It was a bit of a bold move, I must admit. I took the plunge today and upgraded my machine to 64-bit Vista. Here's why.
|James Bannan is the 64 bit man: just be grateful he's not bionic woman.
I took the plunge today and upgraded my work machine from Windows XP to Vista – Vista Enterprise 64-bit, to be exact.
Why would I voluntarily enter the painful world of 64-bit Windows on the desktop?
Because 32-bit versions of Windows can't address more than 3GB of RAM at best, meaning that anyone who wants to take advantage of the cheap RAM prices will soon be forced to start using 64-bit Windows, with all its foibles.
I use a lot of virtual machines for testing, and they're RAM hungry. With the price of 2GB RAM DIMMs dropping to sub-$200, there's no reason not to stack your machine up with 4GB of RAM so that the VMs have plenty of headroom... except for that small issue of the limitations of 32-bit Windows!
It was a bit of a daring move, as my system is running on a pretty new, NVIDIA-based motherboard. NVIDIA hasn’t exactly been stunning everyone with its support for Vista, and installing a 64-bit operating system just added another level of complexity to the whole procedure.
I’m happy to say that everything went well in the end, although I did encounter a few glitches. As I’ve now migrated all my systems to Vista, I thought I’d jot down a few things relating to some of the problems I’ve encountered so far.
Corrupt installation image?
My copy of Vista Enterprise is a DVD burned from an IMG I downloaded from Microsoft Volume Licensing, so it’s not stamped original media.
During the file expansion process of the install, Vista popped up an error message stating that files were no longer available. It was a fairly generic error, but it suggested that either the image or the DVD were corrupt.
You may recall that during the Vista beta testing process, Microsoft warned that dodgy DVD burners were responsible for many of the glitches with Vista install discs. "Burn slower or risk data loss ," the headline read at the time.
My experience was that it's worth persevering and trying again multiple times (assuming that you’ve no reason to suspect that the DVD/image really is corrupt). During my installation, it bombed twice – the first time at 1% and that second time at 90% (that was painful). But the third attempt went all the way through.
The good thing is that as you’re in Windows PE during a Vista installation, you don’t have to reboot to start again. If you’re burning a downloaded image, perhaps try forcing a lower-speed burn to maximise the quality and minimise risk of corruption.
"Can’t install to the selected disk"
I was installing Vista to an NVIDIA RAID-1 array (two 160GB disks), and the system also had a brand-new 320GB secondary disk. Vista actually ships with most of the latest RAID drivers, so although I’d downloaded all the available drivers from Asus and NVIDIA beforehand, I didn’t need them.
Vista saw the 160GB array, but wouldn’t install to either it or the second disk. The errors were:
- "This computer's hardware may not support booting to this disk" and ...
- “Windows cannot find a system volume that meets requirements for installation.”
Turns out that this is a known problem
with installing Vista when you have a brand-new, uninitialized drive in the system, as I had.
Microsoft’s explanation for the problem is a little vague, with general references to the fact that Vista “cannot distinguish between ambiguous hard disks”. Whatever. All I did was detach the second drive and with that out of the way Vista installed on the RAID array perfectly. Then once it was up and running I reattached the drive and initialised it in Disk Management.
You could also boot off a Windows XP CD and use it to create a partition and volume on the uninitialized drive, then cancel the installation and boot back off the Vista DVD. It seems that all you need is a partition of some sort to make Vista happy.
Man, these are important. Vista has a pretty comprehensive driver set, and the vast majority of the hardware components on my motherboard (Asus P5N32-E SLI Plus) were ready to go before I’d even applied any drivers.
However, it’s always worthwhile remembering that vendors are (for the most part) still pumping out Vista drivers furiously, and the ones which Vista ships with probably aren’t the latest ones any more.
And of course, with 64-bit Windows only signed drivers can be used, which counts out a lot of older hardware and peripherals.
"Signed drivers" are ones that have undergone a Microsoft quality-assurance process and received a digital certificate that certifies them as stable for installation on 64-bit Windows.
So the best thing I can recommend is to grab all the latest platform, system and graphics drivers available, install them and then jump onto Windows Update. It’s a great source of all those little driver updates which can make life that much easier.
In my case, Vista didn’t detect my monitors. Normally this isn’t a problem – a generic LCD monitor driver does the job. But in my case I’m running three 19” LCDs side-by-side, two of them controlled by a primary GeForce 6800 card, and the third by a secondary GeForce 6200. Vista defaulted the resolution on all the screens to 1024x768 and when I tried to bump it up to 1280x1024 I got some very weird results – in this case it just looked like the cards weren’t reporting the dimensions of the screens to Vista properly.
Windows Update automatically detected the screens and installed drivers for them, and after that I was able to adjust the resolutions properly. Bizarrely, though, if I tried to adjust the middle screen all three screens went black. I had to change the left screen, then the right one and finally the middle one. Go figure.
Oh, and if you’re running an NVIDIA card don’t bother adjusting the resolution or screen layout via the NVIDIA Control Panel – just use the normal Display Properties. It does a far better job, especially if you’re running multiple monitors. If you’re running an ATI card, either will do – the Catalyst Control Center does a really good job of managing graphics in Vista.
And I’ve finally found a reason to hang on the Vista Sidebar. On the right-hand side of the right-hand monitor, it doesn’t get in my way and I’m actually happy to leave it there. For once.
in an office environment, you might be updating your systems using WSUS. I’m using an internal WSUS 3.0 system to keep my Vista installs up-to-date. One nice feature though, is that if a Vista system is configured to get its installs from WSUS, you can still check online for updates via the Windows Update application. Doing this is really useful for picking up driver updates which might not be available on WSUS (simply because most admins won’t bother downloading them) and it doesn’t remove WSUS as the primary source of system updates.
Running virtual machines on 64-bit Windows
One of the things which has held some people back from upgrading is worry about application compatibility. That’s certainly an issue for me – I administer a Novell network and the vast majority of admin tools I need don’t work on Vista.
Fortunately, all I have to do is run a copy of XP in a virtual machine and I can have an administrative system operational in no time, so that’s exactly what I’ve done. I can still administer everything from the Vista system, I’m just not using Vista to do it. In my case I’m using VMWare Workstation, but you could easily run up some Virtual PC 2007 machines so that all your legacy apps don’t have to be turfed.
That’s about all that springs to mind at the moment. No doubt as the installations become a bit more stable other little issues and bugbears will spring to light. I’d be really interested to hear other people’s experiences of installing Vista, what problems they’ve encountered and how they were overcome. Post a comment!