Vista vs. Julian. Round 1.

published: Thu, 30-Nov-2006   |   updated: Mon, 18-Feb-2008

It did not start well. I downloaded the Windows Vista Ultimate RTM iso image overnight about two weeks ago, shortly after it was made available to MSDN subscribers. I have a DVD writer on a different machine, a hefty Dell desktop alongside my svelte Toshiba M200 tablet, and as I was transferring the iso image from the svelte to the hefty I suddenly heard this series of ki-chunk, ka-chunk, ki-chunk sounds, as some USB device on the Toshiba mounted and unmounted in quick succession.

Eventually it stopped, without me finding out what the device was. It certainly wasn't the external hard disk enclosure that has the slightly dodgy USB socket with which I'm used to having problems.

Anyway, I decided to ignore the problem for then and burned a DVD with the iso image on the Dell.

Of course, having the DVD, I decide to try it out and boot the Toshiba with it to verify it was ready for use. I selected the option to boot from CD/DVD, but the tablet didn't, instead booting form the hard disk. I tried again, same story.

I let the tablet boot from the hard disk, only to find that the CD/DVD drive was no longer recognized. This was, to put it mildly, a stunning coincidence: the one time I really wanted to boot from CD/DVD, the drive dies.

A quick bit of background is in order. The M200 series does not have an onboard CD/DVD drive; instead it uses an extra-cost slim external USB drive. It's a Toshiba-branded drive and it has some kind of extra circuitry so that the M200 tablet can boot off it. Although the M200 can use other external CD/DVD drives once booted, this is pretty much the only drive that can be used to boot an M200. (There are others, but the official list of bootable drives is two years old, and many of them are no longer available.)

So there was nothing for it but to buy another external optical drive. In a complete reversal of my luck so far, someone on eBay was selling a refurbished drive with the end date the following day. I sniped and won the auction: an external drive for half the price the original cost me. The drive was sent UPS Ground but they seemed to walk it from California to Colorado: it took a whole week to arrive.

Yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, I finally had all the bits I needed to install Vista: a working Toshiba optical drive that booted the tablet properly; a brand new 100GB 7200rpm Hitachi notebook drive; a DVD containing the Vista install. I swapped hard drives and started the install. (No, I didn't want to "upgrade" my tablet XP install to Vista; I wanted a clean fresh install.) I put a CD of Arnold Bax' Symphony No. 1 on the CD player and cleaned up my office and did admin tasks while the operating system installed.

The CD had just finished by the time I could log in to Vista; so it took about an hour to do all the installation and reboots and file copies and all that (the optical drive is not exactly fast when reading a DVD; it's only a 2x drive in that mode).

The screen was initially in 800x600 mode. Ouch. It was then I discovered that the video adapter (an NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200) hadn't been recognized properly and the install had installed the standard VGA driver, which under Vista has quite a few modes, including the native 1400x1024. I switched to that and it was time to google. (In fact, as it turned out, there was only one piece of hardware that wasn't recognized properly and that didn't have a driver: I don't know what it was -- bluetooth, perhaps -- since I was more concerned in getting the display working properly).

It seems that there aren't any official drivers for that NVIDIA chip under Vista yet, despite one being available under RC1. I found a couple of preliminary ones (97.19, 96.33) on the 'net that I downloaded. (Richard Sprague on the Vista team at Microsoft seems to have better drivers that aren't available publicly yet.)

I installed the first (97.19), after which I discovered the next big problem. Although under XP my video adapter can drive two screens (I have a 19-inch external monitor and the internal tablet screen), the Vista driver had enormous problems driving the second screen. It would recognize it, and I could set its resolution in the display properties panel, but I couldn't get anything to display on it. The monitor would go into standby mode since there was no signal.

Mmm. Not good. Plus this driver didn't seem do any of the Aero effects. So, I uninstalled it and then installed the other driver (96.33).

This time I was able to get Aero effects, but the driver also stubbornly refused to drive two monitors. I would get some intriguing effects, such as my external monitor being alive and the mouse cursor visible on it, but my internal LCD being dead with nothing to see. Of course, the display properties dialog would be displayed on the internal LCD, but as I couldn't see it, I'd have to forcefully power off the machine to reboot it.

The Fn+F5 key didn't work either (this is the key that switches the display from internal to external monitor), so I couldn't just bring up Vista and then switch monitors. Seated at my desk, with the tablet in its docking cradle, I can't read the internal LCD very well, even at 120dpi, since the screen is too far away and my eyesight is getting worse. I need to use the big external screen.

So all in all, I decided to retire from this round, bloodied but ready for the next. I swapped over the hard drives so that I could use my tablet again for my normal work. (Thank heavens I didn't try to update in place.)

Today is the official day that businesses can download the Vista iso image, so I imagine that better drivers will become available very soon. But as it stands at present, I can't use my tablet under Vista in my standard work scenarios.