A year with Windows Vista

The $650 13″ screen Toshiba laptop that I purchased a year ago was running slowly with multiple browser windows open. I poked around using the (excellent) performance tools included with Windows Vista and found that the machine was page-faulting like crazy. Windows Vista by itself took up 650 MB of RAM and browser windows running gmail, Acrobat, Flash, etc. were chewing up the rest of its 1 GB. I spent $45 at Amazon on two new DIMMs to bring the machine up to its maximum of 2 GB. and thought it would be a good time to reflect on one year of experience with Windows Vista.

The worst part of the machine is the keyboard, which works if you type with just the right touch but otherwise will drop characters. The second worst part is some software that Toshiba larded onto it. When you roll the mouse up to the top of the screen a bunch of pull-down menus appear that seem to be related to function keys. These are hard to get rid of and conflict with the Windows user interface. I think that the solution is to click right on the desktop and disable anything that says “hot keys”. An annoyance is that the fan kicks itself on and off loudly, making it seem that the computer is laboring mightily.

Hardware failures: none, despite cheap plastic lightweight construction.

Networking: Windows often puts up a dialog box saying “Windows needs your permission to continue”, e.g., when accepting a wireless connection at a hotel. This on a machine that has only one user account, which is configured with no password. On the other hand, the machine is often able to get a connection, e.g., from an 802.11N base station with WPA security, when expert Linux and Macintosh laptop owners are unable to connect.

I have installed the following software on the machine:

  • an open-source ssh client
  • Firefox
  • Rhapsody streaming music
  • Netflix streaming video
  • AOL Instant Messenger
  • Google Earth
  • Java
  • iTunes (I admit to owning an iPod)
  • Real Player
  • OpenVPN (virtual private network to get into a cluster)
  • Picasa (free Google tool for converting camera RAW photos to JPEG)
  • various Adobe products, including Acrobat and Photoshop

There have been no conflicts or incompatibilities with the operating system and no calls to tech support for the OS or any of the apps. I have not done any manual updates or system administration until today’s 5-minute RAM upgrade. I disabled all virus protection and firewalls when the machine was new and yet there have been no viruses of which I am aware.

Things that would add a lot of value to this product: better keyboard, fan-free cooling design.

Changing the operating system to something other than Vista would have saved no time and enabled no additional capabilities.

Vista hasn’t proved too scary or complex for someone like me who had a bit of Windows XP experience (though I’ve never programmed or administered XP), but for the average person a mobile phone that can be used as a home computer would make a lot more sense.

[If anyone wants the old RAM, two sticks of 512 MB DDR2, please send email to philg@mit.edu with your mailing address. This is a $20 value but can be yours absolutely free… ** UPDATE: these were claimed very quickly by a starving graduate student in Pittsburgh **]

7 thoughts on “A year with Windows Vista

  1. Yea. I don’t mind Vista either. I am running it on my desktop that has 512 GB of RAM with Pentium 4 CPU 3.20 GHz. No issues. Not that slow either. I should probably buy some RAM, but I am saving up for my dream notebook – Asus EEE 900 series. 🙂

  2. Phil, thanks for sharing the “long-term use” update!

    Your Toshiba ‘noise’ experience is similar to my last – the fan design is just completely missing as far as I could tell. The machine sounded like a jet taking off at times.

    It still frustrates me to no end that I have to format a new computer from just about any manufacturer to remove the junk they’re often paid to bundle, at a reduced Windows experience.

    My only comparisons recently:
    – An Apple Macbook Pro: when watching full-screen Flash or Silverlight video, the thing gets noisy (no fan improvement here). Otherwise, silent as anything else.
    – A Lenovo ThinkPad T61: no matter what you’re doing, as long as it isn’t multi-core building of code, the thing is silent.

  3. >512 GB of RAM
    Now that’s a machine 😉

    I enjoy how many are comparing a bare bones $650 laptop to $1,500+ models. Of course there will be engineering improvements! It’s a miracle that it even boots…

  4. I have to say that I had to set my 512 MB Vista PC to “High Performance” (Low energy saving) in Power Options. Otherwise it would not wake up properly or be very slow after waking up. I am guessing that it something to do with 512 MB of RAM, but since I changed to “High Performance” I had NO issues, and I haven’t had to reboot the machine since then. The machine has been running smoothly and flawlessly since then.

    “High Performance” is not a very eco-friendly setting in that the PC is always turned on. I guess that makes me a bad person 🙁 But I do always turn off the monitor when I am not using the computer.

  5. I’m surprised that there were no “you should be running Ubuntu” comments. Anyway you made it pretty clear that you need MS Windows to run some flight software.

    Personally I think it is crazy – in 1997 1 GB of RAM could handle 2 million banking customers on a MainFrame. Now you need that much RAM just to load Vista. Oh well no wonder I use Xubuntu or Windows 2000 still.

    BTW Firefox 3.0 uses RAM more efficiently than the 2.x versions.

  6. FYI and IMHO, Vista is much better than Windows7. Unfortunately, I got suckered by all the heavy advertising and hype surrounding Windows7 and upgraded from Vistax64 to Windows7x64. I have regretted it the past 6 mos. Vista had been rock solid for several years without nary a hiccup. In just the past 6 mos under Windows7, i have had multiple BSOD’s (thought i saw my last one on XP) and just ultra slow performance in both graphics, file system, networked files, and nearly every other category.

    The only good new thing about 7 i can think of, are some new background images, which is hardly worth all the gripes.

  7. I dont know about Vista, I have never used it. I went straight from xp sp3 to windows 7 pro. I have a work station elite book 8540w with all the bells and whistles and it runs great. I’m still on a 32 bit because I’m only running 4GB of memory, I can upgrade to 16GB but I’ll wait till I have a little more money. Just wanted to say hello and thanks for all the great posts Mr. Greenspun

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