Vista 64: The Comeback Kid

Posted by Scott

Picture 1-11.pngperfps.jpg So it’s late 2008 (what happened?) and I’ve now entered a new chapter in my never ending quest for the ideal OS for design and music. If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know that I’m a lifelong Windows user who recently got a Macbook pro, my first official Apple computer. I still use Windows to create music and design, but I have my Macbook for all the other stuff: blogging, surfing, listening to music, traveling, etc., etc. I would love to switch to Mac for music and graphics as well, but the program I use for recording music, Cakewalk Sonar, is Windows only. So unless I want to start from scratch and learn a new DAW software like Logic, I’m pretty much stuck with PC for better or for worse. That being the case, I was pretty excited when Windows Vista first came out, I had read a lot about the enhancements they had made to the OS and at that point, XP was really showing it’s age. But as we all know, when Vista finally did come out it was a bitter disappointment for many, myself included. I plunked down $350(!!) for Vista Business 64-bit edition right when it came out only to find that it was a complete mess. Bad driver compatibility, unstable operation, security holes: you name it, Vista had it. So I reluctantly went back to XP, thought I’d wait it out and let the hardware manufacturers catch up and write new, more stable drivers for Vista. But that didn’t work out so well either, after about 6 months of waiting I installed Vista again with similar results. Add one more, XP-wait-reinstall cycle and that was it for me, I finally put it to rest and retiring the install CD to the storage closet with all the old dusty manuals, floppy disks, and other computer ephemera that I can’t seem to part with.

Fast forward a year: SP1 for Vista is out, a lot of hardware makers have more mature drivers available (MOTU being the most important to me), and 64-bit Photoshop has become a reality thanks to CS4. One day I was talking with my friend Dusty Brown and the subject of Windows came up. Like me, he uses a Mac laptop and a PC desktop. One for daily tasks, one for recording music and graphics. He said he had been using Vista for a while and that it had been working out great for him. This got me thinking, was the time right to finally put that 8GB of ram in my desktop to use? The allure of 64-bit Photoshopping was just too much to resist. So I bit the bullet and installed Vista on my main desktop for the fourth time. It has now been about a month since I did and I can honestly say I am very, very impressed. Perhaps I am only relatively impressed given my past history, but this time around Vista has been super stable (albeit very subjective, I’ve counted 0 lock-ups or crashes in Vista compared with around 8 on my brand new Macbook Pro). Photoshop has been tearing through files, I’ve noted a marked improvement in file opening speed, screen redraws, and overall performance. And perhaps most importantly, when I open the preferences in Photoshop and go to “performance”, the RAM slider goes all the way up to 7224 MB (see image above). It’s ridiculous to think how long it took for that to become a reality, but here we are. Some might argue that I am merely experiencing the benefits of using a 64-bit OS and that Vista itself isn’t really central to my overall satisfaction. Perhaps, but I used Windows XP 64 for about 6 months earlier this year and it was a buggy mess, nothing even approaching the stability and performance I am seeing in Vista. A quick note on configuration: I disabled a lot of non-essential services (as I always do with Windows) and turned off all visual effects and security services. Point being that fresh out of the box, your mileage may vary with Vista, it takes some tweaking.

But as with everything, it’s not all roses. DRM, for one, is not doing Vista any favors. Apparently Microsoft, being the paragon of freedom and privacy that they are, decided to embed DRM (digital rights management) at the core of Vista, to the extent that it scans each and every bit moving through the system to check for copyright information. This can slow certain operations down and cripple others completely. Fortunately, it’s most obvious effects are limited to file copy/transfer and are somewhat sporadic, so they don’t really impinge on my day to day workflow. Let me qualify that information though by stating that it is merely internet rumor at this point (well documented rumor, but rumor nonetheless), to date, MS has made no official on whether or not they have integrated DRM into the OS.

So yes, I bought the hype and listened to all the Vista haters for a long time. And maybe they were right, but the key word here is “were”. It’s almost 2009 and I am here to say that Vista is all growed up. So yeah, there it is, take it or leave it. Anyone else using Vista 64 with CS4? What has your experience been?

33 Comments Leave A Comment


Jay says:

December 11, 2008 at 6:25 pm

I use a MacPro as my primary computer, but a Photographer friend of mine just recently had a new computer built, with 4GB of RAM and running Vista Home Premium 64bit. And its been working great for him, especially Lightroom 2 64bit, which is the main application he uses. No driver issues, and just as stable as XP.


Forrest says:

December 11, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Sounds like good news to me! Is that your desk at the top? If so, what size Wacom tablet did you decide on?

Oh, and does this mean that you will switch back to Windows for design work as well as music? Or are you still in the experimenting stages?

Sheesh, that was alot of questions, haha.


Dustin says:

December 11, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I built a mega machine just to run XP64 when it came out years ago, and I feel your pain. The promised 64-bit support has been terrible. Early on iTunes shunned me when updates were made and now even Windows Media Player and other Microsoft product updates don’t support XP64. And that’s just software, like you mentioned above, driver support is dismal.

I’ve been thinking about moving to Mac, but being a life-long desktop PC guy who builds his own machines you’re making me feel that Vista64 may be a viable option for my next upgrade. Thank you for the update, I may not go Apple just yet for my design rig.


Clint says:

December 11, 2008 at 7:19 pm

XP64 for the last 2.5 years.
(+) No Virus. Ever.
(-) No support. Ever.

This post is great to hear. I knew Vista would grow up someday! Just in time for Windows 7… then we can do the whole dance anew…. sigh…


Tide says:

December 11, 2008 at 7:29 pm

to dustin: well, there are still problems with some drivers, especially with older printer and scanner-hardware. i’m using a server 2008 pc (call it: workstation-vista :-) ) with “normal” hardware and i haven’t noticed any problem since i’m using it. almost every manufacturer provides both, x86 AND x64 drivers on their sites today. even though mini-programs like 7zip are available in both versions. even my cinema display was recognized without any problems by the graphic card driver.

i think that xp 64 was more a test than an OS compared to vista and, yeah, just try it out!

sidenote: there are many tweaks to do, before you can use server 2008 as a full workstation.

to topic: i’m using CS4 and 8 gig’s of ram aswell and it run’s like hell. i haven’t noticed this great speed just for opening CS4 since the CS-series came out.

i have to work with a macpro in the university. i like it. fast, almost stable but compared to my pc-system i would rather prefer the PC due to speed, performance and stability-reasons.

windows has grown and if you’re into it, you can configure the system to the core. even though to personalise the GUI.


Scott says:

December 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

good call, I’ve heard of the server2008 method, but didn’t want to get too deep into that yet. if windows 7 is DOA like vista was, I might give 2008 a shot though.

sonar destroys live in terms of features. dusty uses live for everything (I just use it to play shows) and when he sees me working in sonar he’s always like “wow, you can do that?”. Live is a live app dressed up like a DAW. yes, it has some cool features and a novel approach to interface and workflow, but in my opinion, a full-featured, professional grade DAW it is not. I like to think of it as the Mac of DAWs…sure it’s got a slick interface and it’s very approachable from a usability standpoint, but when you really need to get your hands dirty or pull off some tricks, it just doesn’t have the depth.



December 11, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Nope Im strictly a mac man now, I use to be a pc until I discovered bootcamp and parallels, Now I can run FL studio on my mac.

Problem solved!

Once I went mac, I never came back. (cheesy I know)

But I do know that my wife uses vista for simple, basic, photo editing, and its hell.


Scott says:

December 11, 2008 at 9:27 pm

can you leave another comment and include your email in the form submission (it won’t show publicly). I wanted to ask you a few questions about your 2008 install.


Patrick Branigan says:

December 11, 2008 at 11:00 pm

I’ve built 3 machines in the past year all with Vista and I can honestly say, coming from someone who uses Apple at the University for 3 years and has even worked in an Apple store, Vista is not nearly as bad as what people think.

AFTER 2 YEARS, Vista is now an honorable OS and is working more like a charm now than ever.

I’ve been producing music, DJing and designing for 6 years now and I’ve only run Windows for everything. It has saved me loads of money, and more importantly taught me a thousand times more about the technology behind a computer than a Mac ever would. I can assure you, you are safe now with Vista.

I get bashed all the time by Apple users, until I open their machines up and prove to them they a) are based on the same technology, b) could build a better system for cheaper and c) explain to them the simple fact they are using Adobe programs (im assuming) to design… They’re the same thing on both. It’s just how you customize your performing system.


Kenny G. Villacorta says:

December 11, 2008 at 11:11 pm

I have to say that I like both Mac and Win (XP and Vista) machines. There’s some things that I like/dislike from Macs and the same goes for Windows. I read a lot of people complaining when Vista came out, but I’ve been running it on a Dell b120 (1.4 Ghz Intel Celeron with 1.5 Gb of RAM) for over a year now, I can’t say I’ve problems like other people. I’ve used for light stuff, but I did manage to try CS3 on it. PS and AI are slow, but if all you are working on is Dreamweaver, it’s allright.

I will say that Vista is a bit memory intensive, and a lot of people had driver/stability problems. That’s something you have to expect from a fairly revised OS.

Does anyone know why 64-bit processors haven’t become mainstream? They’ve been around for some time now.


Tide says:

December 11, 2008 at 11:53 pm

@kenny g.
well, it has taken some time, but x64 is actually popular right now. the dev’s of windows 7, for example, are already asking manufacturers for x64 drivers for the new os. well, vista x64 (or especially xp x64) had several problems with the driver-support – but it seems, that you’ll -need- x64 compatible hardware for win7. it’s really worth it. like scott already mentioned: 8gig for the use for photoshop.

or: 8 gig for a scene in 3ds max with 1,2 million polygons. thats crazy. but cool :-D


Elliot Jay Stocks says:

December 12, 2008 at 3:18 am

@ Scott:

I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on why you don’t use Live in your recording process; specifically about how you feel it compares to Sonar (and / or other apps). I use Live for everything and – because I have a completely Mac-based setup – I’m unlikely to switch to Sonar, but it’d be good to hear your own comparisons, since I had (wrongly) assumed you used Live for at least some of your recording process.

Like you, I’m a designer and musician, and I’ve gone through similar OS decisions in the past based on the software I use. One of the joys of Live, of course, is that it’s cross-platform. ;)


picsel says:

December 12, 2008 at 6:28 am

I’ve been using XP for the past 4 years or more, a month ago i upgraded and switched to Vista X64, havent tweaked it a lot, left the full Aero on, and it runs just great. i’m really happy i did this upgrade.
i now have a custom rig ASUS P5Q-Deluxe, Intel Q9300@2.5, 2x2x2048GB RAM etc. that costed me 3 times less than any macpro around that performance. i use it for design, photo, video and sometimes music and i havent had one single problem. updates flow in daily, though :)
so, printer, scanner, cameras, phones, even a time capsule works on it. i’ll be getting an ipod touch 2nd this x64mas, hopefully that will work, too :D


ben kreukniet says:

December 12, 2008 at 7:11 am

Ok. After being a quiet (albiet frequent) observer of this blog for too long, it’s time for me to actually respond to a post. Here goes!

As for that quest-for-the-perfect-system, as time goes on, I just get more confused. Or, maybe more content knowing that the perfect system isn’t one system. Scott: like you i’ve been using windows forever, for both design and music, and won’t be letting it go anytime soon. I use a windows (XP) desktop for design work, and a macbook pro for email/internet/keeping my life on track. I’m no mac expert – i had a borrowed iMac for the last 6 months and only this month gave in to the new macbook pro.

There are a number of (design) apps made for windows that I can’t do without (including 3ds max and in house software we make internally at UnitedVisualArtists.). I’m a lighting designer and some of the projects i’ve been working on over the last year have been made a LOT easier thanks to the release of 64bit 3ds max. Rendering photorealistic lighting effects in quickly requires more memory than a 32 bit machine can handle. That said – I have never dared to venture into Vista territory. Actually until reading your post today, I hadn’t even considered it.

On the music side of things, I’m still searching for the perfect DAW for me. I used protools for years (on a pc) but never liked it. Maybe because I was running it on a small laptop (poor decision) – but anyway – my decision is made. Protools is not for me. I love garageband for it’s simplicity (i make most of my noise outside the computer anyway). Right now, i’m trying out Logic.

Scott: why is Sonar so good?

Keen to hear people’s opinions on this one!



Dave Krstin says:

December 12, 2008 at 9:55 am

I haven’t had any experience with 64 bit Vista, but I totally agree with you on Vista growing up. I have the 32 bit version at work and it runs flawlessly. The Mac designers at work here complain quite often. Of course, that’s with a Dell XPS, so it has the muscle to do it.


Nikki - Logo Design Guru says:

December 12, 2008 at 9:58 am

As both a mac and PC user, I have to agree that I like each product for different uses. I use my mac for video and graphics editing and those machines are made for that. Their graphics are amazing, however for everyday use like checking emails, internet browsing, writing or gaming, I would suggest PC use cause its just easier.


JRB says:

December 12, 2008 at 11:12 am

Scott, if you have the chance sometime, a post on how you tune windows for design/performance work would be really interesting! I am pretty much an OS X/Unix user, but your posts on using windows for design work have really intrigued me. The fact that the only way you can go 64 bit with CS4 is on windows definitely has be interested in testing out Vista/Win 2008 server for design work. I have played around with turning off services and such before with windows, but probably not to the level it sounds like you do.


david says:

December 12, 2008 at 12:36 pm

I have been using a PC for most of my life until I went to college. I got me a MacbookPro and I love it. I have been using it for 3 yrs now to do my design work and I wont ever use anything else. Not because I hate PC but because I personally like Mac’s operating system and it runs my software fine. Like most people the only thing I don’t like is the price of Macs. far as the 64 bit thing goes though it sounds like apple is working on it with SNOW LEOPARD. I don’t know a whole lot about it, but from what I’ve read on the apple site it sounds good. I know that you would still have to learn a new music program, but if 64bit is what you are wanting, this might be a good reason to. Because then you could do everything on one system. idk might be something worth looking into.


Scott says:

December 12, 2008 at 9:48 pm

definitely! someday maybe the price will come down.

I use an 828mkII for audio and the expressXT for midi. the 828 isn’t the greatest A/D in the world, but it does the job and has solid driver support for all these different OS adventures I’ve been getting into. If I had it to do over again though, I would just bite the bullet and get the RME fireface.


Kristian Roebuck says:

December 13, 2008 at 2:34 am

Great article Scott.

I’ve been a windows user from 1997-2004. Then I was introduced to the world of Apple at University. I was blown away, and went out and bought a iBook as soon as I had the funds, over 3 years later I’m still using this machine. OSX is my idea of heaven, Expose is a real asset to my productivity.

Now I’m hungry for an upgrade. More recently I’ve been thinking of getting back into the world of Windows. So it’s nice to hear that Vista has come along way since its release.

I know it’s a point that has been made many times before. But, Apple doesn’t have a product for myself. A MacPro would be ideal but the price point is way beyond my budget. The iMac’s built in screen, and pure lack of expandability and the Mini……well thats beyond a joke. So maybe it’s time to go back to building my own computers and go Vista for the next few years. If I feel homesick then I may try out EFiX.

– How’s the screen on your MacBook Pro? Are glossy screens a pain to work with?
– Do you have an ETA on the album?


Mikael says:

December 15, 2008 at 2:43 am

To Scott:

I also think it would be interesting to read what you like about Sonar.

I’m in the process of switching from PC/Cubase to Mac/Logic but haven’t taken the time to delve deep into the Logic manual…


marquis mosley says:

December 15, 2008 at 11:29 am

Just wanted to let you know that I also started out in cakewalk. I started with cakewalk 9 -i think- and stuck with it up until sonar 6. Then I switched over to mac for the first time – through my school- and i’ve loved it. Logic is extremely easy to learn, and I actually love it more than Sonar. I was a big sonar fan, but man – Logic is just really well designed, and really easy to use, while still giving you all the customization and manual control you want. You should at least give it a try, I think there’s a demo on the apple site. It’s 500 for the studio pro version, but only 200 for express. I have express and let me tell you… it rocks. I’ve done hiphop/r&b to electronic scores and downtempo stuff.


gustaf says:

December 18, 2008 at 11:23 am


Have you heard good things about the RME Fireface?

In my main rig I use a MOTU 896 HD… and have been very pleased overall. I also picked up an Ultralite mk3 for my live rig… and was very surprised. Turns out to be quite a versatile little unit.


Jan says:

December 20, 2008 at 5:06 am

Bought a Laptop just a little ago that came with Vista Business Edition 64Bit. It’s been running really well so far, also thanks to 4GB of Ram, (almost) no crashes. Though I’m still using CS3 so I haven’t really checked the 64bit performance enhancement for Photoshop.
The only problems I had so far was with PureData (recent release) which apparently has problems with the 64bit Vista. Switching back to an earlier release of PD helped a little but crashes still occur quite oftentimes. It seems to be working a lot more stable on MacOS or Ubuntu which I installed as well. Other than that I’m quite happy with Vista.