At long last the light is at the end of the tunnel. After a several year development period, the longest for any single consumer version of Windows, the end is near for Windows Vista. While it's clearly not ready to be delivered in to the hands of users quite yet, Vista is finally at a point where we can begin talking about what will happen, and not what may.

Although Microsoft uses the Release Candidate nomenclature for Vista builds 5600 and above, including build 5728 we're looking at today, the reality of the situation is that the shipping version of Windows Vista will not be these builds or even a few builds down the line. Given the complexity of an operating system, there are still messy quirks and bona fide bugs in these release candidates, and it's going to be at least another month before we're talking about Microsoft having released a final version, and even then there will be a good amount of post-launch patching to be done as Vista ends up in the hands of the ultimate bug hunters, everyday users.

With that said, this is the first time that we can say without flinching that Vista is in an acceptable state for general use. Compatibility on the x86 version is remarkably improved over what we saw earlier, and in our testing we only managed to come up with a single program - non-commercial at that - that simply wouldn't function correctly under Vista no matter what. Otherwise, everything could be made to work under Vista given enough cajoling, which is an enormous feat given the amount of under-the-hood work the operating system has received compared to Windows XP.

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User Account Controls have not changed much since build 5472, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Like Windows overall, UAC is usable at this point, and not nearly the nuisance it was as of Beta 2. It still has rough spots, and we'll get to that in a bit, but at this point enthusiasts are the only group that will have problems with it.

Hardware support and in-the-box drivers are also coming together, no doubt due to the portability of drivers between Vista and XP in most cases. A quick run-through of our lab turned up only two pieces of hardware that weren't supported under Vista: a Hauppauge TV tuner that had three of the four drivers it needed, and our PhysX card, both of which should have full support soon. All things considered, this will likely be the least-painful Windows transition on the driver front, as vendors have been on top of the few key kernel/driver changes for a while.

At this point we've been using RC1 for nearly a month, and the newer build 5728 for over two weeks, and while we're ready to switch back to XP until Vista is completed due to some video issues, Vista is ready to be taken seriously.

What Lies Ahead & the Test
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  • yxalitis - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    intersting, the first thign I did wiht Vista X64, is to compare Half Life 2 Lost Coast timedemos between the X64 versions of Windows XP and Vista. I found a MASSive improvement, quite repeatable, at the highest quality settings at 1600 X 1200 on an ASUS p5W deluxe running an X1800 XT. I mean 68 fps compared to 48 in XP.
    I wonde if Anand and tema would consider doing an X64 comparison. I have lived in teh X64 world for some time now, and therefore have all the XP X64 drivers I need to install all my hardware! This is a far cry from Windows 2000, wheere ti was like it or lump it! (New HP scanner anyone? Creative sound cards? Forget it!)
    Reply
  • flexy - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    wait 4,5,6 months, say, spring next year.

    We will have Vista and hopefully new and better drivers, and new DX10 cards from ATI and Nvidia.

    Until then performance-enthusiasts can stay with XP..it's not that someone gets FORCED to go Vista, especillay since some drivers and 3rd party apps still need some maturity. Just be patient.

    As for right now...i got Vista 5728 64bit and i am VERY please despites MINOR quirks (say: CREATIVE Audigy :)...i dont have reason to think negative, instead positive....things need a while to mature.

    And then in a few months load up Crysis under Vista w/ a DX10 card and noone will complain anyore :)
    Reply
  • mgambrell - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    The compatibility score would drop through the floor if they tested the 64bit version of vista. It's got nothing to do with the 64bitness--I am comparing to XP-64. The 64 bit version forbids unsigned drivers from loading, which while this may be eventually resolved by all the indie developers, for now means no daemon tools and no ultramon.

    Be very careful with 64bit vista, it has disadvantages when compared to xp-64
    Reply
  • yxalitis - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    I disagree, are you using RC1, or Vista beta? I loaded all my hardware using various unsigned drivers, including my Epson RX510. I am fairly certain Microsoft dropped that requirement from RC1, because I have read it in lots of forum posts, but never encounterd any problems. Reply
  • ProviaFan - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    I'm using Vista RC1 (build 5600) x64, and it still seems to have the signed driver requirement. You can select to disable signed drivers temporarily for one boot from the F8 boot options menu, but under normal operation Vista will prevent my Gretag Macbeth Eye-one drivers from loading (said drivers work perfectly in XP x64, naturally). Reply
  • mgambrell - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    Hamachi too. i was just reminded of that by a hamachi update which said they added driver signing. so hopefully this stuff will begin soon. Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    With this many years to develop it, it is not at all unreasonable to expect IMPROVED performance, not equal and especially not lesser performance. Totally unacceptable. Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    When was the last time a new OS was released that ran significantly faster on the same hardware?

    I can only think of WinXP boot time and even then only the usual case compared with Win98.
    Reply
  • mgambrell - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    Well personally I expect more robustness, capabilities, and security. That stuff all comes at the cost of speed. I absolutely do not expect several years of development in an OS to improve process startup time. I expect the process to become more involved and powerful and thus the speed to on the whole remain the same. Reply
  • Pirks - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    This "gaming" review may be interesting for people who buy ATI cards which are a mix of nice hardware and stinking decomposing corpse of software... until I see your review with various GeForce video cards I won't pass any judgement on Vista. I expect ATI to continue producing a joke they call "Vista drivers" and will accept only the gaming benchmark results made on nVidia cards. Thank you. Reply

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