Clean Install Is the Way to Go with Vista

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-10-27

Clean Install Is the Way to Go with Vista

IT managers have many questions when it comes to Microsoft Vista, whose final release is looming. One of the biggest: Clean install or upgrade?

To gauge the impact of a Vista migration on existing applications, eWEEK Labs upgraded a Windows XP system to Vista Build 5568. We tested using a Lenovo ThinkPad T41 with 1.5GB of RAM, a 1.6GHz Pentium M processor and an ATI Radeon 7500 video card. Each laptop was loaded with one of Ziff Davis Medias standard Windows XP images.

While our upgrade experience was fairly good, we recommend that administrators opt instead for a clean install, teamed perhaps with Vistas Windows Easy Transfer utility for carrying over files and settings from the previous install. Not only is a clean install much faster than an upgrade, our tests show, but the significant changes in how Windows Vista handles software installation bring the possibility of compatibility issues that might not be immediately apparent.

We began the upgrade process by running Microsofts Upgrade Advisor tool, which informed us of which hardware and software components might not work following an upgrade. Somewhat ominously, the advisor reported that wed have to replace the following controllers: LPC (Low Pin Count) interface, processor to I/O, and processor to AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port).

Of course, we couldnt replace all of these controllers without tossing the whole notebook, so we just charged ahead. The Vista upgrade process churned for a few hours before announcing that the upgrade had failed, and that wed be delivered back to our previous Windows XP installation.

On the bright side, Windows XP worked just fine after the rollback was complete.

Undaunted, we headed to Lenovos Web site in search of a BIOS upgrade, which we found and applied to both of our test machines. We reran the Windows Upgrade Advisor, but the BIOS upgrade didnt get rid of the controller replacement warnings.

What is the business case for upgrading to Vista? Click here to read more.

We restarted the upgrade again anyway, and, after another couple hours, Vista was up and running.

Upon logging on to our newly upgraded system, some of our applications didnt work. The dysfunctional applications were the usual suspects after an OS upgrade (the kind that deal with lower-level OS issues): the wireless LAN client (in our case, Juniper Networks Odyssey WLAN client, the service for which Vista told us it could not load), the VPN client (Cisco Systems VPN Client, with which we couldnt initiate a VPN connection) and anti-virus (Symantecs Antivirus 10, which appeared normally in our tray but did so with auto-protection switched off).

We did find a beta version of Ciscos VPN Client for Vista, which worked fine for us.

We found no mention of an updated Odyssey client on Junipers Web site, but Vista was willing to manage the WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) connection to our wireless network. It took some tinkering, however, to get the link working.

Following my colleague Andrew Garcias Vista advice, we uninstalled our wireless adapter, allowed it to reinstall and then downloaded an updated driver from Windows Update to get the link up and running.

Symantec offers a version of its Antivirus 10 product for Vista, but we didnt have handy the serial number Symantec required to download the software.

Our upgraded systems Office XP installation worked normally, as did its default Firefox browser. We were pleased to see that the Google toolbar that had been installed for Internet Explorer 6 in the Windows XP image was installed properly on IE 7 in the upgraded Vista system.

We didnt notice a performance drop after the upgrade—the ThinkPads 1.6GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM were plenty for our new Vista box to run smoothly. However, our test notebooks graphics adapter weighed down our score—our system rated only a 1.0 on the Windows Experience Index. The upshot was that Vista ran without the pretty translucency of Aero Glass, but, as weve written in the past, Aero sans Glass looks sharp on its own, and we really didnt miss the extra effects.

Perhaps the thorniest after-effect of the upgrade from the Software Explorer interface of Vistas included Windows Defender anti-spyware application.

Our list of startup programs was full of items from our Windows XP image, not all of which the application could recognize as permissible. These included four different Windows host processes, the origins of which we couldnt immediately discern.

Next Page: Starting from scratch.

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We turned next to performing a clean install of Vista. We installed Build 5600, the RC1 release of Vista, on the ThinkPad that we had upgraded. We transferred files and settings to this system from an identically configured Windows XP-powered Lenovo T41.

As with the clean installs weve performed with builds 5536 and 5568, RC1 took about 30 minutes to install. After wed finished the install process, we checked Windows Update. As with our XP-to-Vista upgrade, we found four updates available for our T41—new drivers for our video and wireless adapters, a ThinkPad power management driver and updated signatures for Windows Defender.

OEMs reveal their Vista upgrade plans. Click here to read more.

After applying the updates, we set out to transfer files and settings from the Windows XP machine. We launched the Windows Easy Transfer application, copied a small migration application to a USB key and ran that application on our Windows XP machine.

Both machines were connected to the same network, and we instructed the transfer application to connect the two machines directly over the network.

The transfer application prompted us to create new users on our destination machine to receive the user-specific settings from our host Windows XP system. We had to create new passwords for these users once we returned to our clean-installed Vista box.

The version of Windows Easy Transfer that ships with Vista RC1 does not transfer applications. Microsoft officials have said that the final version of this utility will offer this feature.

Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

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