both. This week I have been reloading Vista, and even though I have slogged through it many times, I am still amazed by what a long, tedious, painful procedure it is.

First, as a baseline for comparison, I can load pretty much any of the Linux distributions in less than 30 minutes, including picking up patches and basic configuration. It takes about another 30 minutes to load the extra software and utilities that I most commonly use, so I can go from a blank disk to a productive Linux system in about an hour.

Yesterday I decided to reload Vista on a different disk. I should actually have an advantage with Vista, because I have a Fujitsu "Recovery DVD" which simply recreates the original C: partition. But it's just not that easy. The initial recovery takes about 30 minutes; but then I have to run a Fujitsu-specific "Run Once" utility that sets up some of the devices and drivers, and that takes another 15 minutes. I've also learned the hard way that it is best not to have the system connected to the internet at that point, because the Vista update process will start, and it competes with the Fujitsu utility, slowing the whole process down a lot more.

Once the "Run Once" utility is done, I have to remove a couple of Fujitsu devices and drivers which block Vista SP1 from installing, then I can turn Windows Update loose on it. That requires at least a half-dozen update/reboot cycles the first of which takes a good hour to download and install updates, and the last of which finally installs Vista SP1. Well, not entirely the last, of course, because there are still a couple more stragglers after that.

After Windows Update is done, I install the latest drivers from Fujitsu, and a few other device-specific drivers (Intel and Realtek), and I'm finally done with the basic installation. Total time: at least four or five hours, and that is if I am sitting waiting, ready to start the next phase each time it completes something. Add to that the time it takes for configuration and basic software and utility loading, and it is really and all-day job just to load Vista from scratch.

Not too impressive, compared to an hour for Linux. Of course I could (and have) imaged the system once I have finished the basic load and configuration, before Windows gets a chance to start scribbling on it and corrupting itself too much. But even when I do that, after restoring the image I have to let it go through some number of Windows Update cycles, and I usually have to install whatever driver updates may have been released in the interim.

This problem is not unique to Vista, of course. The same is generally true with Windows XP. Depending on how recent your distribution or recovery media is, it can be just as bad or even worse. My S6510 XP Pro recovery DVD is XP SP2, so it only needs to pick up SP3 and a few miscellaneous patches; but the S2110 recovery is SP1, and it is a long, painful process to get it through SP2, then SP3. I've called Fujitsu support and asked for a newer recovery disk, but they say I am only "entitled" to exactly the version that the laptop was delivered with. That seems a bit odd to me - I mean, XP is XP, right? We're only talking about patch levels and user convenience here, after all. But they won't have any of it.

jw 20/11/2008