Setting up a Windows Vista + XP Dual Boot

With my 360 out for repairs for the Thanksgiving weekend, I was looking for other ways to entertain myself during the long weekend. I've been running Vista as my primary OS since RC1 and swore I'd stick with it, but inevitably, I don't think Vista is something that can completely replace XP for gamers today.

This weekend, I decided I'd try to play Knights of the Old Republic 2 on the PC. I went to the options screen to turn the pretty effects up, but clicking on the "Advanced Options" button yielded a crash to desktop. Okay, no problem! I just won't go to the options. That's fine. I'll just play, and all will be well. But hey, what's with these framerates? In an engine that looks roughly equivalent to Quake 2, I was lucky to get ~20FPS on an AMD64 4800+ X2 on a 7900GTX 512MB machine with 2 gigs of RAM as soon as transparent particles came into the picture. And what's this? Another crash to desktop, just going from level to level? The crashes eventually made the game unplayable, so moving right along...

Well, maybe I'll try playing Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Which worked to some extent (after disabling a CPU core to bypass some driver issues!), but with intermittent and random crashes to the desktop. Keep in mind, these have been filed as bugs, but didn't make it into the business RTM. The second level was basically a death knell; if it didn't crash to the desktop upon loading, it would crash before the end of the level or run at 2FPS until I terminated the process.

At this point, who's to blame? I'd wager 99.9% of the problems I'm running into at this point are all driver related. The actual operating system itself is sturdy, and it's a pleasure to work on. However, I don't believe it's ready for widespread adoption among gamers until the release in January. Support for games today is somewhat reasonable; there were more titles that worked for me than titles that didn't. And to be fair, the games above have had extremely problematic releases and support. However, I noticed that: 1) The new Vista video drivers are in their infancy. Running games in Vista will incur a large performance hit. 2) Not all games will run right out of the box. I bought Dark Messiah over a month ago and wasn't able to play it until setting up a Vista/XP dual boot. What if this had been Portal that didn't work? I, as well as nerds everywhere, would be crushed :) 

At the time I came to this realization, I still had a long weekend ahead of me... I thought, hey! Let's just install XP. We'll set up a dual boot and be done with this nonsense! I did some cursory Live searches to see what others had discovered, and it sounded like a snap. So in goes the Windows XP CD.. I boot up, install on the same drive under the WINXP folder, setup restarts... and the machine won't start. The bootloader got totally hosed by the Windows XP install process, rendering the machine inoperable until running a Vista startup repair. At this point, the Windows XP install was incomplete, so I couldn't really do anything but do a clean format or stick with Vista.

So I decide that my previous approach of trying to set up XP from Vista might be a bit backwards. I tackle the problem with newfound resolve and format my C drive, installing XP as a base to install Windows Vista in a dual boot fashion. Some time goes by, I install Windows XP, boot up the Vista DVD, and start the install process.. But wait! I can't install Vista side by side with Windows XP? The "Custom" installation is allowing me to pick a partition, and it even nicely offers to move my old OS to Windows.old, but I don't see an option to have the two living side-by-side in perfect harmony.

At that point, I had to reformat my drive again and create two different partitions from the Vista installer. I then installed Windows XP on the C partition, and after a successful install, I started up the installer for Windows Vista. I picked the new partition, and lo! Everything worked just as I had wanted it to. The final tally was around 6 hours, 3 installs of Windows XP and two unplanned reformats.

Unfortunately, as I use my home machine for gaming more than anything else, I'm finding that the increased performance and broader support in Windows XP is hard to leave. Even with a dual boot setup, I've spent more time in Windows XP than in Vista. At this stage, I couldn't see a gamer running Vista exclusively. I'm sure that will change as we get closer to the "For Everybody" release, but that doesn't do much good for the early adopters. :)

 In other news, the Xbox box showed up on Wednesday. It was picked up by UPS today, right before everything got snowed in. That puts me at 8 business days before receiving a new console. Hooray! I'm about a thousand points behind first place in the building 6 leaderboards. King K-0wn'g..ed? I guess? :D