Tips for optimizing Vista on new hardware

Ed Bott over at ZDNet posted a really interesting article yesterday, detailing the journey he had of making his friend’s brand new Sony Viao laptop work properly with Windows Vista Business. In short, his friend upgraded a trusty old XP Vaio to a new machine which came with Vista, but had a terrible experience of crashes, slow start up, bogging performance etc.

In a nutshell, the advice is pretty straightforward, at least for technically minded folk and backs up the experience of some of us who’ve been using Vista all through the beta program:

  • Start with Vista-capable hardware. It’s almost a waste of money trying to upgrade old PCs to run Vista. New machines which (supposedly) have been designed to run Vista with modern architectures, devices which have a good chance of having decent Vista drivers and enough horsepower to do it justice, are so cheap now, it’s hardly worth trying to tweak anything older than a couple of years old to get Vista working well on it.
  • Use the latest, best quality drivers you can. It still amazes me how many manufacturers ship machines pre-loaded with years-old device drivers, or (conversely), how many update drivers & BIOSes frequently but with poor attention to quality (the device driver certification program is there for a reason; if you have a piece of hardware that comes with a non-certified driver, you have to ask: if the manufacturer of the device cut corners in bothering to get it certified, where else did they trim savings?)

    I got a new Lenovo Thinkpad tablet a few months ago, and it was (and still is) a brilliant piece of kit. Lenovo have done a class-leading job of making it easy to keep everything up to date – including the system BIOS – in a single application, the ThinkVantage System Update. Think of that as a single app which already knows exactly what hardware you have, and checks the Lenovo site to see if there’s anything to update.

    I’ve had so many PCs where the vendor’s driver download page needs you to know everything about the internal bits of the hardware (Dell, stand up and be counted) – after choosing the machine type, why do I need to know which iteration of network controllers it has, or whether it’s got the optional super-dee-dooper graphics card or bog standard one? Can’t the manufacturer figure that out, especially if they ask for a serial number to help identify what the machine is?

  • Don’t put any unnecessary crapware on it. This starts off as a fault of the OEM who supplied the machine (sorry Dell, I have to single you out again, but you’re far from unique). It’s worth making sure you don’t install any old junk from the internet and leave it lying around on your machine. Ed Bott even suggests doing some basic installs (like Acrobat, Flash etc) then taking a full machine backup, so you can always revert to a nice starting point. Combine that with the Really Rather Good backup software in Vista (or even the Windows Easy Transfer software) which can make sure your data is safe, and it’s not unthinkable that every six or twelve months a savvy user could easily blow away the machine and recover the starting image & last data backup to be in a good state again.

    Most people accept that they need to service a car regularly to keep it running well – a modern PC is a good bit more complicated than a car (albeit with generally less terrible consequences if it all goes boom).

Part of Ed’s summary neatly encapsulates his thinking…

Well, for starters, Vista doesn’t suck. And neither does Sony’s hardware. That four-pound machine with the carbon-fiber case is practically irresistible, as my wife continues to remind me.

But when you shovel Windows Vista and a mountain of poorly chosen drivers, utilities, and trial programs onto that beautiful hardware without thinking of the customer, the results can be downright ugly. That was certainly the case with the early-2007 vintage Vaio, and it’s still true today, with too much crapware and not enough attention to quality or the user experience.

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