Vista Media Center: An Update

As I noted earlier, my Vista Media Center experiences are not that good to write home about. But things are changing. I was finally able to narrow down the problems to the NVIDIA drivers used with my graphics card. The latest NVIDIA drivers for Vista have vastly improved the performance on my pretty low end graphics card. The stutters have almost vanished. The one place where video still stutters is when I expand my 4:3 SDTV feed to the panaromic 16:10 mode using the media center’s zoom functionality.

The audio driver for my motherboard is still in beta. Once a final version for those drivers are available, I think all the problems will vanish. I am saving some money for my Home Premium upgrade.

Vista: Should you upgrade?

Now that Vista is officially available for atleast two weeks, as we expected, the net is now full of articles and advices on whether you should upgrade or wait for some more time. Most of the advice come from people who have never used Vista for more than a few hours. It is all based on their past observations, which need not be correct all the time.

Here is my take on upgrading to Vista, which is based on my experience of trying it out in trial mode on various PCs for the last 2 months. Now, it is largely dependent on what sort of hardware you have. If you are using a laptop, you may want to wait. I observed that the power management functionality, even though claimed to have been improved by Microsoft, is very poor. The laptops I tested always ran hot and the whirring of the fan could be heard 90% of the times. When the machine is idle and there are no applications open, the fan was inactive. The moment you launch an application, no matter how small it is, the fan just kicks in, even if you have set the power management to “Save Battery”. All in all, I was pretty scared to run the laptops for long hours as it may cause damage due to the raising temperatures.

If you have an NVIDIA graphics card on your PC or laptop, just do not upgrade now. NVIDIA drivers are still in their early stages with even the latest beta versions exhibiting several issues. I am not a great gamer, but the MCE performance with the default drivers shipped with Vista leave a lot to be desired. I finally traced the stutter issues that I faced on Vista MCE to the NVIDIA 6200 graphics card that I used in my media center desktop. Updating to the latest beta drivers improved the performance a little, but the stutter has not vanished completely.

On the other hand, if you have a hardware that is atleast one year old, the drivers shipped with Vista are pretty stable. Some of the older desktops (upgraded to 1 GB RAM) exhibited good stability and performed well. Almost all hardware was detected and proper drivers were available.

In short, you can take the Vista plunge if you have a older hardware upgraded with enough RAM (read: atleast 1 GB). Just make sure that you are not using NVIDIA graphics card for now. Laptop users can wait for a little longer time so that some fixes are available for the power management issues. You don’t want to burn your lap, right? If you assembled a PC with the latest hardware, you may want to play the waiting game till your manufacturer(s) provide you with polished drivers for all your hardware bits.

Also note that this article is purely based on the hardware point of view. Vista definitely has more features and applications than XP worthy enough for an upgrade – but just make sure your hardware is ready for enjoying all the new features of Vista.

Cost of a Vista Upgrade

My Compaq presario v2000 laptop is about 10 months old. It runs Windows XP SP2 comfortably. The specs are as below:
Pentium M 1.6 GHz
768 MB RAM
80 GB Harddrive
Intel 915 GMA 900 graphics

I tried 3 beta releases of Vista (5478, pre-RC and RC1) on it. Barring some issues like no aero support, huge memory usage and some multimedia glitches, it does run Vista in a OK sort of manner. But the performance is nowhere near as XP. I just did an estimate of how much it will cost me in case I want to upgrade XP on it to Vista ultimate. Vista itself takes about 10 to 12 GB for a plain Vanilla install and with the fact that there is only 3 GB of space left in my C drive, it becomes essential to upgrade my hard drive too. So here is the final result:

Kingston DDR2 1 GB RAM upgrade : Rs 7000
120 GB Hard drive 2.5"         : Rs 6800
Windows Vista Ultimate         : Rs 11396 ($259 for upgrade from XP Pro at exchange rate of $1= Rs 44)
                         Total : Rs 25196 (==$572)

That is the price of a new Celeron/Turion 64 based laptop in India!!   
Now, here is another interesting calculation.

Cost of Vista Upgrade                : Rs 25000
Sale price of my 10 month old laptop : Rs 25000 (Bought for about 49k)
Additional 12 k from my pocket       : Rs 12000
                               Total : Rs 62000.

INR 62K is the price of a new 17″ Core 2 Duo iMac in India. 🙂

Upcoming Review: Windows Vista

I just installed Windows Vista build 5472 on one of the partitions in my laptop. I am currently in the process of writing a detailed review. Though there are enough reviews available on the internet, this one will focus more on the advanced features like Superfetch, file versioning, Ready Boost and Mobile Sync in addition to the new applications like Photo Gallery, iCal err… mmm.. Windows Calender etc.,

My initial impressions with Vista are good. The installation went through without any glitch. None of the applications have crashed in the last few hours of testing.

And did I tell you that this post is completely written using Live Writer? Obviously this is a much improved version of the blog support built into Office 2007 beta that I blogged about a few months back. It has become much more polished, supporting many more services. The best thing I liked about the tools is its support for embedding images in your posting. No need to mess around with the images on WordPress editor. You can also tag your posts.

The Live Writer release surprised many people, the net is full of initial reviews of this product. Live Writer shows how Microsoft is maturing as a company in embracing third party standards support. Another very interesting move from MS in the recent days is support for PHP in .Net. There is a project now hosted on codeplex which attempts to add a PHP CLR compiler.