Out with the old PC, in with the New Vista Ultimate Machine

February 6th, 2008 by Richy B. Leave a reply »

Sorry I’ve been absent from blogging for a while – my old Dell Dimension 4550 PC (which has lasted me just 2months shy of 5 years) practically failed. The power fan had been making funny noises for nearly 2 years on and off (rectified by just blindly plunging a screwdriver into the back of the power unit when it made a noise – not at all recommended) and the primary hard drive started failing. Yes, I know I could have just replaced the hard drive (at a cost of around 70 GBP for over 200Gb), but I couldn’t run certain large photo-editing applications on it as it had a measly 3/4Gb of RAM 🙁

So I splurged out with a combination of a new widescreen TFT Samsung SyncMaster 2032BW monitor from PC World – £180 (my old CRT was still in perfect working order after the nearly 5 years usage, but took up so much desk space), an extra 2GB kit (1GBx2), Ballistix 240-pin DIMM RAM from Crucial (£49.99) and the biggest purchase of all – a Dell Dimension XPS 420 with an Intel Viiv Q6600 Quad Core 2.40Ghz Processor, 2Gb RAM (giving a total of 4Gb), 16x DVD+/- RW drive (at long last – the old Dimension could never write DVDs for some reason), 512MB Nvidia Geforce 8800GT card, 2x 500Gb Hard drives and Microsoft Vista Ultimate. Total price (including VAT and delivery) – £760.75.

Was I disappointed and what did I think of Vista?

Well, I was slightly disappointed in three aspects:

  • Dell sent a Windows Vista recover DVD with the machine – but only the 32bit version 🙁 The normal retail version (also the DVD you can order from Microsoft) is a dual 32bit/64bit install. Bad Dell!
  • The only “Tech Specs” made it appear the machine came with a wireless card in-built (indeed, Dell’s online ordering system will allow you to order a Wireless router with the machine!), but it’s not to be. It has got a 1Gbps LAN card though – but I’m on the diagonal other side of the house than the router so it can’t do me much good.
  • The package arrived at the delivery depot (within 10 minutes WALK from my house) on Friday and their automated system called me to confirm a delivery date for Monday (giving a choice of AM or PM, but not any other day). However, I didn’t realise this until around 1pm on Saturday when the delivery center was closed, so I couldn’t go around and pick it up directly myself. I had to wait until the Monday 🙁 Boo hiss! If only delivery services gave you an option “I would like to pick it up from the depot. Please call me as soon as it arrives” – therefore saving them time and money and making it more convenient for the end user (as nobody needs to stay at the house all day).

Why did I opt for Vista? Well mainly because I couldn’t get this machine without it!. One of the first things I did after making sure the machine worked and could be booted was to wipe the hard drives and then set it up for dual booting (I have XP and Vista running on it now: with space for Linux if I want to, but that’s currently running under emulation in Virtual PC).

So what do I think of Vista? Well, despite the machine being quite high spec, the “Aero” interface does noticeably slow things down. So one of the first things I did (and the same I did with every XP machine I’ve used), is set it to look and feel like Windows 2000. No fancy shading or shadows for me (or even moving backgrounds – who on earth thought that would be a nice non-distracting idea) – just plain and simple. And it actually runs pretty well. I can’t say it feels like it runs any faster than my 5 year old XP machine did (even in it’s last days), but it’s not such a pain as I thought it would be. Well, the UAC (User Access Control) can be a bit annoying prompting for my admin password every so often (as I’m mainly running under an “un-privileged/standard account”), but I’ve had no major problems with it. I needed to download new drivers for my printer and USB Wifi connector (boot into XP, download drivers, reboot into Vista, install drivers) and needed to ensure I had the latest version of the Counterpath Bria VoIP software – but apart from that, it’s been fine.

One thing not many people will mention (and which I’ve not seen mentioned before myself) is if you do have compatibility issues, Vista has got a “Run this program in compatibility mode for” and it allows you to pick from Windows Server 2003 (SP1), Windows XP (SP 2), Window 2000 (woot!), NT 4 (SP5), 98/ME and 95 – so all the old software should work. I did purchase the Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 Deluxe Edition and Civilization Chronicles from Amazon (as I did enjoy playing “not totally authentic copies” on my old machine, but it just wasn’t up to the task so I deinstalled them and made sure they were top of my purchase list when I brought a new machine) and they ran perfectly. Editplus, Firefox and Thunderbird (along with VirtualPC, uTorrent, OpenOffice, Google Desktop, VLC and AVG) all ran perfectly as well.

Baring in mind I’ve disabled the “Elegant Windows Aero desktop experience with glass-like menu bars, Windows Flip 3d and live thumbnails”, won’t use “Windows Meeting Space” find the Windows SideShow device on top of the Dell more annoying than anything (why does it need to shine bright electronic blue all the time), won’t use Windows Media Player (I have VLC), use LogMeIn instead of “Remote Desktop connection”, can’t use “Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption” (as the PC hasn’t got a “Trusted Platform Module”), already have a copy of Nero (so I won’t use Windows DVD Maker) – Windows Vista is a bit of a waste of money for me! XP did everything, but I know that despite the bad press, within a couple of years you won’t be able to get support for anything on XP and all the development will move to Vista so I may as well use it. I just wish they hadn’t changed the location of all the files and menu options 🙁

This post is over 6 months old.

This means that, despite my best intentions, it may no longer be accurate.

This blog holds over 12 years of archived content - during that time, I may have changed my opinion of something, technology will have advanced (and old "best standards" may no longer be the case), my technology "know how" has improved etc etc - it would probably take me a considerable amount of time to update all the archival entries: and defeat the point of keeping them anyway.

Please take these posts for what they are: a brief look into my past, my history, my journey and "caveat emptor".

2 comments

  1. Don Bamel says:

    You should have gone for a Shuttle PC which gives you the option of Windows XP or even Linux for that matter.

    http://www.shuttle.com

    I ordered, but didn’t receive yet, a P2 3500G with the works (Windows XP Professional, Intel Q6660 Quad Core, 2 GB DDR2-800 RAM, NVidia GeForce 8800GT 512 MB).

    It’s a beautifully designed brushed aluminium cased mini PC (shoebox style) with great cooling for near silent operation (will check this as soon as I get it) and 80+% energy efficiency which the planet will thank me for.

  2. Richy C. says:

    Hi Don,

    I’ve just looked at them and I don’t think I would have gone for them: too small. I’m planning on sticking at least 2 more hard drives in my Dell (it’s already got two in it) and hopefully manage 4: I need to store a lot of data. My financee also has had bad experienced of Shuttle machines in her hardware support days. Thanks for the comment though! 😀

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