What I look for in a Vista PC

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve been running Windows Vista and Office 2007 full-time since December 2005. During that time, I’ve cycled more than a dozen desktop and notebook PCs through my office, using each one for at least a few weeks and getting as much hardware experience as I could with Vista.

Since Vista’s release last November, I’ve been slowly upgrading and replacing most of the PCs I use for different tasks. Over at ZDNet, I share my current hardware specs in Hardware notebook: What I look for in a Vista PC. Here’s the short version:

  • CPU – On a budget, get AMD. Willing to spend more? You’ll get more performance from an Intel Core 2 Duo or quad-core with at least 4MB of Level 2 cache.
  • RAM – 1GB is enough, but the upgrade to 2GB is cheap and does wonderful things for performance.
  • Hard disks – I recommend having at least twice as much hard disk space as you have data. Now that 500GB drives are in the $100 range, they’re an easy desktop upgrade.
  • Video – Onboard video gets a bad rap. Current versions of onboard video from both Intel and Nvidia are perfectly capable of running Vista’s Aero UI at full speed. I recommend a separate GPU if you use multiple monitors. I’m not a gamer, but everything I read from the community says serious gamers should avoid Vista for now.

I’ve been using the same desktop PC – a Dell XPS 210 – for more than three months now. It’s been stable, fast, and mostly trouble-free. In that time, Vista’s Reliability Monitor has been a surprisingly effective way to pinpoint and troubleshoot problems, a topic I plan to tackle in a follow-up post, Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot of its performance for the last month (for more details, see the longer ZDNet post):


If you’ve been running Vista for more than a month, you can check your Reliability Index easily:

  1. Click Start and type perfmon in the Search box.
  2. Click the Perfmon.exe shortcut, which should be the only listing in the Programs category at the top of the Search Results list (you’ll need to supply an administrator’s credentials in the UAC box).
  3. In the Reliability and Performance console window, click Reliability Monitor, under the Monitoring Tools category.

I have to admit, I was initially skeptical that this tool was more than a gimmick, but over time it’s proven to be a good indicator of a system’s health. In the example here, that steadily rising line is a good thing to see.

If you’ve been using Vista for more than a month, what does your Reliability Index look like? Anything about the data you see there that you find puzzling? Share your results and ask questions in the Comments below.

14 thoughts on “What I look for in a Vista PC

  1. If you’re just looking at the line or particularly just the index rating, I think it is something of a gimmick because there’s not enough information there to base any kind of conclusion. If the line is going up recently, great, but why was it down before?

    Until you go through and click all the red X’s you really don’t have a feel for what in particular has caused what you have, and you’re completely lacking in context. If 19 of the 20 (say) red X’s are Windows failures, is the index going to be any different than if 19 out of 20 were failures for some app you’ve been trying to get to work? Even if MS does weight these things differently, one number or one line still isn’t enough information.

    It is a nice historical summary of what’s happened on the system, however. In my case, the majority of app errors are for iexplore.exe, which isn’t my main browser and which I only use for a couple particular sites anyway, so I’m not really concerned by it.

  2. Actually, you don’t need to click all the red X’s. You can choose All Dates from the filter list in the upper right corner and see every entry in a given category.

  3. I’ve been using Vista for 29 days as of today.

    My computer’s index is 6.71.

    All of the crashes I’ve experienced are with iexplore.exe, explorer.exe, and sidebar.exe. With the sidebar I was testing a gadget that I modified to suit my needs which crashed once.

    It’s better than what XP has to offer for historical data. I think it could come in handy when working on a computer that’s having problems.

  4. On this new computer which has been in use since late May, my latest index is 8.71. I am a happy user of Vista Home Premium which I have on 2 desktops.

  5. I also have come to really like the performance monitor…

    I have had Vista Business installed since Feburary 3rd and my current rating is 6.64. It is usually around 8, but program failures (random freezes or w/e) are bringing it down. On the whole, my computer is very stable and, just like Bcreekski, I’m a happy Vista user 🙂

  6. Wow, that’s a handy utility.

    I’ve been using the retail version of Vista Ultimate on my main home machine since March 3rd, with a current index rating of 8.84.

    The only reported Windows failures (blue screens) are all attributable to a bad ATI Catalyst release at the end of March. The other rough spot was a poorly-tested Windows Update release in May that temporarily tanked IE.

    I guess I can no longer be considered a ‘hard core’ gamer though, because I haven’t noticed any perf hit after moving from XP. The publishers and GPU vendors have mostly caught up with the drivers and patches now as well. But I suppose the lost 2-4 FPS reported by test labs mean something to someone.

  7. My experience with a very fast, brand new dual core intel-based machine shows a very different picture. My computer started about 9.5 on 3/5/2007 when the machine went into service. It has steadily sunk over time. Today it displays a 4.5 rating.

    Hardware and software issues are the norm in my experience not the exception.

    Vista is so bad that I’m planning on moving to Leopard later this year.

  8. My vista ultimate has been running since Feb 13 and ieexplorer.exe failed frequently. Now it is outlook.exe that fails about every other week. Ny low rating is a 5.03 with a current rating of 7.73. The ourlook.exe failure today lowered it somewhat from 8.2 yesterday. Other than the occassional slowness with Outlook 2007 I have had a great experience with Vista and Office 2007.

  9. My current index is 6.93. The one app I have that crashes the most is PowerDVD XP (4.0), which I plan to replace anyway.

    @ Jim: Have you got the most recent set of Outlook 2007 patches? After I did that, it almost doubled in speed. And like you, the vast majority of my experiences with Vista have been terrific.

  10. Serdar fully updated yesterday; and yes things are a bit faster. I do know that everyone whom I have shown Vista to has been impressed.

  11. Mine started at 9.17. It has see-sawed due mainly to 3rd party applications that i have had problems with. My current index is 7.30. Since i have got to use it , i seem to want to know how much the index has gone up or down since the last time. I find it narrows down the problems, in a quick kind of way so i can search that particular application,s web-site for any new solutions. I think it is a welcome addition so far.

  12. My Compaq notebook with Vista Business was at 10 on 01/31, hit the low on 04/20 (6.41), but has been above 9.0 since 09/28.

    Google Desktop has crashed a few times, autoruns once, and there were a few boot errors along the way. Currently it’s sitting at 9.11.

    It has definitely been more stable and robust since I bumped the RAM to 2GB. I initially set it up with XP Pro/Vista Business dual boot, but I’ll blow away XP Pro someday when I need the disk space.

  13. I have been at a perfect 10 since June 9. 2007. The rating system pretty much mirrors my experience with Vista since installing it on Jan. 31, 2007.

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