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Installing Vista on ‘legacy’ machines

I have a two year old laptop which came with Windows XP. XP unfortunately is getting a bit old especially given that noone at Microsoft has worked on the code since 2005 (aside from security fixes.) There is almost no information as to how to go about upgrading from XP to Vista so I decided to summaries some of the steps as well as a few tips and tricks I learnt along the way.

Fore-mostly, decide if it is practical to move to Vista on your hardware. There is no denying Vista has much steeper hardware requirements than XP and it should be noted that there are some machines (even ones which quote that they are ‘Vista Capable’) which will not work well with Vista.

This can be a difficult decision as the realistic requirements for Vista are difficult to quantify. Many people from Bloggers, forum lurkers to Microsoft Engineers quote a variety of minimum and recommended hardware requirements. I do not wish to add to this rampant opinion base, instead I am going to outline how to make your decision.

1) Does your system have a minimum of 708 (Yes 708 no 768) Mb of RAM AFTER deducting any shared graphics card RAM? Ideally to run Windows Vista comfortably you should have 1Gb but my laptop behaved well with 708Mb. It should be noted that if you can tweak the amount of RAM a shared graphics card uses, its worth setting it to as low an amount as possible (Normally done in the BIOS.) Vista requires between 32-64Mb of Graphics RAM so if yours is set to 128Mb and you are short on main system RAM, free it up. If you have enough RAM, continue onto the next point. If not, your adventure ends here :)

2) Does your system manufacturer supply official Vista drivers? If so, its a good chance your system will behave well with Vista and you can save yourself a lot of work, however if you can not download Vista drivers for your laptop – do not despair. Most manufacturers are very lazy about updating drivers in general but thankfully the vast majority of components are modular and used by other laptop manufacturers. It is likely that most of the drivers can be found from difference sources.
It varies on a case by case basis, but a lot of XP drivers / utilities can be used in Windows Vista however this should only be used in a last case situation. The reason for this is the fact that your mileage will vary. Most XP drivers will run in a type of compatibility/emulation mode which will reduce your system’s performance. Some drivers can cause far greater problems like not releasing resources in a reliable way leading to memory leaks, lockups and / or causing Vista to fail from standby/hibernation or failing to shutdown.

The first thing to do is to make a list of the hardware on your system e.g. Graphics card, Audio card, Wifi/Wired networking equipment, PCMCIA, Memory card reader etc. Once you have done this, Google is your friend. For example, I have listed my laptop (Amilo A1650) specs and what I did to make each part work.

CPU : Athlon 3400+, No driver required for Vista.

GFX : Ati x200m GPU, No driver required for Vista, but updated version available from ati.amd.com

Wireless : Broadcom 4318 , Did a google search for a laptop with this chip, downloaded the native Vista driver from the manufacturers website and it works well. Well actually it took two or three different attempts to find one which worked well.
LAN : Realtek RTL8139/810x Family Fast Ethernet NIC. Again can be found by the same method as above, although this is not strictly needed as Vista pre-installed a good driver for this.

PCMCIA : Texas Instruments PCI-xx21/xx11 CardBus Controller with UltraMedia – XP version causes laptop to fail to shutdown in some cases, driver installed by Vista Update.

Modem : SoftV90 Data Fax Modem with SmartCP – Driver installed automatically by Vista update.

Card Reader : Texas Instruments based – not supported by Vista – Still working on this one :)
Software (Launch Manager) : Installed XP version (using compatibility mode XP SP2) – works well

Make your own list and do some google searching / trawling. Be aware you may need to reinstall Windows Vista a few times before you find the winning driver combination – it took me almost eight to get it right. Just be careful and install drivers incrementally at first so you can roll back if you start to see unexpected behaviour and / or performance issues.

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