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kct opinion: Vista can run well on mobile devices

I’ve read through James’ opinion piece entitled "Vista will never run well on mobile devices" several times. I’ve also read the many comments that the post generated. While I agree with the observable facts, I’m actually finding that I have a completely different experience. How so and why is that? Good questions which I’ll address in this opinon-based article. I can only provide my thoughts from my own experiences here and there’s no doubt that your own experiences will vary. And that’s the key premise behind the issue at hand; but first: my experiences with Vista on my Samsung Q1P UMPC.

To keep my rambling thoughts in a somewhat logical format, let me level-set you from a device history perspective and then I’ll cover each of James’ points from my own experience where possible. I’ll wrap up with what I think is the larger issue.

For the past 15 months I’ve been using either a Samsung Q1 or Q1P as my primary mobile device. The differences between the two are 900 MHz Celeron vs. 1 GHz Pentium M and a 40- vs. a 60 GB hard drive. Along the way I’ve upgraded the RAM in both machines: 1 GB on the Q1 and eventually 2 GB on the Q1P. Both devices came with Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 and even prior to the Windows Vista release, I had installed various beta versions of Vista. All of these actions are documented here on the site; just search for them if you want to see what I thought at the time.

Now, I’ll grant that most mainstream mobile device users wouldn’t have installed Vista over and over again during the beta; I’ll also agree that most folks wouldn’t upgrade the RAM on their devices. I only mention this because much of my current Vista use is without many optimization tweaks, but I have to admit where I’ve upgraded the machines to push the envelope a little. Having said that: I find my Vista experience to be very positive on my mobile device and I wouldn’t go back to XP for anything. The Tablet functionality is vastly improved in Vista over XP; that alone makes it worthwhile to me. Let’s see the issues that James’ has observed and I’ll share my own experiences.

James stats with "First and foremost inthe area of performance.  I have not seen adequate performance runningVista on anything less than a Core 2 Duo processor." I have no doubt that this is exactly what he’s witnessed, but I really can’t complain about Vista on the 1 GHz Pentium M CPU. The performance was obviously not as good on the 900 MHz Celeron, but I no longer have that machine so I can’t provide more info. I find that Vista is relatively snappy and responsive for my needs; it’s no speed demon when compared to a machine with a Core 2 Duo processor, but it’s quite usable for my daily activities. Would I recommend running more than say four apps at once? Not at all as the machine will clearly buckle under the strain. However, I witnessed the same behavior under XP, so I can’t fault Vista entirely here.

To be honest, I’m happy with the performance when considering the official recommended system requirements for Vista Ultimate, which is what I use. Here’s a link to them, but let me highlight a few: 1 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, 40 GB hard drive. Guess what: those are just about the same specs as my UMPC out of the box, meaning it is the minimum configuration recommended to run Vista. In my opinion, it runs as good as can be expected for me.

These specs also make me question why anyone is trying to run Vista on the 600- and 800 MHz Intel A1xx CPUs. Yes, it can be done, but is that the right tool for the task? I don’t think so and as such, I don’t blame Vista. It’s just not meant to run on those machines, so why blame it for not running well? I’m sure folks are doing fine in some cases with these machines, but they’re the exceptions and the tweakers. I’m not trying to take anything away from their efforts at all here.

As far as the disk thrashing issues: again, no doubts that folks have them. I have not. Can I tell you why that is? Nope, because I don’t know, but we’ll get into that more when we hit the conclusion of my opinion. I can say that I’ve installed the latest updates to address Vista’s performance and reliability and have seen little to no difference. I don’t mind that Microsoft is offering these patches nor do I hold it against Vista that they have to release these patches. Most operating systems require patches and updates, so we can’t point a finger at just Vista here.

James also hits up on a function that I use multiple times a day: "If youuse Sleep and Resume you quickly fall victim to the dreaded Vista la-laland where the device fails to resume properly." I used Sleep and Resume at least 20 times just last night during our fantasy football draft. Never had a problem. I use this feature daily and it’s much more stable than it was in XP. Does that mean it’s not an issue? No way: I’m sure many folks have the same issue that James has observed. Again, we’ll get to the why later on.

I can’t speak to the docking issues simply because the Q1 series has no dock. I also haven’t witnessed the frustration seen when rotating the screen. It generally rotates without fail and without any major interruptions to my productivity.

So there’s just a bit of my personal experience with Vista on my device. Let me emphasize one key part of that phrase: "on my device." Herein lies the problem as I see it. Windows has the unfortunate responsbility to be all solutions to all people and all devices. What do I mean by that? Let’s think about the vast array of users and their individual hardware configurations. I’m being a little extreme here, but I’ll go out on a limb to say something radical like "no two are alike". Every user is different and every computing environment is different. You might think I’m wrong (and that’s OK), but let me pose it this way:

Say we have two computer users: Jack and Jill. Both purchase the exact same PC hardware system, it doesn’t matter who makes it; they’re identical in the box. Both use the machine for two weeks but in different ways. Makes sense since they have different needs, like different applications, etc…. Are those two environments the same now? No way. As they’ve used the machine and installed software, there are hundreds of system files, registry keys and .dlls that are changed, overwritten and more. Agreed? OK, now tell me if Vista will behave exactly the same for both of them after those two weeks. What about after two months?  Yes, I’m over-simplifying here, but the point remains: these two environments are now different and will behave inconsistent when compared to one another. Now multiply that scenario across the tens of millions of Vista users out there. You’ve got folks like James who are not happy with the OS on a device while you have me who is.

Now let’s take a look at a more consistent experience for a second: Mac OS X on an Apple machine. There’s a vast difference here because the OS is Unix-based and the hardware has very few configurations as they’re generally controlled by Apple. Use the same scenario as above with Jack and Jill but this time, give them new identical Mac computers. The inconsistency in the user experience and computing environment greatly diminishes. Note before I continue: this isn’t a Mac is better than PC argument, this is simply an example to prove a point.

One of the challenges that Microsoft has with Windows is the "all things to all people" thought I raised early on. While my experience with Vista on a mobile device is positive, a lighter operating system would greatly enhance the experience. Unfortunately, Vista has to maintain backwards compatibility with older applications, so it’s unlikely we’ll see a "Vista Lite". It’s possible, but if you could get a "Vista Lite" on a mobile device would you take advantage of increased performance? Maybe. Would you still do so if many of your day to day apps didn’t run on the lighter OS? Maybe not.

If I could suggest one thing going forward to Microsoft, it would be to find a way to break the "all things to all people" idea for Windows. Find the lowest common denominator of a kernel and go from there. While I understand the need for backwards compatibility, especially in the business world, perhaps a lighter OS combined with baked-in virtualization for legacy needs could be the answer. I realize it’s not as simple as that, but…maybe it should be. In any case, I’m happy with Vista on my device and have no intention of going back to XP. You might have the same hardware as I, but as we always say: your mileage may vary.


23 Responses to “kct opinion: Vista can run well on mobile devices”

  1. Even though vista is innovative and with many features i’d say that my experience with vista even whether i run it on a Q1P or a core 2 duo machine has been poor. Not just because the OS is very resource intensive but because Microsoft just didn’t deliver the product to work decently out of the box, i can understand having to do updates, but hunting for drivers and such is something i don’t expect to have to do.

  2. Bottom line is that the consumer is left to fend for themselves in getting Vista to work on a branded “Vista capable” UMPC, some even advertised with a picture of the device with the Vista Aero glass interface running on the screen.

    Microsoft and the UMPC manufacturers should have the OS operating with decent performance, efficient power management, stable, and full functionality of the device’s features out of the box.

    That is not an unreasonable consumer expectation for the investment they made for their purchase.

  3. bmhome1

    Actually, Vista went RTM last fall, yet eight months later one tablet brand dared make excuses of model update delays caused by “serious errors” within Vista. Funny, now same model finally will be shipping same Vista. Did anyone else notice absence of Vista “errors” affecting other brands launching? Acer’s CEO trash-talked Vista recently with similar vague and merit less comments while dozens other laptop brands are in 3rd and 4th generation model updates smoothly. Only one can be right.

    XP was SIX years old until MS offered a patch to make hibernation function at all with more than 1 GB RAM. I waited three years running XP with 2GB RAM before such an elemental function worked. Suggesting that XP even benefited from 2GB RAM was heresy until RAM prices dropped enough for even the most entrenched doubters to stop vocalizing opposition of the whole idea. So much for this sudden venerable pedestal XP has been placed upon. OSX was a mess it’s first two years, only tolerated by devoted user-base without recourse.

    The basis of Jame’s Vista performance frustration was clear in his original article and ignored here: disk thrashing. Get it under control and all else become singular issues with either future patches forthcoming or acceptance that speed and hardware spec ratio grew larger than XP, just as every OS evolution ever has and always will.

    With all marginal spec hardware running Vista the solution will always stem from getting disk trashing addressed by user-decided trade offs of feature vs responsiveness. Either one or the other but never both running from base-line specs. Only the user can decide if backround processes allowed to auto-run are worth the sluggish outcome when they do. Search indexing, auto-defrag, auto-everything comes with cost: CPU cycles consumed. Consumed becoming runaway crisis of even function when the OS starts paging from disk just trying to keep up. That’s the mysterious Vista freeze-dance in action, until flushed catching up back running from RAM again. It’s not Vista’s fault that hybrid and SSD drives are so slow coming, it’s ready to fly now with support in-place. Any tablet or UMPC cursed with those abysmal 1.8″ hard drives are especially hobbled by a design unchanged four years originally intended for MP3 playback, not running next-generation OS.

    The key using such current specs is simply to get Vista only ever reading or writing to disk for reasons clearly associated for an application’s function. Strip away anything that causes Vista to use disk just to run the OS once past desktop loading. A CPU at 5-10% and disk activity LED 95% idle will make Vista hardware numbers fade from importance and allow it to be responsive freed of the backround processes burdens better handled by desktop hardware and future specs.

    With time, portable hardware will evolve to not be so fragile choking on Vista default features. Until then, it’s up to the user to choose their OS experience results. But rejecting Vista as broken declarations only will embarrass as luddite later. Either this audience remains leading-edge problem solvers with open-minds who just happen to be bleeding-edge gadget freaks also or slip into whiners with toys allowing bias made into fact, an unthinkable and sad redirection future.

    Listen to Kevin and Citantic and anyone else getting the results you crave. Reassurance by rehashing negative group mentality is pointless if their success contradict assumptions. How did admitting Vista got the best of one become fashionable?

    Vista has uncanny similarity in structure and tweaking potential with XP, anything that dragged XP can be dealt with in familiar ways and same persistence rewarded with results. If closing lid causes sleep trigger issue, try from Start menu or power button and give an OS still so immature some time to refine. There’s so much it has to offer tablet users in particular that took me many months in full production use to fully appreciate, now rebooting back to XP feels as archaic as 98. Other than UAC (which I turned off for my needs), there’s nothing Vista adds that I haven’t come to appreciate as superior.

    Feels like being MVP shill to say, but Vista is a great OS deserving tolerating some quirks to see beyond quick conclusions and discover easily missed subtler refinements, and not in small numbers or insignificant for work flow.

    Vista has revolutionized my graphics job handling thousands of image files by accessing, display, editing, selection and folder shuffling to such higher efficiency that going backwards isn’t option ever possible again.

    I would love to upgrade my Motion 1300 above 1GB RAM total (2×512) specs limit, does anyone know if BIOS would see 1GB 200 pin DDR 400 or higher chips? I’ve yet to see reports on 1300 or 1400’s success.

    Anyone with pokey UMPC struggling running Vista willing to let me prove how much can be attained sent for tweaking as a serious offer, contact me. Anything to move this topic discussion forward and constructive is worth it to me, some hard-core before and after timed tasks to report are sorely needed.

    Would a video of Motion 1300 running Vista with PSCS3 28MB tiff open, WMV video playing, IE7 tabbed open, OneNote open then switched back and forth running tasks in real-time be worth the effort in creating, maybe to prove what some user experiences actually are on old hardware?

  4. I’m running Vista Ultimate on a Motion M1400 with 1 gig of ram. I can’t use Aero, but everything else works fine. Sleep and hibernate have not been a problem. The only difference I’ve noted is a slightly shorter battery life.

    My M1400 should scream when I install another gig of ram.

  5. I’m running Vista Ultimate on a Motion M1400 with 1 gig of ram. I can’t use Aero, but everything else works fine. Sleep and hibernate have not been a problem. The only difference I’ve noted is a slightly shorter battery life.

    My M1400 should scream when I install another gig of ram.

  6. KillBill

    Well my OQO 02 runs just fine with Vista Business with a Via 1.5 ghz cpu 1 gb ram, upgraded from Xp Tablet. Windows has always historically needed some form of tweaking, how do you think Norton utilities got its big start? Check out Prof. Kenrick in Alaska, doing fine with Vista also.

    What Microsoft needs to do is not create another friggin edition just for UMPC, but go back and optimize major bottlenecks to performance, create more intelligent default themes or add improvements based on hardware, and make certain services scalable in performane based on hardware.

    Like 95, 98, ME users eventually forced to upgrade to Xp, Xp users will eventually be forced to upgrade to Vista. Don’t understand UMPC vendor lack of support for Vista or putting out models better meant for XP Tablet with Vista out now since Jan/Feb 2007.

  7. Michael, I think one of the reasons you can see decent performance on your machine while having so many applications open is that you have 2 GB of memory, the programs that you list aren’t very processor intensive, and they aren’t doing much when just sitting on the taskbar.

    If you were to run something like video encoding in the background while editing Word files and taking notes, etc, you would probably have a different experience.

    Now, most mobile users don’t actually have a need to run any heavy duty programs on their mobile machines, which makes the experience just fine, as you say.

    Another thing is some machines, like the p1610 and most likely the u810, can’t run more than 1GB ram, which is a shame, but for running one or two office apps at the same time, it should be fine.

  8. The worst part about Vista on the LS800 has been issues related to connecting to a dock that has an external display. The problems include not only the need to reset the display setting manually and the frequent flashing of the computer display after un-docking, but also failure to shut down properly and failure to wake up after sleep. The shut-down and sleep problems occur very frequently after un-docking and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them when I was using the computer with its own display after waking up or restarting successfully in un-docked mode.

    People who connect tablets to external displays seem to be those who see the worst part of Vista. People who only use the tablet display have a much better experience because these problems don’t happen and because the processor is less stressed with no external display.

    When I’m traveling I have positive experiences like Kevin does. When I dock and un-dock I have negative experience like James does.

    My guess is that the problems are due to Vista and some display drivers not working well together (XP was much better but not perfect either). Such display problems in Vista should be fixable, particularly if Microsoft wants to dispel the sense that James expressed that there is something fundamentally wrong with Vista.

  9. i have vista on the oqo2 and it is garbage-a snail moves faster (not sure if it’s the oqo, vista or both.)in any event, unusable even with all the speed enhancing tricks. On the other hand i installed vista on the tablet kiosk 7210, and even with the beta drivers, there is a huge improvement in performance and user experience.

    Hard to figure out other vista is a pretty flawed piece of software that is still not ready for prime time.

  10. I would like to add my 2 cents on this. In general, Im not really in love with vista. I have 5 PCs, 4 of them are running XP. The one and only which runs vista is an X41 thinkpad tablet. The tablet features are just great in vista. I must admit, I used a utility called Vlite(, which basically slims down the Vista installation disk just to the things you select. So it really makes the OS a lot lighter. The whole install is just 4,7Gb…thats not that bad.
    Its really a personal decision. No need to blame any OS…as Kevin said there are just too many people with different needs.

  11. I just don’t get it- my OQO has probably one of the slowest processors and yet Vista runs fine on it- I don’t find myself waiting long for anything on it, and I regularly run several apps at the same time. I use sleep and hibernate and only have rebooted maybe 3x since buying in June, never a problem coming back from either and sleep returns in < 5 seconds, hibernate less than 15 seconds. So it's weird to hear of all these problems on machines that are faster.

  12. “but are you saying that the 600 MHz A100 with the Intel 950 will outperform a 1 GHz Pentium M with the older Intel GMA?”

    I think maybe I am, although frankly I don’t know enough about hardware architecture to argue very rationally on this topic. I’m thinking that the combination of the 2GB of memory and the new graphical processing unit are making a HUGE difference in performance over that experienced with other UMPC hardware architectures. And who knows, may the A100 architecture is providing some addition performance boosts, too.


  13. Oh, and one more comment on multi-tasking under Vista on a UMPC: right now as I type this I’m running Outlook 2007, IE7 with 4 tabs open, Evernote, Life Balance, an Explorer window, and 2 Word 2007 documents. Performance doesn’t seem any slower than if I was only running one program. This is on a 2GB machine, but one that’s running the A100 processor.


  14. Michael, the phrase I used might be too harsh. What I’m really saying is that the more apps you run, the more performance will likely suffer. I have seen your recent coverage, but are you saying that the 600 MHz A100 with the Intel 950 will outperform a 1 GHz Pentium M with the older Intel GMA? You might be right, but I’m curious if that’s what you’re hinting at. Regardless, your video is proving my one of my points made here: in some cases, Vista can run well on mobile devices.

  15. Joshua Hall

    What do you think about the next version of windows. It is suppose to break the legacy applications and start fresh. I also heard microsoft was going to release on a 1.5 year release schedule. What do you think about this? I personally like windows 2000 professional. I can install the entire operating system and applications in less than 5 GB of space. Vista won’t install with less than 14GB of space available. The thing with operating systems is the new has bugs, the old loses compatibility. So, it is best to stay in the middle of the pack for reliability, and at the bleeding edge for features. Alot of times the features of the the new OS is released for the old, like desktop search, or flip 3d, or other features. If someone would release a third party tablet enhancement package, tablet xp would be just as cool and upto date as Vista, but more reliable with the drivers., and peripherals.

  16. Andreas

    Good Article, Kevin, as is the one James wrote on this issue.

    And here’s something that bugs me:

    Everyone complains about the poor Vista performance of the A1xx processors used nowadays because they’re only 600 or 800 MHz respectively. But isn’t it true that these are dual core CPUs, meaning they should theoretically have some of the advantages of Core2Duo CPUs? If that’s the case they should perform adequately under Vista, no?

  17. Nice post. I generally agree although I went back to XP. Vista pretty much ran ok performance wise. I just needed to go back for stability. IMO, it’s going to be a while until the majority of apps and drivers will be stable for Vista, if even available.
    I do believe Vista can run fine on A100 & A110 machines if the drivers are solid and you do some tweaks. It’s not only the processor that determines your machine’s performance. Watching JKK’s Kohjinsha SH6 review, it seemed like it was snappier than my Q1 on Vista and his unit was only running at 600Mhz.
    Going to Vista with the Q1 reminded me of going from 98 to 2000 on my first thin laptop. You’re going to gain and lose features and you have to weigh which is more important. Back then, I kept with 2000 since it was overall a more stable OS. But it ran better in 98 since it was originally configured for it so all the drivers and utility apps worked perfect.

  18. Good perspective, Kevin. I think the 3 areas which cause the most frustration for me and others are areas that don’t affect you as per your usage description. My standby and resume problems almost always are coincident when opening or closing the lid of a Tablet. You’re lucky and don’t have one. The other area is the docking situation which is almost ridiculous.

    The two reasons that I believe help make you a happy UMPC owner over buyers of UMPCs today are:

    2 GB of memory. This is critical and most UMPCs don’t have this option.

    Pentium M processor. I believe this is a boon over the processors currently shipping in portable computers.