This morning, for no particular reason, I decided to install the first release candidate of Windows 7. I had a spare old hard drive lying around and just unplugged all my old drives and did a fresh install.
The installation process went pretty smoothly altogether and whilst it worked away I took the opportunity to tidy up the office a wee bit. About 20-30 minutes after initialising the install was complete.
I must say overall I’m fairly impressed with the solidity and smoothness of the new OS. Networking was painless, driver installation equally so, and it feels remarkably snappy on my AMD Athlon X2 3800+ which has 4Gb of RAM (all of which is now fully addressable thanks to 64-bit operation).
I think one of the major contributing factors to this sense of smoothness is the fact that I have two decent graphics cards powering my four screen set-up, and now that Windows (since Vista) is actually making use of the substantial processing power hidden in modern graphics cards it leaves me feeling that Windows XP display is sluggish and poorly executed. However, I guess that’s hardly surprising for an OS which has been around for nearly eight years.
I was pleasantly surprised to see it pick up my four screens at the correct resolution on first run, as well as easily detecting my USB headset and my M-Audio Keystation Pro 88. My Focusrite Saffire LE was something which I wasn’t sure whether I’d get working or not, but I downloaded the 64-bit driver Focusrite have made for Vista and installed it with my fingers crossed – to my delight it worked straight out and I’m happily listening to Capleton using Foobar whilst I write this.
I’ve steered well clear of Vista for quite a long time now having been quite unimpressed by its behaviour on my HP6715b laptop. With Vista I found myself frustrated by poor performance, badly implemented networking, and a lot of minor annoyances with default behaviours.
UAC and Explorer
Windows 7 seems to have conquered an awful lot of these issues. The streamlined UAC behaviour is a vast improvement on Vista and I haven’t, during the process of setting things up, felt inclined to switch it off (something which I believe I did on Vista). Windows Explorer is behaving much more smoothly than it did on Vista as well and whilst I haven’t looked at file copying speed etc, it definitely feels a lot more usable. The new “libraries” look as though they could be extremely useful for grouping a number of different physical locations into one “virtual” folder.
As I mentioned, networking seems hugely improved. I found networking on Vista to be ungainly, overly complicated, and found myself consistently amazed at the fact that actions which I, as an experienced computer user, was being baffled as to how I could get the results I wanted for things which I would consider to be simple and basic. Connecting into our local network didn’t require any Workgroup name changes and system restarts, it just picked up a Windows Vista machine and an Ubuntu server (where we store all our media).
Connecting to the Linux server just required an input of user name and password and has worked smoothly since then. This is in stark contrast to Donn’s experience with his recent Vista install where, bafflingly, he has difficulty connecting every time he restarts the computer (not helped by the bizarre concept that “Home” editions of Vista and XP apparently don’t remember network credentials).
I have only been using this system for an afternoon, but a few things stand out. The new Windows Taskbar functionality instantly makes a huge amount of sense. With progress indicators on taskbar icons, a sleeker more intuitive look, and “Jump Lists”. The Jump Lists look like something that will gradually become more and more useful as developers integrate common actions into their programmes. In addition the notification area has been greatly improved and is easy to customise and feels responsive.
Of course, as I say, I’ve only been playing with this for an afternoon, so I’m sure that more things will jump out at me if I continue to play around with it.
Remarkably there have been very few niggles, and again, it is possible that I’d have more to report here on a more extended use of the OS, but a few things I’ve noticed are reported below.
I was surprised to see how much of my 4Gb of RAM is consumed on a fresh start and the Resource Monitor is reporting that I have 1025Mb of RAM in a “Hardware Reserved” state. However, it looks as though this could be a BIOS issue, as reported on this Overclockers Forum post. Of course my plan will be to coincide a computer upgrade with the installation of the final release of Windows 7, including at least 12Gb of RAM.
On a few ocassions, such as when unzipping or running an installer, I’ve noticed that my CPU usage has gone surprisingly high considering the simplicity of the task at hand. When this has happened I’ve noticed audio playback has been a little glitchy. Whether this is entirely dependent on the CPU usage or it’s a result of me running my Focusrite sound-card with a Vista64 driver, I’m not sure, but figured I’d mention it here anyway.
Some Hardware Incompatible
Of course, this isn’t really an OS issue, but unfortunately my Frontier Design AlphaTrack midi controller won’t install. I had hoped that, as with the Focusrite Saffire LE, I could get away with installing the Vista64 driver they have made available, but no joy on that front.
I haven’t as of yet tested the crucial software on which I’m dependent (such as Cubase, Reason, Sound Forge, Traktor, Adobe CS, etc), however, as with hardware it’s not an OS fault if this software isn’t compatible.
All in all I instantly have felt much more impressed with this new OS from Microsoft. It feels solid from the off, and seems to have solved a lot of the issues that plagued Vista from day one.
I would really need to intensively test this out by running a full install with all hardware and software installed and try it out on a day to day basis to get a proper idea of its capabilities, but I have a feeling that I’m probably going to run back to my WindowsXP install soon enough for fear of wasting work time on configuring, installing, and tweaking, all the while not knowing whether I’d actually end up with a completely usable system (especially from the audio tools point of view – and given that I have a live gig fast approaching and still have to wrap up a short film, I think I should revert sooner rather than later).