Vista RC1 Tests Show a Rocky Migration

A clean install is faster, less problematic than an XP upgrade.

Weve seen a bevy of Vista builds lately, and each has made some improvement over the other. But, now that the day of reckoning for Vista is drawing near, eWeek Labs wanted to put the operating system to a real-world test—that is, what will it be like to upgrade a Windows XP machine to Vista?

eWeek Labs has spent much of the last week testing Vista builds 5568 and 5600. Both are marked "RC1," but 5600 is the official RC1 build that Microsoft made available on Sept. 1 to nearly 6 million testers. Our tests show that neither build is much changed, at least superficially, from the 5536 release we wrote about Aug. 28.

To gauge the impact of a Vista migration on existing applications, we upgraded a Windows XP system to Vista Build 5568, a release that Microsoft characterized as "very close" to Build 5600, the official Vista RC1 release.

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.

We began the upgrade process by running Microsofts Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor tool, which informed us of which hardware and software components might not work following an upgrade. Somewhat ominously, the tool 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 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 re-ran Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor, but the BIOS upgrade didnt get rid of the controller replacement warnings.

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 operating system upgrade (the kind that deal with lower-level operating system issues): the WLAN (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.

Symantec offers a version of its AntiVirus 10 product for Vista Beta 2, 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 Mozilla Foundation Firefox browser. We were pleased to see that Google Toolbar, which 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 notebook lacked a three-dimensional-capable graphics adapter—as do most notebooks—so 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.

We could view perhaps the thorniest aftereffect 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.

We turned next to performing a clean install of Vista. We installed Build 5600, the official RC1 release, 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. After applying the updates, we set out to transfer files and settings from the Windows XP machine.

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