10 Steps to Vista Upgrade Success

Since Beta 2, Windows Vista has had a fairly versatile and reliable upgrade path from Windows XP to Vista, and in Build 5456, it’s been improved on even more – now you rarely hear of people that couldn’t upgrade, but nevertheless, people suffer as a result of upgrades whether they know it or not.

The most common “symptoms” include patchy Aero performance (if at all), frequent BSODs, drivers refusing to install, and general system unresponsiveness. The problem is that even the experts tend to forget that there is a difference between a clean install and an upgrade, even if everything else worked. When an upgrade is performed, evil things may brew just beneath the surface, waiting for the user to forget that an upgrade is the root of all those problems.

Fortunately there are quite a few steps you can take to protect yourself from buggy upgrades and their corresponding headaches, and they’re not too hard either.

5 Tips for Everyone

  1. Use the compatibility wizard
    It’s there for a reason, and the amazing thing is that it barely lists any issues, but those that it finds are of the utmost importance. Microsoft has undertaken the effort of listing software and drivers that are verified not to work – not because they don’t want them to, but rather because they are certain that no matter how you look at it, it’s far better to be safe than sorry. Just follow the advice it gives you, and be thankful that you have an upgrade path and some advice rather than having to do a clean install.
  2. Uninstall all Graphics Drivers
    This is one of the most important steps that Microsoft fails to mention. Often times a driver will be overwritten by an Upgrade Install, but not entirely removed – forever leaving your drivers corrupt and irreplaceable – a place you don’t want to be.
  3. Uninstall all Audio Drivers
    Well not all audio drivers, but if you are using a PCI soundcard (i.e. not embedded/onboard audio), it’s definitely a good idea. Don’t worry about the sound, once you’re in Vista our audio guide will take care of that.
  4. Use DriverCleaner
    DriverCleaner is a wonderful program that scrubs your system clean of old driver references. Once you’ve manually uninstalled the drivers mentioned above, just turn on DriverCleaner, select all the drivers (except those that you use for other things naturally), and let it scrub your system clean. Vista will thank you for it.
  5. Remove all emulation software
    Whether or not Vista asks you to remove them, make sure you uninstall all emulation software, no matter who makes it or how it works. These include Alcohol 52/120%, Daemon Tools, Nero ImageDrive, and SlySoft’s excellent (and free) Virtual CloneDrive.

5 Tips for the Geek Within
These tips might not apply to everyone, but if they apply to you, make sure you pay the closest attention to each and every detail, or your data will forever be lost!

  1. Resize all Clusters
    Vista continues to refuse to install on any drive that has even a single partition formatted at a cluster size above 4kb; so make doubly sure that your ultra-optimized partitions are properly resized before you go on. NeoSmart Technologies recommends Acronis Disk Director 10.
  2. Get Rid of Custom File systems
    If you hacked Windows to add support for Ext2FS/Ext3FS, ReiserFS, or any other non-standard file system, make certain you unmount all drives, use the uninstall utility to remove these file systems, then manually scour the registry for references. If you don’t, your data is toast.
  3. Match Physical and Logical Partition Order
    Vista loves to mess with the MBR (particularly the bootsector, but unfortunately the partition table too). Don’t give it a reason to mess with your valuable data more than it needs to – make sure that the order of the partitions in the MBR matches the physical order of the clusters. Use a Linux tool such as cfdisk to make sure.
  4. Disconnect from the Domain
    Vista still has a lot of work left to be done in the networking areas, and in particular Domain Networking. NeoSmart Technologies is currently working with Microsoft on a particularly nasty bug that causes immediate and irreversible data loss on joining a domain – something you most likely don’t want unless you have a death wish or work for Enron.
  5. Remove any Custom Boot Loaders
    Vista hates non-standard MBRs – and that includes having GRUB, LILO, Acronis Boot Manager, or PowerQuest BootMagic installed. As you might know, NeoSmart Technologies is on the bleeding edge of MBR development (with VistaBootPRO, MacBooks, EFI, and more under our belt), and we’re working on a fix – but it won’t be here for a while.

And of course, our parting words of advice: Vista is still Beta Software, if it breaks your PC, you know where to go (hint: click this link)!

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  • 2 thoughts on “10 Steps to Vista Upgrade Success

    1. Hi Guru — from an avid EasyBCD user.

      2 questions about this post!

      I happened to read this post (years later) after trying to determine what the significance of HDD cluster sizes is. First question: Is it advisable to change partition where I keep mainly multimedia files to a cluster size of 64KB (provided it isn’t Vista’s partition? Your post here suggests that Vista, at least in beta, balked at that.

      Second question: You mention the need to match up partition order in the MBR and physical order of the clusters. Is that something that will change as a result of 1) designating a different volume LETTER for a partition? Or 2) repartitioning or reimaging a partition, especially on a multiboot system? I have reason to do both. (For instance, I am about to write over one of the OSes in my system (Server 2008), which is to the left of the current Vista partition. Second example: Earlier I expanded the Vista partition (to engulf a space buffer I’d set up ‘to the right’ of the OS.) Or am I doing OK?

      Bet wishes,

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