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5/22/2006
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Windows Vista Beta 2: An Improvement?

While beta 2 has made significant improvements, Vista is still a little rough around the edges when it comes to hardware support and driver compatibility.

Now that Microsoft has reached a major milestone with the release of Vista Beta 2, channel players are more curious than ever about what Vista has to offer. CRN Test Center engineers set out to put Vista Beta 2 (Ultimate Edition, Build 5381) through its paces to see if the hoopla around the product is merited.

While beta 2 has made significant improvements, Vista is still a little rough around the edges when it comes to hardware support and driver compatibility. Those issues became evident as Test Center engineers installed Vista on several test systems.

Test Center engineers worked with the ultimate edition of Vista, which offers the complete feature set for the product, including media center capabilities, mobile computer support and tablet computer enhancements. The Other 5 versions of Vista will offer less features and will be available at lower price points.

To leverage the mobile enhancements most appropriate for upgrades, Test Center engineers focused on the mobile technology arena. Computers such as laptops, notebooks and tablets will offer the biggest challenges for upgraders, mostly due to the inability to enhance the integrated hardware, such as video cards and microprocessors.

Test Environment & Initial Installation
The first system selected for testing was a HP/Compaq NC6320, a recently released notebook system geared for the performance-orientated mobile worker. The NC6320 runs an Intel Core Dou 2Ghz Processor, features 1Gbyte of ram, and the Intel 945GM chip set. As a higher end notebook, The NC6320 is a unit designed for high performance for the business user and is chock full of options.

Surprisingly, several issues were encountered with the installation of Vista on the NC6320, making the overall experience far from ideal. Performance took a big hit on the unit, with Vista running noticeably slower than Windows XP.

A fresh install of Vista was time consuming. The basic installation took almost 2 hours—albeit with little user interaction required—a significant amount of time to spend on a basic OS installation. After the lengthy install, Test Center engineers encountered several driver problems. Several components of the NC6320 lacked compatible drivers and were rendered useless.

Those non-functioning devices included the Integrated Wi-Fi radio, Bluetooth radio, sound card, integrated modem, fingerprint scanner and EVDO modem. Other devices were configured with generic drives, which allowed those devices to function, but not at optimal performance. Those devices included the Video card, Hard Disk Drive and LCD Display panel.

A visit to Windows Update (via a wired Ethernet connection) did not offer any new drivers to solve the problems. Test Center engineers then attempted to install Windows XP drivers from HP's Web site and were met with limited success.

While some updated drivers brought functionality back to the Wi-Fi connection, Bluetooth and modem, there was no way to get the EVDO radio and fingerprint scanner to work. A new video-card driver solved some of the initial configuration problems, but still proved to be problematic for optimal operation of the Vista OS.

The most noticeable problem was the inability to run the Aero interface. The key to running the Aero interface is to use a graphics card and driver combo that supports WDDM (Windows display driver model). When asked, both HP and Microsoft said that a WDDM compatible driver for the Intel 945GM-based display adaptor would not be available in time for the launch of Beta 2.

Test Center engineers found that running a Windows Performance Rating assessment using Vista's built-in performance tool would cause the system to crash with a blue screen stop error during the display adapter test, a clear indication of a video driver incompatibility problem.

Surprisingly, the NC6320 scored an overall performance score of 1 on the Windows Performance Rating Scale, with 1 being the lowest score and 5 being the highest. The assorted problems encountered with getting Vista to work to its full capability forced Test Center engineers to select another system for testing. The next system tested was a Lenovo/IBM ThinkPad T42, which is built around a Pentium M 735 (1.7Ghz) processor, including 512Mbytes of RAM and video graphics powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 video card.

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