Confessions of a Windows Enthusiast

Where I rant about Microsoft products, computers and technology, and much more.

HOW-TO: Switch to Windows Vista 64-bit painlessly

If your computer is fairly new (within the last year or so), there is a good chance that you may have a 64-bit processor. For instance, the AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Opteron processors are 64-bit, as well as Intel's older Pentium 4 with EM64T and Pentium D processors, and of course we can't forget the Core 2 line-up.

You might be wondering, "What are the advantages of using 64-bit Windows?"

  • Greater stability - Windows Vista 64-bit requires that all device drivers be signed.
  • Access to more than 3.25 GB of RAM - if your computer has 4 GB of memory, you will be able to use all of it instead of being limited by the 32-bit memory addressing system.
  • Performance - running a 64-bit operating system on a 64-bit processor offers better performance than a 32-bit operating system could provide.
  • Backwards compatibility - most 32-bit applications work without an issue on 64-bit Windows, with the exception of Anti-Virus programs and some other system utilities that rely on drivers.

In this guide I will be outlining the basic steps you will need to take to get a fully functional Windows Vista 64-bit installation up and running that serves your needs.

DISCLAIMER: I (Kristan Kenney) cannot be held responsible if something doesn't work. I have tested these instructions and any included applications to the best of my ability and have noted their behaviour under Windows Vista Ultimate, 64-bit.

Step One - Make sure you have the latest BIOS

This is a very important step. Several computer manufacturers have released Flash BIOS updates for their computer systems that allow correct operation with Windows Vista. Please visit your computer manufacturers' website to check for a BIOS update that pertains to your computer model. If your computer is custom built, visit your motherboard manufacturer's website and check for a BIOS update.

Popular Computer Manufacturers:

Popular Motherboard Manufacturers:

Once you have obtained the latest Flash BIOS update for your computer follow the update instructions from your computer/motherboard manufacturer. These instructions will vary, usually it is a simple flash using a Windows based tool, or you may need to boot from a USB Memory Stick or Floppy Disk.

Step Two - Download your drivers

Before we go ahead and format the computer to install Windows Vista 64-bit, we will want to ensure that we have all of the device drivers handy after installation in order to make our hardware work. Windows Vista has great out-of-the-box driver support, but there are a few things that you will want to make sure you have before taking the plunge - all drivers must be 64-bit, you cannot use 32-bit drivers in a 64-bit environment.

  • Chipset drivers
  • Graphics card drivers (don't necessarily need to be WHQL'd / signed as they are "user-mode" in Windows Vista, meaning that they do not interfere with the kernel - however it is always a good idea to use signed drivers for stability).
  • Serial ATA (SATA) / RAID drivers
  • Sound card drivers
  • Printer drivers

Again, check with your computer manufacturer / hardware manufacturer(s) for these drivers - and make sure that they are for Windows Vista 64-bit. I cannot stress enough that you must use 64-bit drivers under Windows Vista 64-bit, and they must also be signed.

Once you have downloaded your drivers, you will want to burn them to a CD or DVD, or alternatively save them to a USB Memory Stick (commonly known as a "flash" drive). This way you will have them available when you install Windows.

Step Three - Installing Windows Vista

To install Windows Vista 64-bit, you must perform a clean installation. You will need to back up your data before performing a clean installation as your hard drive will be formatted, meaning that any data on the hard drive will be erased, stricken from the drive like hair from a Siamese cat.

When performing a clean installation, it is always a good idea to boot directly from the Windows Vista installation DVD. To do this, make sure you have your boot order set to look at the CD/DVD drives before the hard drives, or on some computer systems you can press a hot key during boot up to select a boot device (Dell implements this - the F12 key). Place the Windows Vista DVD in your DVD-ROM drive and restart the computer. You will then be asked "Press any key to boot from CD or DVD..." - press Enter, or any other key here.

Windows Vista setup will load and you will go through some configuration pages. Installation is pretty straight forward, and the only configuration page you really need to be concerned with is the disk configuration page. Here you will need to create a new partition or format an existing partition for use with Windows Vista. Don't install over an existing installation of Windows, as it will turn out very messy and will not provide the best results.

Setup usually takes about 25 minutes on average from start to finish, but this will vary on your computer specifications - processor speed, memory, hard disk access times, these are all factors in the installation time.

Step Four - Install your drivers

After Windows Vista 64-bit is installed, you may need to install a few drivers. You can check to see if there are any remaining hardware devices that need drivers by verifying device status using the Windows Device Manager.

To access the Windows Device Manager:

  • Click on the Start button.
  • Right click on "Computer".
  • From the context menu that appears click on "Manage".
  • When User Account Control prompts you for consent, click on "Continue".
  • In the Computer Management window on the left hand side click on "Device Manager".

If there are any devices listed under "Unknown Devices", right click on them individually and install the drivers. You may have to reboot after installing certain drivers.

Step Five - Install Windows Updates

After you have installed your drivers you will want to update Windows. This ensures that you have the latest reliability and security updates installed. To run Windows Update:

  • Click on the Start button.
  • Click on "All Programs".
  • Click on "Windows Update".
  • In the task pane on the left hand side click on "Check for updates".

If Windows finds any updates applicable to your system it will display the number of updates and allow you to review them and install them.

Step Six- Install Codecs

This may ultimately be one of the most important steps, as codecs allow you to enjoy multimedia content (videos and audio) on your computer.

32-bit applications cannot use 64-bit codecs, and vice-versa. This means that we will need to install two sets of codecs in order to get both 32-bit and 64-bit multimedia applications fully functional.

For decoding most video files I recommend the XviD codec, which supports the decoding of both DivX and XviD, which make up the majority of video files available from the internet. You may also wish to install Apple QuickTime at this time.

Now that we have covered 32-bit codecs we will want to install the 64-bit codecs. By installing 64-bit codecs, you will be able to manipulate DivX, XviD and other multimedia files using Windows DVD Maker and Windows Movie Maker. You will also be able to play videos using the 64-bit version of Windows Media Player. The codec package we will be installing is called "Vista Codec Pack x64 Components", and at the time of writing is at version 1.1.2. I have personally tested all codecs mentioned in this step to ensure maximum compatibility, and have found zero issues with it.

To install the 64-bit codec package:

  • Download the codec package.
  • Run the installer. If User Account Control prompts you for consent, click on "Continue".
  • Follow the instructions in the codec package installer.

Now, at this point you're probably wondering - what is the point of having both 32-bit and 64-bit codecs installed? The answer is simple - it ensures that you will be able to play back your multimedia files with ease, not having to worry about the application being 32-bit or 64-bit.

Step Seven - Install your applications / games and update them

Now that we have installed our drivers, Windows Updates, and codecs, we will want to install any applications - such as Ahead Nero or Microsoft Office. It is usually a good idea to install by date of release, however if you don't know the release dates of your applications here is a general rule of thumb I like to follow, it has served me well:

  • Microsoft applications (Office, Works, Encarta, etc.)
  • Adobe applications (Adobe Reader, Photoshop, etc.)
  • Other applications (productivity software, etc.)
  • Anti-virus software.
  • Games and game updates.
  • All application updates.

Step Eight: Defragment your hard drive

After installing applications, games, updates, drivers, codecs, and other things the hard drive is probably going to be a bit fragmented. This means that files are not in contiguous blocks on your hard drive, but rather scattered into little pieces - think of it like a broken cookie. Defragmenting basically puts all the files back together, so that it takes less time to access them in the future.

To run the Windows Defragmentation program:

  • Click on the Start button.
  • Click on "Control Panel".
  • Click on "System and Maintenance".
  • Under "Administrative Tools" click on "Defragment your hard drive".
  • If User Account Control prompts you for consent, click on "Continue".
  • In the "Disk Defragmenter" window click on "Defragment now".

You can close the window as Windows will continue defragmenting in the background. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the fragmentation.

OPTIONAL STEP: Enable 64-bit Windows Media Player by default

If for whatever reason you would like to use the 64-bit Windows Media Player by default:

  • 1. Click on the Start button.
  • 2. Click on "All Programs", and then click on "Accessories".
  • 3. Right click on "Command Prompt" and click "Run as administrator".
  • 4. When User Account Control prompts you for consent, click on "Continue".
  • 5. In the Command Prompt window, type "%windir%\system32\unregmp2.exe /SwapTo:64" (without the quotes) and then press Enter.
  • 6. In the Command Prompt window, type "regedit" (without the quotes).
  • 7. In the left hand side of the Registry Editor window, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\App Paths\wmplayer.exe
  • 8. Create a back up of the settings in this key just in case you wish to switch back to the 32-bit Windows Media Player for whatever reason.
  • 9. Set the value for the (Default) key to "%ProgramFiles%\Windows Media Player\wmplayer.exe" (include the quotes).
  • 10. Set the value for the Path key to "%ProgramFiles%\Windows Media Player" (do not include the quotes).

Many thanks go out to Chris Holmes for coming up with the original instruction set for this step and allowing me to modify it for this guide.

This concludes the Windows Vista 64-bit installation and configuration guide. Thank you for taking the time to read this document, if you have any questions, concerns, or issues please feel free to leave me a comment or contact me.

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Comments

  • Rolando said:

    "Performance - running a 64-bit operating system on a 64-bit processor offers better performance than a 32-bit operating system could provide."

    Could you provide more details about this ? or maybe a link to a benchmark...

    thanks,

    Rolando

    April 12, 2007 1:29 PM
  • 64ter said:

    Ronaldo,

    "Performance - running a 64-bit operating system on a 64-bit processor offers better performance than a 32-bit operating system could provide."

    Could you provide more details about this ? or maybe a link to a benchmark...

    thanks,

    Rolando,

    It is the  FACT not some myth!

    If you do not believe it is the best if  you test it yourself!

    May 1, 2007 6:30 AM
  • RutgerB said:
    May 3, 2007 9:19 AM
  • george said:

    Great guide I used and everything works great !!!

    May 10, 2007 9:30 PM
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