Vista Upgrade – Good Thing Its so Pretty

Ah, where do I begin…  If you are planning to upgrade an existing PC from XP to Vista, you better have some patience and expertise.  Clean installs have always been the preferred method when using an upgrade disk in the past, as Windows never seems to get it quite right when its all said and done.  According to the documentation, you can no longer do this, since Vista upgrades now require starting the upgrade from within a qualifying operating system.  Some research proved this to be incorrect.  Lucky for me, because Vista refused to get past 54% of the final phase after several futile attempts with all sorts of changes in between.  Read on to hear my challenges.

Having done a few hundred or so upgrades in the last 9 years, I know to do some basic things as a rule.  I uninstalled my antivirus and any other utilities that would normally run in the background.  I also took Microsoft’s advice and ran the Vista Upgrade Advisor.  It informed me of other incompatibilities like nero 6.x.  I followed the advice and uninstalled all non-compatible items.  Having received the big thumbs up on all my hardware, this upgrade would be no problem.  Or so I thought.

Everything was going well until the final phase where I sat restlessly at 54% completion.  I did a few chores and came back with no change.  There was a message at the bottom that said this upgrade might take several hours (huh?).  Being impatient, I launched the task manager from a little known key combination during an installation and proceeded to kill a few services until I managed to crash the install.  Upon reboot, Vista politely told me the upgrade failed and proceeded to restore my drive to its pre-upgrade state; and it restored it perfectly.  The ability to restore my XP after getting so far into a failed install was perhaps the most impressive thing about this whole fiasco.

Attempt #2 included uninstalling the video driver and disabling a few services, making sure no periperals were connected except a keyboard and mouse; and this time I left it alone without touching it.  Six hours later, the same result as attempt #1, but this time with a C++ error on setup.exe at the 54% mark. Ok, I thought.  Time to bring out the big guns.

Attempt #3 – This time I performed a BIOS update using a very new, however beta version.  I disabled features not being used like the integrated wireless and additional IDE controller.  I hunted until I found an updated RAID driver from Intel (who made the chipset but not the motherboard).  I had a hunch that the complexity of my RAID array might be the culprit with the failed upgrades.  Surely now it will work.

Attempt #4 – I finally concluded that the only way to upgrade Windows is still a clean install, and I gave Microsoft every chance to prove me wrong.  First, I launched the upgrade in Windows and used the new Vista Easy Transfer to backup files and settings to my 3rd internal hard drive.  Then, I rebooted the computer directly from the Vista DVD and started the upgrade.  I typed in the install Key and clicked next, only to be informed that I couldn’t do a clean install with that number.  I would need to provide a full version number or start the upgrade when logged into XP.  Now this totally sucks.  What is a person to do when they purchase an upgrade and it won’t load over the top of their existing operating system?  I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

After some research I found the most interesting workaround.  You DO have to upgrade over the top of a qualifying upgrade; but you CAN install the Vista upgrade while booting from the DVD if you DON’T put the key in and then click next.  You heard me right.  You can just click right past the “required” key and install Vista.  It will give you the option of installing any version of Vista and there are several versions (home basic, home premium, business, ultimate and variations thereof).  Don’t be greedy and think you are going to make this work by choosing a different version than you paid for.  I selected Vista Business because that’s the version Microsoft gave me.

I deleted my entire partition and let Vista create a new one for the install.  In a very short time, I had successfully installed Windows Vista.  Now I’m working in an unactivated, trial install of Vista.  DO NOT ACTIVATE AT THIS POINT.  With the DVD still in, start the upgrade a second time from within the newly installed Vista.  This time put the key in when requested and do an UPGRADE over the UPGRADE.  This install also went as fast as the successful clean install and with equal success.  I won’t bore you with the fun I had finding a compatible sound driver, but everthing else including RAID drivers were picked up perfectly.  Now I activated the product.

The interface is beautiful and it almost makes you forget all the trouble it took to see it.  Its extremely memory hungry but this is not to be confused with poor performance.  I find Vista extremely nimble.  I did order an additional 1GB of RAM after seeing how much available memory was left after the operating system gobbled most of it up.  I reconnected my Canon S750 printer and Vista installed the driver, including the Canon print monitor in a matter of seconds.

The menus are very similar, yet different, and I found myself quickly adapting.  The migration of my backed up files and settings was also painless.  If you have a high end video card, you will see what I see.  If not, you are going to get a dumbed down version of the graphical capabilities Vista offers.

In conclusion, Vista was a daunting upgrade in my case.  Your results will vary based on hardware configuration and software installed.  If you have the know-how, some extra time and a fast computer, give the Vista upgrade a try.  If not, you might want to consider a new computer with Vista preinstalled.  And then again, there is nothing wrong with XP.