Saturday, September 13, 2008

My own adventures with Windows Vista

I have two systems blessed with Windows Vista. A high-end Hewlett-Packard desktop, and a Sony laptop. The Sony is the VGN-SZ670N and the HP is the M9080N. If you look up the specs, you'll see they're both kick-ass machines.

I have had NOTHING but problems with Vista. My laptop Blue Screens on a pretty regular basis. No clue why. I've read multiple threads online from other people discussing how they have had blue screen errors from Vista on my laptop and tons of other laptops, both from Sony and from other companies. I want to document and post my experiences in hope that they will help someone else who is having similar problems.

The laptop. Talk about a pain. First off, Sony's customer service is abysmal. I was directed to do the usuals, and finally directed to the either Microsoft's service, or to use the restore disc to just wipe the computer and start over fresh. Or, as fresh as Sony's bloated, crap-filled initial install could ever be described.

Microsoft was also no help, simply telling me that the likely culprit was a driver. At least Microsoft led me in a some, ANY, direction. They were right, but what they couldn't explain is why Vista seems to suddenly take a disliking to random drivers in my laptop. The last time this happened, I had to install new video drivers. The next time, it was my DVD drive, a matshita dvd-ram uj-852S. If you Google it, you'll find half of the people on Earth are having problems with that drive. It eventually required this fix.

How did I know the DVD was fucked up, because it suddenly was no longer recognized by Windows. Just one day! No real reason. Upped and stopped working. Brilliant.

The next time, the USB host controller. The USB problems required complete uninstalls of drivers and re-installs of the SAME driver. Vista also stopped liking my USB wireless mouse. I think it may have been the thing that caused Vista to suddenly hate its own USB. I have no idea. I bought a new mouse, stripped Vista of any and all remnants of the USB drivers via regedit.exe, then re-installed reference drivers from Intel's website.

I would have installed reference drivers from Nvidia's website, but ohhhh, right, Sony is using some wacky-ass custom hardware for which only they can provide drivers. So I headed over the Sony's update website, which is terrible. It has a BIOS update that seems to think it's already installed, Nvidia drivers that always fail, and an update to some of Sony's crappy software that I uninstalled months ago. Terrible, UTTERLY TERRIBLE.

So, if you are getting repeated Blue Screens, otherwise known as BSOD, it is almost undoubtedly drivers! Head into control panel > system > Device Manager and see if there are any exclamation marks indicating failed driver loads. If so, go to the websites of the manufacturers and desperately seek out the most recent version. Find reference drivers, anywhere you can. Sony's drivers are unstable and damn-near-impossible to install.

My most recent blue screen and one from some time ago happened whenever I tried to open and then maintain a connection over WiFi. Programs such as BitTorrent, World of Warcraft, or even just simple downloads would crash the system. Upgrading the Intel 4965AGN drivers, even though the system crashed a dozen times during the stop/start download process, fixed the problem.

Do not rely on Sony's update site. Do not rely on Windows Update. Search for yourself regularly at the component manufacturer's website and see if you can find the most recent drivers manually.

Vista's catastrophic network problems continue on the HP. Free of critical system instability, Vista laughs at me by just never connecting to wireless networks. The stock A-G-N WiFi card in the PC had this convoluted antenna that snaked a wire throughout the case. After deciding the card needed to be replaced, I bought a D-Link card with three, holy-moly antennas protruding from the back. This fixed the problem only somewhat.

The problems appears to be that Vista finds it damn-near impossible to connect with networks that have multiple access points. My sister has a Vista desktop in her dorm room, from which there are nine access points all accessing the name network. At my house, there are two access points for the same network. At my house, Vista CANNOT communicate with the D-Link access point. It can only communicate with the router directly.

I have to use the D-Link utility that came with the card to force Vista to connect to a particular MAC address, namely the routers MAC. If left to its own devices, it apparently just tries jumping back and forth from the router to the access point, getting nothing done. And even now, Vista has some serious problems dealing with WiFi connections that are weak.

At the dorm, ALL of the access points are just that, access points. As such, even by picking out and forcing Vista to access only certain points, Vista will connect to only two of the nine. No clue why. We eventually gave up and just used a cat-5 cable. One of her roommates, when asked if she had heard anything about network access, laughed that she had a Mac and it "just worked."

Just worked, indeed. Cocky bitch.

So, yes. If you have the stock network card in your computer, download a network utility that allows you to pick out which networks and which MAC addresses to which to connect. Try Then you can pick out specific MACs and see if any of them work. If not, try upgrading your network cards driver. If not, buy a new network card. If not, get a cable. If not, get a Mac.

And don't even get me started on the bloat of Vista. It takes up a jaw-dropping amount of system memory. Right now, with Firefox open and nothing else, I'm rocking 1.4 GB's worth of system memory taken up, and a 1.6GB page file. I know this is supposed to be good, because Windows dumps what it can into RAM, so why does it take Vista forever to boot? And why does Vista access the hard drive for the first 20 minutes of operations? And why does the promise of multi-tasking with a dual-core CPU seem like a shallow lie? And most importantly, why is XP noticeable faster for almost every application I have? Tests seem to show no difference between Vista and XP, even showing Vista to be faster, but in my real-world experience, Vista is noticeable slower in Fireworks, Photoshop, Flash, and World of Warcraft?

And why, OH WHY, in World of Warcraft, with Vista, does holding down an arrow for an extended time while running slow the system to a crawl? It bogs down something. Some buffer somewhere is having a seizure.

Vista's instability, wide-spread and extreme network problems, and bloated, inefficient nature mean that XP remains the standard bearer for desktop PC's. Only an idiot would get Vista. I'd ditch it in a heartbeat if my laptop wasn't so fucking optimized for Vista, and Sony has no interest whatsoever in making its Vista laptops, with all their annoying, custom hardware, friendly with XP. So, yeah.

In conclusion, Blue Screen on a Sony VGN-SZ670N is almost always a driver that needs to be upgraded. WiFi connection problems in Vista are because Vista hates access points so you'll need an application to force Vista to connect to certain MAC addresses, and even then it's dodgey. Don't buy Vista, it's a mess of instability. Don't buy from Sony because their customer service is shockingly bad and their software is terrible. Don't get me wrong, the laptop itself is excellent. Well made, sturdy, attractive; it's everything I could want. But Sony insists on using their own software for drivers, music, EVERYTHING, and Sony quite obviously couldn't program their way out of a wet paper bag.

Windows XP on a completely off-the-shelf, hand-built desktop PC. Now that's paradise. Or a Mac, if you're a cocky art student who thinks she's just so special.

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