Hands On: A Hard Look at Windows Vista

Now that it's gold, here's an inside look at the best and the worst of Windows Vista

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Power management

Microsoft has revamped power management in Windows Vista. Microsoft claims that Vista's new Sleep mode combines the fast resume rate of Windows XP's Standby mode with the data protection and low-power consumption of XP's Hibernate mode. As Hibernate did, it stores the contents of system memory to the hard disk and maintains the memory state for a period of time and then automatically progresses to hibernate when the battery charge or settings dictate.

Moving in and out of Sleep mode is quick and easy.
 
Moving in and out of Sleep mode is quick and easy.

Microsoft calls this transition to hibernation Hybrid Sleep. By leaving the system memory up at least for the short run, Sleep facilitates a much faster resume behavior -- it comes back on almost instantly, in about one second. Unfortunately, Hybrid Sleep is turned off and Hibernate is set to turn on after only 18 hours in all power plans on laptops. That means your battery charge will be eaten up more quickly than you would expect.

TIP: You can change the defaults for Hybrid Sleep and Hibernate to extend the battery life of your laptop. Click the power icon, then select "More power options" > "Change when the computer sleeps" > "Change advanced power settings." In the Sleep section, choose your settings for "Allow hybrid sleep" and "Hibernate after."

Storage

Under the hood, there's a good deal new with storage. Vista's new file system, Transactional NTFS, preserves data integrity and stops file corruption, even if an application crashes while saving data.

Vista's native support of hybrid hard disk drives (H-HDDs), which Microsoft calls ReadyDrive, won't pay immediate benefits but ultimately will be welcomed by laptop owners, if Microsoft is to be believed. The hybrid drives will make start-up faster and speed up resuming from hibernation, and ReadyDrive will minimize the amount of time a hybrid drive will spin, claims Microsoft. This should save battery use and extend hard disk life.

It's not as clear if other new storage features, such as I/O prioritization and Volume Shrink, will pay any benefits, though. (See Five things you'll love about Vista's storage for more information about storage in Vista.)

Boot Configuration Data

One of the many little-known changes in Vista is an overhaul to multiple-operating-system boot options.

For quite some time now, Windows has been able to automatically configure multiple-boot options automatically when you install successive versions of the operating system into new volumes on a single computer. So you might conceivably install Windows 98 on drive C:, Windows 2000 on drive D:, and Windows XP on drive E:. When you do that, a character-based menu opens up at boot time that lets you choose which operating system you want to run. There's also a settings tool in these versions of Windows that lets you choose the default OS to boot and some other mostly cosmetic controls for the boot menu.

Prior to Vista, this boot information was stored in a simple text file called boot.ini. Vista changes all that. Although the end result works the same way, Windows Vista stores boot information in a more secure Boot Configuration Data (BCD) store, which better supports Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) system setup data. For more detailed technical information about BCD, see Microsoft's Boot Configuration Data Editor Frequently Asked Questions.)

Within System properties in Vista, on the Start-up and Recovery dialog box (just like XP and some previous versions of Windows), there are basic controls for selecting the default operating system. But it's important to note that the Vista BCD supersedes XP's Bootmgr and boot.ini file. You can't control the way Vista boots from boot.ini. If, for example, you set Windows XP to boot to Vista by default, and then you delete your Windows Vista partition, you can wind up in a catch-22 situation. Why? Because Vista stores the BCD data in a folder called "boot" installed into the root directory of your system drive. BCD will continue trying to load Vista, and it may or may not let you access XP or other earlier Windows installations at all.

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