Refreshing Vista

The installation went fast, the updates, on the other hand did not. Rewind a bit, back to a few weeks ago. Some troll over at Digg was spamming links to shock sites. One of them causes thousands of popups of shock images to display. It also happens to take advantage of some security flaws in many web browsers. That was last week, but going back a bit further the real odd behavior began.

It began with Adobe Flash security warnings. They were triggered by advertisements (flash based advertisements should be illegal for more than one reason) that are part of the Microsoft Mojave campaign. The warning stated that code in the flash object attempted to redirect about:blank to some other address. One would think a large corporation such as Microsoft would keep its advertisements out of the realm of malice, but then again they are still spamming stats with fake arrivals from their live search service.

Even though the Flash warning was odd, it was not the thing that was really bad. Out of nowhere no execute bit errors start killing Firefox. Most of the time on a website with an Adobe Flash based advertisement. Did I mention I believe Flash based advertisements should be outlawed–and all websites that have them should be added to the malware harboring website lists?

Well, after having enough of the stupid NX bit errors, Firefox and Flash player were reinstalled. No luck, the problems still occurred. Time for drastic measures, reinstall Vista time. After backing up the few files not on my home server (running Gentoo Linux), the Vista DVD made its way into the DVD drive. After rebooting and clicking through some options, the installer did its thing. Fifteen minutes later–surprisingly fast–the familiar welcome screen appeared. First order of action was installing the WiFi driver. Rather than before I let the additional intel tools to be installed. Surprisingly, I’m connecting at 802.11N speeds all the time now (verses when ever Windows felt like it before). Next up was the graphics driver. Previously, the dell driver did not allow the one distributed by intel to be installed so I was running a year old driver.

Then Windows Update in its infinite wisdom decided to try grabbing over 30 updates. Naturally, there was no dependency handling causing numerous blue screens of death at boot. To compound the issue I had at one time tried to install about ten of my commonly used programs. After the first blue screen of death, and doing a system restore, they were all missing (System Restore shadows many more things than it used to). Instead of trying to reinstall the programs again, I focused on the Windows updates.

That is when things became fun. Not only does Windows Update not properly handle dependencies, it seems to always have problems installing more than twenty or so updates at a time. Even worse, it seems to generate error codes that are random when encountering this situation. Another fun fact is Windows Update seems to not check the hash sum of the updates it downloads until it attempts to install them. If the hashes at that time do not match it returns an error code instead of redownloading and trying again as it should. Installing only four or five updates at a time, along with the oldest first seems to help. However this is taking forever. If I wanted to spend two full evenings working on this I would have installed Gentoo, which I would be done installing by now as well.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

6 thoughts on “Refreshing Vista

  1. That’s rather scary!

    Vista may be the first MS OS in a that I just entirely skip:
    Win 3.0 -> Win 3.1 -> Win 95 -> Win 98 *-> Win 2000 -> Win XP -> Win 7 ?
    Of course I’ve installed Vista and played with it, and Samantha’s Toshiba laptop has it on it, but I am happy with XP.

    *I purposely left out Windows ME because I don’t consider it a real OS ;-)

    A few questions if you have the time:
    #1 What are your overall impressions of Vista?
    #2 Have you done enough tweaking to make it a workable everyday OS?
    #3 What improvements do you find over XP?

  2. Well I’ve run Win 3.1, Win 95, Win 98 (and 98SE), Win NT4.1 (Oh how I detest NT4.1), Win 2000, Win ME, Win XP Pro and media center, Vista along with it’s betas and RCs. I really don’t know if I’d get Windows 7. Not a lot new to it, just furthering of things set in motion in Vista. I know I won’t be getting the Windows after it that will be a over glorified terminal client (the entire cloud computing thing is annoying and nothing more than snake oil in 90% of cases).

    I failed to mention that there was a Bios update for the Vostro 1400 which apparently fixed the problems I had. It had something to do with the Intel Graphics driver corrupting memory due to something Dell was doing in the bios with the dynamic video memory allocation. That is why Dell had 1 year old graphics drivers for the Vostro 1400 until about May. When I reinstalled Vista, I said to hell with old drivers and downloaded them straight from Intel, which may have had a role in the situation.

    Overall Vista is a perfectly fine OS. Many people don’t like UAC, and to them all I have to say is if you see it daily you are doing something wrong. I do not really know how much I can attribute to Vista as the machine it is running on outclasses my desktop with XP on it in everything but graphics power.

    I have barely done any tweaking. Unlike XP that comes with way too many services on and installed, Vista is a bit lighter (no stupid messenger, etc.). The biggest thing I’ve tweaked is the power settings, which is where you can change the red power button on the start menu to actually shutdown the computer rather than suspend/sleep. That really pissed me off that by default Vista goes to sleep instead of turning off.

    The automatic driver finding utility is much improved over the mostly non-functional one in XP. This was the first thing I noticed in the Betas and it’s nice that it works most of the time (90% of my hardware). I also like how the user folders are more like the way Linux and UNIX does things with the home directories. That said, the wireless network activity monitor in the taskbar is not as nice in XP. In XP it will tell you your connection speed, in Vista it only tells you what network you are connected to.

    When I went to reinstall Vista, I probably would have installed XP had I had an extra XP license. As much of a hassle Vista was to reinstall, XP probably would have been worse (I have a pre SP1 disk). I use Windows when I want things to just work, if I want to tweak things to the max (like getting the computer to boot in 5 seconds (which intel did with Fedora on a Eee PC .)) I use Gentoo Linux.

    -John Havlik

  3. Very nice summary.

    Good info about the graphics driver issue on the Vostro. Speaking of those machines, I was considering eBaying my Vostro 1400 and getting a Dell E6500 (w/LED backlit screen and backlit keyboard) or Lenovo T60p (with FlexView screen and keyboard light) instead. But I think I’ll stick with the current machine for a while, I put an X-25-M in it recently and that thing is just SMOKINGLY fast.

    I can’t believe I zoned out and forget about NT… I never used it extensively, but it was a rather nice OS from what I remember.

    Hope all is well in MN, I bet it is getting cold! :-)

  4. JD,

    Well, its getting colder, but we’re still in the 40-50F range during the day. Right now we have furies that are falling at a 45 to 60 degree angle from the ground depending on wind speed (yeah it’s very windy today). It’s a good day to grind away at a computer case prepping it for some serious modifications.

    Where did you find a X25-M? I’ve considered getting an intel SSD for my Vostro, but I was going to wait until this upcoming spring in hopes of decreased prices and increased availability (about 1USD per GB of storage is about the magical mark where the speed increase is worth the cost). What I’m planning is getting a descent SSD, preferably one of the intel ones, and installing linux on the Vostro around the time KDE 4.2 is released. Then Vista would stay on the Seagate that is in there right now, and Gentoo with KDE 4.2 will be on the SSD. I’ll then tweak things, like the intel folks did with an Eeepc, and get it to boot in 5 seconds or less :).

    -John Havlik

  5. Glad to hear it is staying a bit warm in the daytime. It is getting COLD here (25F at night), or at least cold for me :-).

    What are the casemods you’re working on? I assume you’ll be making a post about them??? Speaking of casemods, I sent a new server for to the datacenter and it turns out it doesn’t fit in the rack. Duhh on my part. So I authorized “modding” of the case (removing a built-into-the-case handle) to make it fit. Let’s hope it works… ;-)

    I got my X-25M at ANTOnline via Amazon. I hated paying more than retail for a product, but at least it’s better than what the prices that they are getting scalped for on eBay. Hopefully Newegg will get them soon and perhaps more affordable prices will follow.

    You’re probably smart to wait. These things will definitely go down soon (and get faster and bigger too).

    You’ve probably read the reviews out there and seen the specs on the X-25M, so I won’t try to rehash any benchmarks. However, I can vouch for a huge increase in responsiveness/multi-tasking/search.

    Especially search… using ThunderBird portable I can now search fulltext (body) of 2GB worth of emails in approx 20 sec when in the past this might take a minute or two (this is on a TrueCrypt encrypted volume as well). Windows search is equally as snappy. Please note that these are normally SLOW searches, not b/c there is so much data to go through but those programs just seem to search slowly. The SSD helps a lot.

    Things that were snappy with a 7200PRM drive, are instantaneous now. Things that were slow on the 7200RPM drive are fast now.

    Load times now:
    4 seconds to load Photoshop CS3 all the way (past the splash screen etc.)
    5 seconds for OpenOfficeCalc [loaded from encrypted volume]
    2 seconds for DVDFab 5
    4 seconds for ThunderBird portable [loaded from encrypted volume]

    (I don’t know the HDD load times exactly, but I would estimate 2-3 times the SSD times).

    Final note, these times are on a rather crusty Win XP install. There is a lot of crap and Windows was sluggish when on the hard drive. I just cloned to the SSD and installed the drive, now the system isn’t sluggish (even with the same crap installed).

    Sorry to keep going on and on here, but it really is the biggest performance difference/upgrade that I’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait till these things are ubiquitous and cheap :-).

    You will really be pimpin’ with the superfast boot times on Linux, that is going to be sweet!

    PS I would really like to see how one of these things operates with a slow CPU. Specifically it would be cool to see how a CPU upgrade (say from 1.5GHz to 3GHz compares with an SSD upgrade, say 5400RPM HD to fast-SSD). Then compare overall responsiveness etc.
    I have a feeling that for most non-cpu intensive tasks (like what netbooks and Intel Atom are for) that a nice fast SSD would make these things awesome little do-it-alls as long as people stay away from CPU intensive tasks. I hate it when a manufactuer dumps a 4200RPM HD or a slow SSD into a low-end machine, b/c it really drags down the experience IMHO.

  6. Modding wise, to finish off the wooden hard drive case mod, I need to get some stain for it (we don’t happen to have the stain I want for it). I have another set of pictures to upload, but I’ve been waiting to finish the project up completely and have a single third post on it. This weekend I’ll probably post part 3, and then a final post with pictures of it stained and assembled probably around Black Friday.

    The case mod it of a desktop mATX case, made of steel. I’m putting an aluminum shell on it, and some other goodies, like a capacitive touch sensitive on/off switch. If you’ve seen the pictures of the 11k machine that was submersed in oil, I’m going for that look, but instead of black with blue LEDs, it will be aluminum with white LEDs. Naturally, I’m going to stick with air cooling. I figured out this weekend that to fit a full ATX power supply in it I’ll have to modify the width of it (right now it sits at just over 4 7/8″ wide, all the new power supplies are 3.5″x5.9″x5.9″ so I need to make it about 1″ wider). I’ll get some solid information on it once I order the aluminum I need. It doesn’t matter how soon I get the case done since I am putting a Core i7 in it so I have to wait for a mATX motherboard for it (which won’t be until sometime in spring).

    -John Havlik

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