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Reged: 11/24/03
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Windows XP vs. Linux
      05/13/07 07:53 PM

I finally got around to "fixing" my Windows XP Pro SP2 dual-boot setup. Recall from this post that when I plugged my old hard drives into my newly built PC, Kubuntu booted up on the new hardware without skipping a beat but my WinXP partition refused to boot even in safe mode. I finally got the time to address the Windows XP issues.

The dead shall rise...
The right answer for Windows transfer to new hardware wasn't Safe Mode, but rebooting from the Windows XP install CD and recovering the existing Windows installation through the CD's pseudo-reinstallation process. Sounds easy, eh? Guess again.

First, the Windows CD would not recognize that I already had a Windows partition on the second hard drive as long as the primary drive was Linux. Rather than recovering Windows, it wanted to write data to the Linux drive and then install Windows from scratch on the existing Windows drive. No way I was going to let that happen. Time for Plan B.

Plan B required disconnecting the power on the master drive so that the Windows drive sat as the lone hard drive in the system. Sounds simple enough for a plan born of genius. The problem proved to be the fact that the drive had GRUB installed for a previous setup where it was the primary and a Linux disk was secondary. That meant that I had to recover the Master Boot Record back to XP-only. I could have done that from the CD's recovery console after another looooong startup from the CD, but having lost faith in Windows' ability to handle the new system and not wanting to sit through another painfully long Windows CD load, I chose to use the Trinity Rescue Kit CD and its testdisk utility. This worked like a charm. The Trinity Kit CD boots to a Linux kernel in about 15 seconds and sports a host of utilities to recover a variety of operating system types, including Windows.

After regaining boot capability for the drive, I left it as the only hard disk in the PC and booted the Windows XP installation CD. That process finally proceeded normally, although it takes a loooong time. It takes several minutes just to load the initial drivers before it even does anything useful. Both the Trinity Kit and the Kubuntu Live CD load in well under a minute. After going through the initial screens and finally getting to the recovery, the veeeeeery looooooong process of reloading the Windows core finally began. The on-screen timers indicate a ridiculous time estimate for process completion. Reality often runs several times that display time, as was the case today (e.g., it says 37 minutes left to go for about 15 minutes, then changes the counter to 34 minutes left to go, and so on). After the reboot and continuing setup, the Windows system finally came to life. But it was very slow. Because...

The Windows Hardware Myth
The old Microsoft sales point for XP was that it would detect and install drivers for a wide range of hardware. Perhaps so, but once set up on a system, XP does not handle hardware changes well. Although Kubuntu Linux found and adapted to the entire hardware change of the new PC from its old installation setup, Windows XP proved utterly uncapable of adapting.

So, after recovering Windows, it needed to be spoon fed the hardware changes in the new PC. That meant installing the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS drivers, which Kubuntu also needed to optimize the display. That's fair, because it's a very new card. However, Windows XP also need me to install the motherboard drivers for the NVIDIA i650 chipset including the network chip, IDE system, etc. After that, I had to install the motherboard sound driver and Brother HL-5240 printer drivers as well. The PS/2 mouse worked at a rudinentary level but wasn't correctly identified until I installed the motherboard drivers. Without a lot of human intervention, the initial XP recovery proved marginally functional.

Getting connected
Once I installed all the drivers, including the NVIDIA network driver, Windows recognized and used the new hardware. However, it seemed confused by its old network setup. Although I deleted the old network card from the System Management utility and the network setup, Windows added the non-existant card and driver back in again! The best that I could do was disable the phantom network connection so that the real one had priority. Even after that, WinXP continued to ask for dial-up information at times when needing to connect to the Internet. I have yet to sort that out, but canceling the dial-up dialog usually causes XP to fine the broadband connection. This can be quite annoying, but can live with it as little for as I'll use the dual-boot setup.

The Internet connection proved to be the last major hurdle. After getting the Internet access up, I installed the nice-to-have motherboard and graphics card utilities. These facilitate the monitoring and overclocking of the CPU, memory, and GPU from a Windows interface. I also downloaded the latest NVIDIA 8800 GTS driver and installed it. I continue to be impressed with NVIDIA's utilities for their products. The Windows versions out shine the Linux ones by far, but NVIDIA continues to improve the Linux utilities and Coolbits will do the overclocking chores.

Horatio's philosophy and Microsoft
Shakespeare wrote into Hamlet's dialog with Horatio: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Microsoft apparently follows with Horatio, because user flexibility isn't dreamt of in their philosophy. While Linux is designed for portability, Windows is designed to only ever run on one, unchanging PC for its useful lifetime. If you make too big a change to your system--for which you shelled out hard-earned money--Windows and Office must be re-authenticated by your masters at Microsoft. If you change your system more than twice, you have to call them on the phone and beg to be allowed to use software for which you've already paid them. What a great system! At Microsoft, the feudal system that was so familiar to Shakespeare lives on in the 21st Century. Every Microsoft Windows and Office user lives as a vassel in Microsoft's software kingdom.

As I wrote in this post, Vista is even worse than XP. My extensive research on Vista led me to leave Windows and the rest of Microsoft and write the Linux posts here at MobileTechReview. After many years as a feudal serf, I'm again free in my primary operating system--free from Digital Rights/Restriction Management, free from Protected Video Path - Output Protection Management, free from Protected Video Path - User-Accessible Bus, free from Protected User Mode Audio, free from Protected Audio Path, free from all those things that prevent me from using the products for which I paid good money...and freedom tastes of reality as The Who once sang. This experience of simply swapping two hard disks from an old PC to a newly-built one has definitively demonstrated the wisdom of leaving Microsoft behind. My only regret is that it took me so long to see the truth.

Oh, and this experience also showed that "Plug 'n Play" really is just "Plug 'n Pray" in the real world.

So then, why did I bother to fix the Windows drive at all? First, it was a challenge that begged to be overcome. I couldn't walk away until I had mastered the technical challenge. But second, and more importantly, I need it to help all those poor folks still using Windows. I'm still active on the Internet and amongst my family and friends in fixing their "computer problems." About 95% of the time, their "computer problem" is really a Windows or Office issue of one sort or another. I suppose that outfits like Geek Squad and the thousands of other small computer repair outfits around the world, consultants, and for-pay advice websites owe a great debt to Microsoft. If not for all the problems with Windows, Office, etc., all these fine folks couldn't earn a living off of Microsoft's shortcomings. Although I work only for food in this area, my reputation through the years has been built on the back of Microsoft's arrogant approach towards their serfs, uh, customers.

But for my real daily work, it's 64-bit Kubuntu Linux all the way.

Performance upgrade?
So, how did all my new, faster hardware affect Windows performance? Well, I can feel that some things run faster. It is really hard to tell since I haven't run Windows outside of a virtual machine for about five months. Kubuntu definitely performs faster than XP on every task, making my memory even fuzzier on Windows' past performance. It makes me wonder if XP is using the Core 2 Duo CPU to its full advantage--sure doesn't seem like it. The 8800 GTS card definitely accelerates the video, but since Windows XP doesn't have a 3D desktop, it doesn't take full advantage of the 8800 GTS like Kubuntu with Beryl Desktop does.

Linux kicks WinXP into the last century when multitasking. While I routinely multitask in Kubuntu without noticing any drag on the new system, Windows remains as painful as ever. Disk access while installing software drags XP almost to a halt. The same activity isn't even noticed in Linux. I used to think that multitasking was Windows' strong suit. As it turns out, it may be its weakest compared to its current alternatives. Frankly, this poor performance surprised me on a Core 2 Duo running at 3.125 GHz with 2 GB of dual channel DDR2 SDRAM.

What about normal restart time from a standing start? The Windows XP system now takes about 5 minutes to start up. That may be a couple of minutes faster than before the hardware upgrade. Kubuntu takes 1 minute to load, only 33 seconds just to reset the video system, something Windows cannot do without a full restart. And while Windows requires a restart after any installation that vaguely touches the system files, Kubuntu rarely needs a reset, usually only for a core kernel upgrade. A video driver update requires that the video system be restarted, which as noted, only takes about 30 seconds.

Casualty count
So how long did it take Tanker Bob to recover the Windows XP Pro hard drive setup in the new PC? Overall time came in at about four hours with ten system resets, including the initial Windows XP recovery process which took three resets. I'm not counting the resets to make the hard drive bootable, as that technically wasn't a Windows issue. Each reset took on the order of five or more minutes to reload Windows.

Remember the Linux experience? I plugged the old hard disk unchanged into the new system and in about two minutes had a functional Kubuntu system--without any human intervention. Then installing the updated 8800 GTS driver took less than a minute. Total time about three minutes to fully operational, with only a 30-second graphics system reset.

So, which OS provides a more flexible and freer user experience when making extensive system hardware changes--Windows XP which took 4 hours, 10 reboots, and reauthentication from the kingdom, or Kubuntu Linux in about 3 minutes, 0 reboots, and no authentication? You make the call...

Tanker Bob
Tanker Bob's Handheld Computing Page
Reviewer at MobileTechReview

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