I took the plunge! I obtained a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium Edition (32bit) for System Builders. This I purchased along with three 500GB Western Digital SATA hard drives and a Promise RAID 5 controller.
Why all the HDD space, you ask? Unlike many, I have a large collection of CDs that I’ve ripped (at 320Kbps) to MP3 (WMA Lossless is unsuppored on Media Center Extenders, just FYI). So my collection of legitimate music is about 50GB these days.
Also, I am totally sold on Windows Media Center. With this extension to the operating system, an internet connection, and a TV tuner card I can replicate TiVo/DVR behavior on my computer — without a monthy TiVo fee or limited storage space. Then, using my XBOX (original) and Media Center Extender I can view and listen to all my pictures, music, and TV in the living room on my HD TV. And since the XBOX plays DVDs and video games, I can do those, too.
Ah, but there are limitations. Media Center Extender for XBOX (original) doesn’t support 16:9 widescreen nor high definition (HD) content. Not cool. For that I need to upgrade to an XBOX 360, and HDMI converter, and a new HDTV tuner card.
So, I figure that there’s no sense in getting the XBOX 360 until I have some place to store all that HD content, right? And since I’ll be reinstalling Windows, why not jump on the Vista bandwagon?
The Adventure Begins
I shut down my Media Center PC (XP) for the last time in Wednesday night thinking the process would be relatively simple: pull the old hard drives, install and configure the new drives, install Vista, setup Media Center (Vista), then add my XBOX (original) to the Extenders list.
The RAID setup was quick and fast, in typical Promise fashion. The Windows Vista installer booted quickly, had a very straight-forward “pick your hard drive and format it” process (which was harder for my setup due to needing and OEMSETUP drivers disk for the Promise RAID controller, but even THAT was easy!).
The Vista install was fast… under 30 minutes to install. Another 30 minutes was spend “configuring” and just like that I had a Windows Vista desktop complete with Aero Glass UI and sidebar.
Thats when the trouble began
Vista grabbed my network information, configured its firewall, and started pulling updates as soon as I said it was okay to do so. Before I knew anything was happening my winmodem, RAID controller, onboard sound, and graphics drivers had all be downloaded (along with a few Vista updates). I installed them all, like a good little system builder.
KA-BOOM! Bluescreen. Unrecoverable bluescreen. Booting to “Last Known Good Configuration” didn’t work, more bluescreens, as did reverting to a prior restore point. Booting back to the install DVD bonked, too: “Repair” didn’t work because it couldn’t find a successfully installed version of Vista (it couldn’t see the RAID array as I later surmised).
I reinstalled. Five times. Each time met with an IRQL_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL or POOL_CALL bluescreen (with a couple thrown in just to piss me off).
Vista’s installer (and boot menu) come with Windows Memory Diagnostics (my favorite RAM tester). Too bad I passed all the RAM tests. So I started pulling components. I pulled the Zoom winmodem and my eVGA nVidia NVTV single-head MCE TV tuner card (low-def). Then I reinstalled. Again.
This time, Vista didn’t have to look for drivers for those. Progress. I didn’t install the “optional” “updated” Promise drivers either. More progress. I installed everything else: so far so good. Installed Word, Groove, Messenger, Flash Player: still no problems. I rebooted a few times: still working slick. Downloaded the software/drivers for Microsoft’s FingerPrint Reader: again, no problems.
Feeling confident I hooked up my 250GB HDD (the one with the music, pics, and recorded TV on it), booted, and started the process of copying the files into their new diggs on the terrabyte of storage that I have at my fingertips. That took a while… a LONG while… So I did some research: my TV Tuner Card, the eVGA nVidia NVTV card isn’t supported under Vista, nor are there any plans to support it; their solution is to buy the Dual TV Tuner (guess I should have ponied up for that card in the first place). Great, I’ll have to buy a new TV Tuner card. I was going to get a dual-head HDTV Tuner card sooner or later anyway. Guess I’ll have to get by with (gasp!) live TV until then.
My Epson Stylus Photo R220 isn’t supported in Vista. No drivers. Come on Epson! Either use the stanard driver archetecture so that my old drivers will work, or come out with compatible software before the new OS is released! You’ve had an alpha, beta, or release candidate of Vista for what, two years now? That’s just unacceptable. What’s that? You want me to buy another printer? Okay, but it won’t be an Epson.
I set up Media Center (of course not the TV part since I didn’t have a TV Tuner), and went looking for my XBOX (original) Media Center Extender. Not found? How’s that? Firewalls perhaps? As a troubleshooting step I unplugged from the internet at the router (just me and my switch now), then I turned off the Windows Firewall and the OneCare Firewall. It STILL could not find my Media Center Extender. More research: I haven’t found anywhere that’s explicitly said it, but several other early adopters are reporting that the only Vista supported Extender is the XBOX 360 (people who own Media Extender appliances and/or original XBOX may be out of luck!). Can anyone confirm this?
The Saga Continues
Everything I’ve mentioned above might make it sound like I hate Vista. Far from it!
Vista’s install is beautiful — aesthetically and technically; it’s fast, intelligent, and fast! (Did I mention that it’s fast?)
Vista’s update process is FINALLY inside the OS (not inside a browser), they’re quick, easy to understand, and they have a large driver-base.
Vista’s UI (and UX) are gorgeous! Vista looks beautiful, is very snappy, and finally uses the video processor to render video (the display and how it behaves). So far, Vista is MUCH faster on the same hardware than Windows XP ever was!!
To Be Continued…