A Saturday Operating System Re-Install

It’s been a while since I’ve had to do this, but my installation of Windows Vista Ultimate on my media editing computer was acting so funky it was time for a wipe and re-install. I’ve been watching it go down hill for a few months now, mostly around codec problems (which is a rant for another day) and random application crashes. This morning was the last straw though: I kept getting DEP (Data Execution Protection) errors when using Sure Thing label-making software. Crash crash crash. I was somehow wishing that Windows Vista was different in this regard, but Windows is still Windows: shared DLLs, shared codecs, sloppy third party development, and a tendendency towards instability over time. I’ve found Vista to be better XP – most of my installs last a good year – but it’s still a frustrating problem to have.

I decided to roll back to a squeaky-clean image I had created last year using Acronis TrueImage. The idea being that I have a version of Vista installed, activated, and with all the drivers I needed for the on-board hardware. I installed this clean version of VIsta (after dealing with TrueImage’s tendency toward idiocy in dealing with USB-based keyboards), then I let Vista patch itself up to current status. When SP1 never appeared I did a manual download and install. That worked well, and the final update I did was an NVIDIA driver update. After the install of the video driver, I rebooted my system, only to be presented with an error messages generated by my monitor telling me that the system was displaying a monitor setting that the monitor couldn’t match. I rebooted a few times by punching the reset button, then I booted into safe mode (which worked), but I was unable to set the system to a resolution that the the monitor would support. It’s worth noting that this is a 24″ Dell LCD monitor that runs at 1920 x 1200…so I can’t imagine what resolution the video card was set at (2560 x 1600?). System restore? It seems I turned it off on the image I’d created with Acronis TrueImage.

My only real choice left was a re-install from scratch of Windows Vista. I pondered whether to go 64-bit or not, but in the end I decided that I wanted compatibility more than any of the rather nebulous benefits of going 64-bit (other than getting to use an extra 698 MB of RAM). The install has now finished, and the system is fully patched. What I haven’t done, however, is to re-install all the drivers from Shuttle. After Vista installed, everything just worked: audio, networking, video, etc. In fact, looking at the Device Manager, there wasn’t a single unrecognized device. That’s quite impressive. So the question now is, do I stick with the WHQL-certified plain-jane drivers that come with Vista – which tend to be stable, but not optimized for speed – or do I seek out the proper drivers for my hardware? I updated the video driver of course, but I’ve left the sound, networking, and chipset drivers alone. Decisions, decisions. Opinions?

One thing worth noting: Vista absolutely screams when it’s brand new!

  • Janak Parekh

    My opinion: unless you have a specific need, use the default driver. Cruft builds up everywhere in the system, including parts of old drivers.

    I tend to be minimalistic nowadays, and it’s significantly reduced how often I have to reinstall my machines. I now pretty much only have to reinstall when there’s a major version upgrade of an OS.

  • I find that Vista does a good job of installing default drivers. I also notice as I go along that Vista’s Windows Update will pick up device specific drivers. I’ve never had a problem just letting Vista handle drivers for me, even for devices that aren’t supposed to be able to work with Vista, like my Hauppauge WinTV USB2 device.