Windows Vista is the High School Slut

In most high schools, there is a girl labeled simply as “the slut”.  This is the girl that everyone knows is a total slut—her reputation precedes her.

But every once in a while, someone discovers that a girl’s reputation is completely unfounded.  You actually get to know “the slut” and discover that the rumors all derive from some mean comments that one guy said about her several years ago.  (Ironically, likely because her behavior is the opposite of what the boy claims).

What’s interesting is how fast a negative impression can spread, whether it’s true or not.  In the case of the slut, word spreads quickly and pretty soon everyone simply labels her as “the slut”, without questioning where the label came from.  Even people who have never met her don’t bother to question the label.  It’s also not a reputation that she can hope to overturn, short of moving to a new school or changing her name.  People who get to know her might realize how untrue the label is.  But the majority of the school continues to think of her as the slut, because that’s what everyone says.

Windows Vista as the Slut

In the world of PC-based operating systems, Windows Vista is the slut.

Vista’s reputation has been trashed by bloggers, technical reviewers and pundits all over the web.  The bad impression is so pervasive that even the non-technical guy at the water cooler admits that he just special-ordered a PC with Windows XP because “Vista sucks”.  Even Google agrees with his assessment—the phrase “vista sucks” will net you 210,000 results, while “xp sucks” will only turn up 16,100.

Does Vista really suck?  If not, how did it get such a horrible reputation?

Vista does not suck.  In fact, many people believe that it works even better than Windows XP.  I’ve been running Vista on a number of machines for well over a year now and I haven’t had a single problem with it.  Every piece of software I’ve ever installed has worked fine.  Every hardware device I’ve hooked up to it has also worked fine.  The user experience is just prettier, cleaner, and more efficient than Windows XP.  Performance has been fine—it actually doesn’t seem to degrade over time like Windows XP used to, as you install more and more applications.  If you don’t believe me, go read some in-depth reviews done by people like Paul Thurrott and his Windows SuperSite.

Like the high school slut, Vista got her bad reputation mostly through word-of-mouth—and because people delight in sharing negative information.  Some high profile bloggers posted some very negative reviews when it first came out, and other bloggers wrote posts of their own, merely repeating the same bad impressions.  Before long, everyone’s bad impression of Vista was cemented, despite the fact that many people harshly critical of Vista had never installed or used it in any meaningful way.

That’s not to say that Vista didn’t have some problems when it was first released.  Many hardware vendors failed to write new drivers, so their older hardware just didn’t work with Vista.  If people tried upgrading an older system, or tried using older peripherals with Vista, they found that the hardware didn’t work.

The problem with drivers is really the fault of the hardware vendors, rather than Microsoft’s fault.  For these vendors, writing new drivers for old hardware is a low priority.  They’d much rather sell you new hardware (which did work with Vista) for your new machine.  This is also nothing new—we saw exactly the same thing with Windows XP when it first released, in that the older Windows NT drivers didn’t work.

The driver problems are old news, though.  These days, it’s hard to find a piece of hardware built in the past few years that doesn’t just work when you plug it into a Vista machine.

Should You Be Using Vista?

Like the slut, Vista’s reputation clears up completely once you get to know her.  Once you start using Vista on a regular basis, you start wondering what all the fuss is about.  And you find it hard to go back to Windows XP.

So should you use Vista?  If you’re buying a new machine, the answer is—absolutely, yes.  You’ll find that everything will just work, both hardware and software.  Unless you’re buying a really low-end machine, the performance will be just fine.  Just shoot for at least 1GB RAM (2GB is even better) and at least 2 GHz dual-core processor.  (You can get a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with 2GHz dual-core and 3GB RAM for under $500).

What about if you’re running an older machine—should you upgrade to Vista?  The simple answer is—no.  If you have an older machine running Windows XP and you’re happy with it, stick with it.  There’s no compelling reason to jump to Vista.  And—all other things being equal—Vista will perform more slowly than XP.  This has always been true.  If you had installed XP on your old Windows 98 box, it would have been pretty slow.  The truth is that hardware gets faster and faster all the time and newer versions of Windows take advantage of those performance gains.  That’s a good thing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If we agree that Vista’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished, is there anything to be done about it?

No.

At this point, too many bad things have been said about Vista.  The damage has been done and it will never recover its reputation.

So, like the high school slut, Vista is doing the only thing it can do.  It’s moving, changing its name, making a new start.  Sometime later this year it will surface again—and we’ll be calling it “Windows 7”.

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Build a Kick-Shin Media Server PC

Here are the specs for a building a media server PC that is a bit more affordable than the Kick-Arse Media Server that I described last time. We’ll call this one a Kick-Shin Media Server.

I went through each component from last time and considered downgrading a bit, to get the price down.  The result is a machine that should do a respectable job at serving up media through Media Center in Vista, but won’t break the bank.

The planned use for my media server is to host all of my family photos and videos, as well as being equipped with a video capture card for capturing video directly from a satellite receiver.

I’ll use Media Center in Vista to serve up all of my photos, videos, and recorded television programs. Like Tivo, Media Center allows setting up the machine to grab all sorts of shows/movies that it finds in the schedule.

I plan to use an XBox 360 as my media extender. The XBox 360 is connected to the 50″ plasma TV and will use wireless ethernet (G, rather than N) to pull media from the server and play it on the TV.

Here is my proposed list of components:

Case: Antec Three Hundred Black ATX Mid Tower – $69.95

Power Supply: Antec EA650 650W ATX12V Ver.2.2 / EPS12V version 2.91 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC – $99.99

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EP45-DS3L LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX Intel – $99.99

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 3.0GHz 6MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core – $169.99

CPU Fan: Use retail fan – $0

Memory: Patriot Extreme Performance 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory – $108.99
(Total of 4GB)

Hard Drive #1: Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s – $189.99

Optical drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 22X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 22X DVD Burner – $24.99

Video card: MSI N9600GT-T2D512E GeForce 9600 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported – $114.99

TV Tuner/Capture: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE Kit 1128 PCI-Express x1 Interface – $99.99

Total: $978.83

Thoughts

Case: I stuck with Antec, but dropped down to the Three Hundred case: still lots of room in the case, but slightly less cooling.

Power Supply: We drop down to a 650W power supply, which should be enough if we don’t load the server up with too many drives or other cards.

Motherboard: Managed to stick with a P45 board, but one that supports fewer SATA drives (six).  If we need more than six drives, we could look at going with an external drive or drive array.

CPU: I dropped down from Quad Core to Dual Core, going with the E8400.  Should be fast enough for our basic needs.

Memory: We dropped back down to 4GB, which should be plenty.

1st hard drive: I deleted our fast 10,000RPM drive and we now just have a single 1TB SATA drive.  The OS will be marginally slower, but adequate for our needs.

Video card: I also dropped down a bit on the video card, since we don’t plan to use the server for actual gaming.  Stuck with NVidia, but we’re now going with a GeForce 9600 with 512MB memory.

TV Capture: We stuck with the Hauppage WinTV-HVR 1800, which is compatible with Vista-based Media Center.

Conclusions

We didn’t have to give up too much from our Kick-Arse ($1800) configuration to come down to about half the price.  This is a decent sub-$1000 PC that we could use as a media server or a software development box.

Build a Kick-Arse Media Server PC

I’m getting that itch to build another PC.  (It’s been >6 mos).  This time, my goal is to build a beefy media server PC.  I’ll equip it with a video capture card, which will turn it into a “PVR” — Personal Video Recorder, or basically a PC-based Tivo.

I’m calling this particular configuration a “kick-arse” server, because I’ve upscaled a lot of the components.  In most cases, you could get away with something less beefy, or less expensive.  But for a few extra pennies in each area, you can build a pretty nice PC.

This would also make a fine software development PC, as configured.  It would also make a decent gaming PC if you swapped out the video card with something a bit higher end.

My basic goal for building a PVR is as follows–the media server PC will host all of my family photos and videos, as well as being equipped with a video capture card for capturing video directly from a satellite receiver.  I’ve chosen not to go HD yet, since the Hauppage HD video capture card is not yet certified to work with Media Center.

I’ll use Media Center in Vista to serve up all of my photos, videos, and recorded television programs.  Like Tivo, Media Center allows setting up the machine to grab all sorts of shows/movies that it finds in the schedule.

I plan to use an XBox 360 as my media extender.  The XBox 360 is connected to the 50″ plasma TV and will use wireless ethernet (G, rather than N) to pull media from the server and play it on the TV.

Here is my proposed list of components:

Case: Antec Nine Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower – $139.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129021)

Power Supply: Thermaltake W0116RU 750W – $159.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817153038)
($50 mail-in rebate)

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EP45-DQ6 LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX  – $234.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128343)

CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 Yorkfield 2.83GHz 12MB L2 Cache LGA 775 95W Quad-Core Processor – $324.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115041)

CPU Fan: ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro 92mm CPU Cooler – $24.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835186134)

Memory: Kingston HyperX 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit – $108.99×2 = $217.98
(2 pkgs, for total of 4 x 2GB = 8GB total)
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820104038)
($20 mail-in rebate)

Hard Drive #1: Western Digital VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS 300GB 10000 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s – $294.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136260)
($25 mail-in rebate)

Hard Drive #2: Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s – $189.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136284)

Optical drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 22X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 22X DVD Burner – $24.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827151171)

Video card: GIGABYTE GV-N98TZL-512H GeForce 9800 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card w/ Zalman VF830 – $169.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814125227)

TV Tuner/Capture: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE Kit 1128 PCI-Express x1 Interface – $99.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815116015)

Total: $1887.88
Total rebates: $95

Total less rebates: $1792.8

Thoughts

Case: I went with the Nine Hundred case because of the large number of internal bays (6).  Also, it seems to be a great case for cooling.  I also decided on Antec because I’ve had very good luck with their cases in the past.

Power Supply: I figure that I might eventually have more drives in the case, so it’s important to have enough power.  1kW is still far too pricey, but we can get 750W for a reasonable price.

Motherboard: I waffled between the Intel P45 and X48 chipsets, but went with this board (P45) in the end, because of its support for 16GB and the huge number of connections (10 SATA, 8 USB).  I’ll be starting initially with 8GB, already a huge amount of memory.  And one could argue that I’m not likely to bump beyond this.  But if memory prices continue to come down, especially on DDR2, it would be reasonable to bump up to 16GB.  One might also argue that a media server doesn’t need this much memory, but having lots of memory will help in doing video editing on the PC.  It also keeps my options open for running one or more VMs on this box.

CPU: Going with a Quad Core for a media server is likely overkill for most people.  But if I end up using the machine directly, especially for video editing or rendering/conversion, I think that I’ll take advantage of having four cores (as well as all of the memory).

Memory: 8GB total, which is very sexy.  (Can do this because I’ll be going with 64-bit Vista).

1st hard drive: The root drive, where Vista will be installed, will be a 10000 RPM drive.  This is a very good choice, since bumping up the speed of the drive where your OS is installed will likely make a big difference.

2nd hard drive: The second drive will be a basic 1TB SATA drive.  I was tempted to go with multiple drives and configure as RAID 5, but the slight advantage for data protection isn’t worth all the extra cash.  I’ll protect my data in other ways (e.g. backups).

Video card: Because this won’t be primarily a gaming PC, I opted for a middle-range graphics card–one that can handle any recent games thrown at it, but not with over-the-top performance.  I also went with NVidia, rather than ATI, but that’s personal preference–I see nothing wrong with ATI cards.

TV Capture: I’m going with the Hauppage WinTV-HVR 1800, which is reportedly compatible with Vista-based Media Center.

Conclusions

I’m still waiting to pull the trigger on all of the gear listed here.  But I will likely purchase everything and will then post photos of the rig as I assemble it.

Next time I’ll build a “kick-shin” media server–one that fulfills that same basic purpose as the high-end media server, but at a more reasonable price.