Will XP soon be going the way of the Caribbean monk seal?
June 8, 2008 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm buying a new desktop PC. What would be the ramifications of getting one with XP installed instead of Vista? Will I regret it?

I'm mostly concerned by all I've read about how much space it takes up. What's the point of finally upgrading to 2GB of ram, only to fill most of it up with an operating system?

I'm not a serious gamer, though I am looking forward to being able to play newer games for the first time in a few years. I'm on my PC a LOT, but most of what I use it for (selling on eBay for a living, surfing the web) doesn't require a lot of fancy software.

Perhaps I should add that until now, I've been woefully ignorant about computers in general. I've given myself a crash course in PC components in the past couple of weeks as I research, but feel free to talk to me as if I were a small child.
posted by the bricabrac man to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just get XP. Vista isn't all that great and has a lot of problems. Windows 7 (the next version after Vista) is supposed to come out in 2009 or 2010, which shows that Microsoft wants to move on from it as quickly as possible.

XP also uses less system resources (like the RAM you mentioned) than Vista, so it should run better on any computer you buy.
posted by DMan at 1:42 PM on June 8, 2008

A few things to note...

* RAM and hard-drive space are different. RAM is temporary memory for applications and processes. Hard drive space is for semi-permanent storage. Vista takes considerably more RAM and hard drive space. For Vista to run well, you will need an absolute minimum of 2GB, 3GB is even better. The thing is though, RAM is so cheap that, who cares?

* For the games you'd like to play, you will want a computer with a decent dedicated video card. The NVIDIA GeForce 8800/8600 cards are great and relatively inexpensive.

* Vista vs XP. Don't listen to all the negative stories about Vista. It's not that bad and has some features that will help you look pass the negatives. As long as you are purchasing a new PC with Vista and you remove all the crapplets and trialware on it, you'll be fine.''''''''

* You don't need anything to fancy. You haven't specified a budget, but you can pick up a rather speedy dell with a large monitor for about $800.
posted by cgomez at 1:43 PM on June 8, 2008

I have a computer capable of running Vista, and run Vista on it, and I love it. In my experience, it has been way more stable than XP, and hasn't randomly shut down or crashed on me in the 6 months I've had it. (For comparison, my computer that ran XP shut down almost daily.) I don't use it for games, so I can't answer for that, but I can't fault a system that (finally!) just works.
posted by phunniemee at 1:44 PM on June 8, 2008

I dont consider vista to be such a ram hog that it'll use up all your 2gigs. At idle its not much worse than XP. If youre more comfortable with XP then stick with XP. There are very few vista-only games and the market has not been good to them. Game publishers will probably be releasing XP compatible games well after Windows 7 is released.

This is less of a big decision than you are making it out to be.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:46 PM on June 8, 2008

In my opinion, having XP instead of Vista is a feature, not a bug. I keep Vista and XP installed on my Macbook Pro, (this is what I do for a living,) and I spend way more time in XP, as it makes me want to murder whoever is around me far less. That said, it'll get better, and you can find as much anecdotal evidence saying "it's wonderful" as you can saying "it sucks".

(actually, that's a lie, but the positive ones are notably less of a minority than they were, say, six months ago)

I suppose what I'm saying here is that it's a matter of personal preference, and Vista's issues have been and will decline as MS tweaks it going forward. I use XP, and am far happier with it, but obviously I won't forever. Whether Vista will make it into that position in time, or if I'll have to wait for Windows 7, well, time will tell. But for a more casual user, really, I wouldn't stress about it either way. Find a good comp that does what you want and use what it comes with. And if you can use Vista for a while first (maybe at a friend's) to see what you think, do so.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 1:53 PM on June 8, 2008

Perhaps you should post the specs of the system you're going to buy.

There is still a lot of "Vista Bad, XP good" going on, and while not baseless, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be with the advent of Vista SP1.

I run Vista 64 SP1 on my built from scratch gaming rig and have had absolutely no problems whatsoeverIf you are interested in games, Vista will be the future as it's the only OS to support DirectX 10. Drivers are mature now and there are not a lot of problems left - although you still here the echo's of "XP over Vista" throughout the web...

Also, the "Vista eats all your RAM" meme is on account of Vista's prefetch which speeds up IO by preloading data from the slow hard disk into fast memory behind the scenes. The memory isn't actually "occupied" as the memory is immediately freed if required.

Extremetech did a review of the new Vista SP1 with a gaming slant and seems to be very impressed

My advice: Get Vista, for what you're doing you won't regret it and it will save you the upgrade in the future when MS drops it.
posted by puddpunk at 1:53 PM on June 8, 2008

(p.s. despite being a windows sysadmin, note my choice of laptops above. there's a reason for that. blah blah, alternatives, keep your options open, blah blah. sorry. I think I'm required to do that or I lose my apple card or something.)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2008

The question shouldn't be "why XP", it ought to be "why Vista?", since XP is the dominant operating system today. If there's no reason for you to change to Vista, don't upgrade simply for the sake of upgrading. As damn dirty ape pointed out, the market has not been kind to Vista-only software and probably won't be in the foreseeable future.

Since you'll almost certainly be fine, not to mention with the majority of computer users for a long while, running XP, that ought to be the default option. (It's a testament to Microsoft's sway in the industry that it's not, in fact, the default when buying a new PC from many manufacturers.) If you can't find a compelling reason to change your OS to a new version, it's not something I'd do just for shits and giggles. Let other people play beta tester if they want to.

On the other side, if you do see things in Vista that you think are honestly compelling, then you may want to consider it, keeping in mind the time you'll necessarily have to invest in learning a system that's different from what you're familiar with today.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2008

You don't want Vista. You just don't. You don't need it, either. XP works just fine and is still supported. In fact, Microsoft has quietly introduced a "downgrade" service from Vista to XP cuz its such a damn mess.

As for games, Microsoft introduced "LIVE anywhere" along w/ Vista and had the balls to try charging PC players a fucking subscription fee to play shooters. MMOs are one thing, but that takes some real nerve to try bleeding PC players for deathmatches and CTF. This is not behavior that ought to be encouraged. Games publishers won't be abandoning the massive installed XP base anytime soon, nor sinking much money into developing exclusively for an almost universally reviled OS.
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2008

Response by poster: thanks for the answers so far.

My budget is actually around $1500, so I'll be getting a decent video card and plenty of hard drive space. Getting 3GB of RAM instead of 2 is definitely doable if it will help. Also, I don't actually mind the idea of having to learn my way around a new OS. But I've never had any problems with XP crashing myself, though I'm aware others have.
posted by the bricabrac man at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2008

XP. Unless your a gamer, and NEED DX10. It looks and feels more or less like XP.. but its like getting half of your preformance (ie, Vista seems 1/2 as slow as XP for me).

If you DO get Vista.... 2GB is the new 512MB. You need 2GB atleast. 3GB makes Vista happy.
posted by SirStan at 1:57 PM on June 8, 2008

... hasn't randomly shut down or crashed on me in the 6 months I've had it. (For comparison, my computer that ran XP shut down almost daily.) ...

Just for the record, this might not have anything to do with XP. I ran an XP laptop for about 3 years and it virtually never crashed (and I never rebooted, always used suspend) - and neither did my old Windows 2000 computer, actually, until I started getting read/write errors on the hard drive.

In the general case, I don't think Vista is known for being much more stable than XP, though of course this will vary with what software you're using.
posted by rkent at 1:59 PM on June 8, 2008

puddpunk makes a good point about SP1. It's quite an improvement over the initial release. I seem to recall disliking XP til SP1, and not really liking it til SP2. It is a valid point - Vista is only going to get better, and will likely pass XP before long. Since I have access to both, I'm fine stalling on XP until that point. If you're only buying one comp/os for the next 2-3 years or so - Vista will likely end up the better long term choice.

Assuming, of course, that we don't end up with a Windows ME : Windows XP :: Windows Vista : Windows 7 scenario. But no one one knows their plans there except Microsoft at this point.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 1:59 PM on June 8, 2008

"But I've never had any problems with XP crashing myself, though I'm aware others have."

XP is one of the more stable operating systems to ever come out of Redmond. People who complain it crashes run wierd drivers (BOBZOMG ATI +2 to FPS DRIVERS), wierd apps (BOBZOMG TWITTER UPDATR 65 BIT + ALPHA BLENDING!) or have hardware issues (STOP LICKING THE RAM CHIPS).

$1500 is a fairly well equipped machine.. it should run Vista fine. I would pickup a cheapy Dell deal (watch Slickdeals). You can get a Q6600, 19" lcd, etc, etc for <$800.
posted by SirStan at 2:00 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Absolutely get the 3GB RAM. You can never have too much RAM*

*unless the OS doesn't support it, but that's another story. get the 3gb!
posted by DMan at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2008

I was heavily resistant to Vista for a long time. A recent upgrade forced me to choose between a 32-bit OS and a 64-bit. In the pinch Vista Ultimate 64 became the obvious choice. So far it's been ok. There were a few applications I had to say goodbye to, but I've found suitable and in some cases superior replacements.

My choice and motivations were different from your own, but I think that Vista isn't as bad as people make it out to be. Indeed, I'm willing to bet that a large portion of the Vista critics have not actually run the OS themselves and only have a passing exposure to it.

On an older machine I'd say yes, stick with XP. That's what I run on my laptop (though I may try Server 2008 later) and in general XP does things pretty well without much fuss.

Looking back I realize now that most of my concerns about Vista were over blown. Yes, you are over thinking the question.

Does it perform as well as XP? I'm convinced the average user won't be able to tell a difference, and advanced users can only note a difference (usually) by running diagnostic software.

Vista works. It's been around for a few years now. It's not everything that MS promised it would be, but it's good enough for now. I think if you get it and use it you won't regret it.

Your 2 gigs of ram should be more than enough. If you have the option for not much more money go for three or four. People will say that's crazy talk, you don't need that much. In a few years you'll be glad its there though. 32-bit OSes can't address more than 3.0 gb, and there really isn't much justification for paying extra for the 64-bit edition. So go with three.
posted by wfrgms at 2:05 PM on June 8, 2008

* Vista vs XP. Don't listen to all the negative stories about Vista. It's not that bad and has some features that will help you look pass the negatives. As long as you are purchasing a new PC with Vista and you remove all the crapplets and trialware on it, you'll be fine.''''''''

My family bought a desktop with Vista installed and it runs like a pig. For work, I received a laptop with Vista installed and, usually using Linux, haven't gotten around to switching it out with XP. The reliability is reminiscent of Windows 98 - the other day I actually had it do that thing where something crashes and so it just starts continuously identical error messages faster than you can close them, which I hadn't seen in years.

I think you'll continue to see games released for DX9 (or Microsoft relents and gives DX10 to XP, or the trend goes back to OpenGL or something) and patches and so on released for XP simply because there are so many people who won't "upgrade."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:20 PM on June 8, 2008

The main lesson of Vista is that it requires a modern, well equipped PC. A lot of the griping comes from trying to make it run on a PC that just doesn't have the firepower to do it. Or doing an in-place upgrade on top of an already broken system. To make Aero work, for example, requires a fairly hefty 3d graphics card. It's going to be bad if you are trying to make it work on a graphics card that's more than a year old.

Remember, a lot of people said the same things of XP when it rolled out. "2000 works just fine for me! XP is teh suck!"

If you are buying an inexpensive PC, stay with XP. But if you are already planning on getting something like a Core2Duo with a couple gigs of ram and a fast graphics card, then Vista will run fine.
posted by gjc at 2:59 PM on June 8, 2008

Remember, a lot of people said the same things of XP when it rolled out. "2000 works just fine for me! XP is teh suck!"

But Vista has been out since Nov 06. Thats almost two years of "VISTA IS TEH SUCK". XP "TEH SUCK" only lasted a few months as I recall.. I couldn't wait to roll XP at work. Now I burn Vista CD's as they come in the door.
posted by SirStan at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2008

Response by poster: Well, that clears everything up.

*head explodes*

But seriously, thanks for all the answers & keep 'em coming. It's all very educational.
posted by the bricabrac man at 3:14 PM on June 8, 2008

"Remember, a lot of people said the same things of XP when it rolled out. "2000 works just fine for me! XP is teh suck!"

When XP came out, I went to a Microsoft boring+Tshirt&bagels introduction. There was a breakout afterwards, and after a few questions, I got a MS guy to admit that XP was basically 2000 with face paint.
posted by hexatron at 3:26 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

But Vista has been out since Nov 06. Thats almost two years of "VISTA IS TEH SUCK". XP "TEH SUCK" only lasted a few months as I recall.. I couldn't wait to roll XP at work. Now I burn Vista CD's as they come in the door.

For what it's worth, I held out on XP until halfway through 2006, even after abortive attempts to install it and use it as my daily OS. That's a lot of "2000 works just fine for me!" in my books. On the other hand, I did stick with Windows 95 until 2001 so maybe I'm just odd.

Vista SP1, on the other hand, now resides on my laptop (T5600 C2D/2GB RAM/Radeon Mobility x1400) alongside XP and Ubuntu. It's still not my daily OS, but aside from minor interface quirks (what, no Ctrl-Esc-u-Enter to shut down?) it seems to work just fine and doesn't appear to be significantly slower than XP.
posted by chrominance at 3:32 PM on June 8, 2008

About RAM... Assuming your new machine takes DDR2/800 memory:

2 GB will cost you $44
3 GB will cost you $75
4 GB will cost you $85

(all just going with whatever has the best rating on Newegg)

Remember, a lot of people said the same things of XP when it rolled out. "2000 works just fine for me! XP is teh suck!"

I think you mean "98 is great for me!," not Win2K. And I remember lots of people bitching about the XP's hardware requirements being soooo high and why can't my machine that runs 98 just fine run XP worth a damn, and losing a lot of DOS compatibility, and 16 bit driver/software problems, and XP is such a huuuuuge memory hog, and so on for quite a while after XP came out.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:01 PM on June 8, 2008

If you buy from Dell, you can get Vista, with XP preloaded. What this means is that every license of Vista includes a license of the corresponding version of XP. So what Dell will do for you is let you buy Vista, but they will install XP on your computer. They will give you DVD's for both Vista and XP, and you can upgrade from XP to Vista any time you please. The best part is that it doesn't even make your computer any more expensive (or at least not when I bought Vista Business with XP Prof. preloaded).

I imagine that other computer manufacturers do this too.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 4:30 PM on June 8, 2008

"... but aside from minor interface quirks ..."

That's been the killer for me. As an extremely techy person, who occasionally want to adjust minor techy settings in Windows (like disassociating an app from a filetype - how the hell did iTunes decide to become associated with .zip files anyway? - or manually configuring wireless networking), Vista has proved to be nothing short of extremely frustrating.

One day, I'm going to do a head to head comparison between my gf's Vista Core2Duo laptop, my Core2Duo MacBook, and my old Pentium/Win2k laptop. I'm pretty sure I know what's going to come last in the 'which is the least annoying to use?' stakes.
posted by Pinback at 6:22 PM on June 8, 2008

Vista:XP as ME:98se. Keep XP and wait for Redmond to brush Vista quietly under the carpet.

The next gig will be dynamite! HUGE! You'll see!
posted by flabdablet at 7:03 PM on June 8, 2008

And for what it's worth, and for the record, my general response to people who come to me with stories of Vista-induced pain and suffering is to sympathise, agree with them, and set them up with Ubuntu - either as a complete replacement for Vista, or as a dual boot. So far, this appears to have been the correct policy. In every case, people have been happier with their Ubuntu environments than their Vista ones.
posted by flabdablet at 7:55 PM on June 8, 2008

Hands down, the best value for your money is to spend whatever you were going to spend on a video card and put it to a gaming console. Video cards are expensive and sold at a premium. Consoles are usually sold at-cost or at a discount. That and the current trends seem to indicate there's a lot more quality coming to consoles and PCs are treated as an after thought. Disagree if you like, but as a former heavy PC gamer, consoles work for me. You probably will spend on the entire console what you would spend on a video card.

That said, max out the memory on the motheboard, no matter what you get. I would also go for Vista 32bit as there are still drivers and some programs that don't run in 64bit. Sorry driver support still isn't there and I've been running Vista x64 since it came out. It is always the odd thing that crops up every 6 months that pisses me off.

Also buy a high spreed hard drive. Don't be seduced by a 500GB hard drive for cheap. You want the highest speed drive you can get. Put your money into a ReadyNAS or some sort of network attached storage. You'll have on-board RAID and not have to worry about data loss.

Ignore the Vista vs XP debate. It doesn't really matter what you use, though I'd recommend Vista as I sort of like the updated interface. I can't even remember the last time I've had to deal with a blue screen or operating systems crashing on me. That's not an issue anymore.

Anyone who compares about hardware requirements is crazy. You can get quad-core processors and 4GB of RAM for your price point. The biggest bottlenecks I experience anymore are disk i/o bandwidth and network congestion.

You'll thank me if you spend your money on a nice, large, widescreen display. Make it two and you'll forget how you lived without it.
posted by geoff. at 8:04 PM on June 8, 2008

Get XP, but get XP Pro. If you get XP Home, you can't upgrade to Vista Ultimate or the media edition.
posted by Lukenlogs at 10:50 PM on June 8, 2008

I work in IT support, so I get asked this question a lot. I personally run both on most of my machines. Vista is prettier, with a reworked start menu, XP is noticeably faster when browsing local folders and network shares, even post SP1. Other than that, it's not that big of a deal. Since I tend to do a lot of file work in network folders, XP pro is my prefered OS; my compatriot prefers vista because of the video desktop.

Properly installed with decent drivers, both are roughly equally stable. Vista's biggest weakness is lack of support for older hardware; the amount of wireless gear and scanners and even printers that have been obsoleted by it is pretty large.

It's virtually impossible to actually buy XP any more - it'll no longer be on sale by the end of this month for OEM sales. However, an obscure licence feature that's been around since windows 2000 has become much more popular - by buying vista, you can 'downgrade' to XP for free. Assuming you want XP pro (which you do) you need either vista business or vista ultimate (vista home premium doesn't allow downgrades). Most XP pro pre-installed pc's now come with a vista business oem licence on the case, and a pre-activated copy of XP pro installed. You can however install vista on it later if you wish (you'll probably need to find your own DVD copy), and switch between them at will. You could dual-boot.

Of the people I know that tried out vista, those who were resistant to change generally couldn't stand the new interface, they could never find anything. Those with it on slower hardware also found it slow and frustrating. More computer savvy people didn't find the transition that jarring, and could live with it. I know very few people who love vista; it's mostly people who say 'it's not so bad as portrayed'. In the end of the day, it's just an OS. After the initial shock of the new wears off, you don't really notice which one you're running any more - a fullscreen browser window looks the same in both, after all.

As for 64 bit vs 32 bit. The only real reason to get 64 bit is if you have 4GB+ of RAM. Native 64 bit apps on vista are thin on the ground, and drivers and codecs can be a pain in the ass. Yes, it should be technically faster; in most cases, I've benchmarked it equal or slower.
32 bit vista is the version to go for in my opinion - for now.

Overall - I'd probably go for XP on a oem-downgrade licence, with the vista upgrade option in the bag for later (you can usually spot them, they offer the same pc in both xp pro and vista business versions). There's no compelling reason to switch unless you want the swanky front end with double the clicks to get anywhere. DirectX 10 and Live for windows have been a massive failure so far, and games will support XP for a looong time to come yet. Game writers aren't stupid to only write games for the small percentage of people that have switched to vista - well, except for microsoft studio games like halo 2. And personally, running vista and XP on the same high spec pcs, XP is noticeable more responsive.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:35 AM on June 9, 2008

I would also say - pc gaming isn't dead, but it's a lot less healthy than it used to be. DRM is getting a lot worse, and a lot of current games are poor xbox 360 ports.

I play pc gaming for TF2, and I'm hoping the DRM on spore will be bearable, and some of the new steam games look good. I probably play about twice as much time on my 360 though, and the other half loves the wii. FPSes still suck on a gamepad compared to the PC though.

Once the current consoles are reaching the 'mature' end of their lifespans in 2/3 years, I expect PC gaming to see a renaissance, just as when the the PS2 was getting long in the tooth - people and developers wanted the obscene power advantage of the PC.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:39 AM on June 9, 2008

One thing to watch out for regarding drivers: some older digital cameras WILL NOT work with Vista. I have vista and an older Canon Powershot S200 (back when they used CompactFlash). There is absolutely no driver available for this camera.

And true, I could get a memory card reader, but that's another cost you'll have to add on if you do in fact have an older digital camera. That or a new camera.

In sum, I'm pleased with Vista, despite the camera driver problem. It feels more secure, more streamlined, and looks a lot better than XP. I'm not sure what kind of memory problems people are having, the only ones I've had are when MS IE hogs memory, or Firefox, or Adobe Reader--nothing has changed in that regard unfortunately (perhaps Firefox 3.0 will save us from the perpetual memory-drain that is inherent in browsers nowadays).

The new Start menu is nice, and takes up less screen real estate. Just press the winkey and start typing a program you want to run, and your program will come up. No mouse (yay!).

I've used Win3.0, 3.1, 98, 98se, ME, 2000, XP home, XP pro and now Vista Ultimate. Any comparisons of Vista to ME are ridiculous, I'm sorry. ME was horrible. Really really really horrible. Vista is "not that bad." There's a big difference between the two in my opinion.

And if you have a choice, I would suggest Vista Ultimate just because it won't hold you back, much the same as XP Home vs. XP Professional.

My current recommendations to friends when buying new computers is either Vista Ultimate or OSX. Vista because with new computers, it's worth it. OSX because well, Mac's are great for the majority of people.
posted by djpyk at 5:47 PM on June 9, 2008

Just press the winkey and start typing a program you want to run, and your program will come up. No mouse (yay!)

Yeah, that whole point and click thing is way overrated.
posted by flabdablet at 6:47 PM on June 9, 2008

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