Practical Technology

for practical people.

Vista Works! (After 16 Months of Trying)


If I know anything, I know operating systems. My first one was CICS/MVS on an Amdahl mainframe, followed by VAX/VMS, CP/M-80, TOPS-20, more Unix and Linux variations than you could shake a stick at, every version of DOS and Windows from 1.0 on to today. For sheer annoyance value, Vista takes the prize.

There have been far poorer operating systems. Windows ME is the Windows’ family bottom of the barrel, and let’s not even think about MS-DOS 4.01 shall we? But, nothing else except Vista promised so much, delivered so little and was such a pain in the rump about it all.

Still, after months of trying, I’m proud to say that I actually have a fully functional version of Vista SP1 running on a PC at last.

The system is my long-suffering HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360n PC. The Viiv m7360n has a hyper-threaded 2.8GHz Pentium D 920 dual-core processor, 4MB of Level 2 cache, an 800MHz front-side bus and 2GB of DDR (double-data-rate) RAM. It also has a 300GB SATA (serial ATA) hard drive; a dual-layer, multiformat LightScribe DVD/CD burner; and a DVD-ROM drive.

It also has six USB 2.0, two FireWire, one VGA, one S-Video and one composite AV ports. And it comes with a 9-in-1 memory card reader, 10/100BaseT Ethernet, 56K-bps V.92 modem and 802.11g Wi-Fi. For graphics, it has an NVIDIA GeForce 6200SE video card (which takes up 256MB of the system’s main RAM) and Intel Azalea high-definition audio with 5.1-channel surround sound. Once upon a time, it was a Windows Media Center PC.

While this is a nice system, it’s in no way, shape or form a killer Vista PC. For that, buy a new computer with 3GB of RAM, a dedicated graphics processor with a 512MBs of dedicated video RAM and a top-of-the-line dual-core processor such as the 2.33GHz Intel Core2 Duo E6550. I thought my older system should at least be able to run Vista Ultimate without tears.

Wrong. For more on the ‘fun,’ I had with Vista see my series comparing MEPIS Linux and Vista in DesktopLinux.

The short version is that with vanilla Vista , this PC wasn’t fast enough, and it has one deal-killer hardware problem after another. When SP1 came out for MSDN (Microsoft Software Developer Network) members, I decided rather than face the horror of upgrading the system, to just blow away the old copy of Vista and start fresh.

It’s always a good idea to do a fresh install instead of an update with any operating system facing a major upgrade. With Vista, as my compadre over at Microsoft-Watch has observed, upgrading an existing Vista PC to SP1 can be one slow-motion disaster after another.

Even though I avoided the upgrade woes, I didn’t have clear sailing.

First, the new defaults for my NVIDIA GeForce 6200SE kept setting the frequency too high for my 19-inch Gateway FPD1960 flat-screen monitor. Now that was a really weird because that’s pretty basic stuff and it had worked right with Vista the first time around. I got around that by burning my own Vista SP1 disc with the latest (169) NVIDIA ForceWare Release drivers patched in.

Next, I worked on my long-standing problem with Vista being able to deliver basic audio with the Realtek ALC 882 audio chip set. I’m happy to report that I finally, finally fixed it. No thanks, however, to Vista .

Vista finally had a driver for it, but it didn’t work. All I got out of my speakers was an annoying high-pitch buzz like a bumblebee on meth. I went digging through Vista ‘s driver database, and I found a driver from Creative dated 2/14/2007. Don’t ask me where it was hiding before because I sure hadn’t seen it in the last 12 months of looking for a way to get the audio working. Be that as it may, I finally had a working basic audio system on my Vista system. Hurrah!

After that, I had to get my Vista PC to work with my network. While Vista could talk to my Windows Server 2003 and 2008 as well as my openSUSE 10.3 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1 servers, it couldn’t work with my Windows 2000 server or any of my NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices. Vista defaults to using NTLMv2 (NT LAN Manager) authentication for servers. That was because earlier versions of Samba, Windows Server 2000 and NT, and most NAS devices don’t or can’t use NTLM2. Instead, they tend to use the older NTLM or LM protocols for authentication.

The only reason I figured this out is that also know a fair amount about networking. To fix this, you’ll need to get down and dirty with Vista ‘s internals. The solution is to Click “Start -> Run.” Then, type in the Run field: “secpol.msc.” And you thought only Linux still required command line utilities. Ha!

This will bring you to Vista ‘s security policy system. Once there, drop down to “Go to: Local Policies > Security Options” and then find “Network Security: LAN Manager” authentication level. When you’re there, change the Setting from “Send NTLMv2 response only” to “Send LM & NTLM — use NTLMv2 session security if negotiated.” For on this, see my tale about Getting Vista to work with Samba.

And, so it is that at long, long last I have a working Vista system. It’s still not a good system.

Network performance, to everything except the system running Server 2008, is awful. That’s because Vista and Server 2008 can both use the SMB2 network file protocol. As I write this, no other operating system supports this protocol. USB 2.0 performance is also amazingly bad. I’m not even going to mention Aero performance, but I will say that watching video with Vista on this system is more like watching a PowerPoint slideshow than watching a movie sometimes.

Still it does work. It’s slower, in every important respect, mind you to XP SP2, XP SP3, openSUSE, MEPIS 6.5 and 7, but it does work. And, it only took 16 months and a lot of elbow grease to get it there! What a deal!

A version of this story first appeared in eWEEK.

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