S6510/Vista vs. S2110/XP Professional

It's time for a side-by-side comparison. What I want to concentrate on here is the difference between Windows Vista and Windows XP Professional.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

It's time for a side-by-side comparison. What I want to concentrate on here is the difference between Windows Vista and Windows XP Professional. For those who just want the bottom line first, here it is: Vista on the S6510 works better than it did on the S2110, and it works well enough that I am going to continue using it on the S6510 as my primary PC. But it still has some significant problems with both performance and reliability, and if I were setting up a new system today for someone who was not a technical professional, or for someone whose priority was to have a system that worked properly all the time and gave a minimum of problems, I would still set them up with Windows XP.

Now, the details of the comparison. While the two laptops are in fact quite different, I believe that the significance of the hardware differences are overwhelmed by the different Windows versions. Here are the specifications:

Lifebook S6510..........................Lifebook S2110

Windows Vista Business..............Windows XP Professional SP2 Intel Core2 Duo 2.2 GHz.............AMD Turion 64 2.0 GHz 2.0 GB RAM..............................2.0 GB RAM 1.0 GB Intel Turbo Memory Marvell Yukon Gigabit Ethernet...Broadcom 440x 10/100 Ethernet Intel WiFi 4965AGN.....................Atheros 802.11b/g Intel X3100 Grahpics..................ATI Mobility Radeon Xpress 200 14.1" display.............................13.3" display

That's a lot of difference at the lowest levels of hardware, and in every case the S6510 has "better/newer/faster" components. With that much of an advantage at the outset, one would think this would be a no-contest comparison, that the S6510 would win hands-down. That has not been my experience so far, however. It appears that Vista is so much more demanding that it is taking a fundamentally superior laptop, and turning it into a basically comparable performer.

The difference is clear from the moment you turn the laptops on. With them sitting side-by-side on my desk, I pressed the power button on them simultaneously. There were roughly equal through the diagnostic checks and Windows boot, to the point where the Logon screen appeared, after slightly less than one minute. But then I immediately logged in on both systems, and the S2110 (XP) was "ready for use" in another 15-20 seconds, while the S6510 (Vista) took another full minute before I could have done anything else. Both systems were then still doing normal startup tasks and housekeeping, but what I consider "ready for use" means that the normal desktop was displayed and icons and the Windows Start Menu could be selected. The Vista system still showed the blank "Logon" background for at least 30 seconds after I had logged in, before it even started showing my wallpaper and desktop, and then it took another 30 seconds before the taskbar reacted to mouse movement.

Once the systems are started and stable, the performance is roughly comparable. This is also in itself a surprise, since I would assume from the specifications that the S6510 should be a good bit faster than the S2110, but honestly there has not been a single time when I have actually noticed a significant difference in speed. Programs load and start in about the same time, and seem to run at about the same speed, as long as they are really the same program on both systems. However, the S2110 has Microsoft Office 2003, and the S6510 has Microsoft Office 2007; when I start Word on each of them, it takes about twice as long for Word 2007 to start as it does for Word 2003, but I assume this difference is primarily in the Word programs, and not because of the different computers or Windows versions. Here's another good example. I've had AVG anti-virus running a full test on both laptops while I've been writing this. Both started at about the same time, immediately after booting, and both just finished, after running for an hour, within a minute of each other.

I have already seen a significant difference in stability between the two systems. As I have described previously, I spent a long time struggling with Vista on the S2110, before finally giving up and going back to XP Professional. Since going back, I have never had another problem with the S2110 - not one boot failure, BSOD, USB hang, or any of the other problems that were plaguing that system when it was running Vista. The S6510 has failed to boot twice since I got it, including once on the day after I picked it up! In both cases, it gave me a message that said Windows couldn't load successfully, and went into a "Windows Repair" sequence. After thrashing around in that for a while, and warning me that I might have to reload whatever the last things I installed were, it managed to repair the problem and then boot again normally. I have no idea what the problem was or why it happened, and when I asked Fujitsu support about it, they said "it shouldn't happen" (I pretty much knew that already), but the only thing they could do would be to have me send the system back to them for test and possible repair, which I'm not prepared to do yet. I have also had several application crashes on the S6510; for example, Firefox has either hung (no longer responding) or just outright crashed (abnormal termination) several times, which it never does under XP on the S2110.

The Vista system also occasionally exhibits "strange" or unexpected behavior. The most obvious of this is when it seems to just go off and start hammering on the disk drive for no apparent reason - the disk activity led on the front of the laptop stays on almost continuously and the CPU load shows 30%-40% for anywhere from a few minutes to nearly an hour. I've tried closing all applications when this happens, and checked to be sure it isn't something to do with the anti-virus. My best guess right now is that it might be the Vista "disk indexing" for faster searches, or perhaps it is looking for Microsoft updates or some such, I really don't know.

I have also noticed some strangeness in the Vista network connections this week. Initially it appeared that sometimes I could not get the WiFi to connect properly. If I go to the Windows Network and Sharing Center it would say "connected" but with "limited connectivity". Sometimes I can fix it by turning the wireless adapter off and on with the front-panel switch, but other times I have to delete the local wireless network from Vista entirely, and re-enter the same SSID and WPA2 information to get it to connect. I thought that this might be a problem with the Linksys router, but the S2110/XP never has this problem, so I don't think that is likely.

I like the Vista "cosmetics" a little better than XP. The Aero desktop, with transparent window borders, is a little easier on the eyes than the standard XP interface. I also prefer the Vista Start Menu, mostly because it keeps everything confined within a limited space. Over time I get a lot of programs installed, and I don't like the way the XP Start Menu gets larger and larger, spreading across my desktop. But I don't consider either of these to be a "significant" advantage for Vista, or disadvantage for XP.

As I have been thinking of what and how to write about this comparison, and discussing it with some friends, one thing that has become clear to me is that the is not one "compelling" reason to run Vista rather than XP. If you eliminate everything to do with the underlying hardware, there is nothing that Vista does which XP doesn't, or even that Vista does "better" than XP, which I can think of. The general disadvantages of Vista, which I mentioned when I finally went back to XP Professional on the S2110, for the most part still exist, and many will always exist: no device drivers for some hardware, such as the Linksys SRX400 wireless adapters and the Canon IS-12 scan head for the BJC-55 printer; limited device support for the Lexmark E240 laser printer and HP ScanJet 4670; Vista-compatible software still not available, such as the Lantronix Device Installer. In fact, I got a rather ridiculous example if this latter just yesterday. Microsoft provides a rather nice "XP Power Tool" for image resizing, which makes it easy to reduce digital camera pictures to a reasonable size for email attachment. Of course there are many other ways, and many other programs, to do this, but this one is small, simple, integrates with Windows Explorer, so it is one less thing to worry about, and I can recommend it to friends and family. Yesterday I tried to install it on the S6510, and was shocked when I got the window that says "there are known compatibility issues with this program under Vista". If Microsoft can't even update their own tools after Vista has been out for a year, how can we fault other software suppliers for not doing so?

In summary, this comparison doesn't look favorable for Vista at all, but I suppose that is simply the way things are at this time. I've seen two good examples of this since I got the S6510. The first was the fact that while the S6510 came preloaded with Vista, it also had a "Microsoft Downgrade Certificate" included, which said that the owner had the right to dump Vista and reload XP Professional, and it had both Vista and XP recovery disks. The other was a reply that I got from Lantronix when I asked them why their Vista-compatible Device Installer was still not available. They basically said "we've got more important things to do".

Perhaps when Vista SP1 is released, it will make a significant difference in both performance and reliability. Please don't point out that there is a "Release Candidate" of SP1 available already, I know that, and I don't play that game. I have enough trouble with products that Microsoft has deemed "finished". I don't have XP SP3 installed on the S2110 for the same reason. Anyway, I'm considering buying another SATA disk, so that I can swap the drive in this laptop and reload it with XP Professional, to see if I get the same performance and reliability differences that I got on the S2110.

jw 9/1/2008

Editorial standards