Vista, SSD, and Sound

So I managed to snag a 32gb flash solid state drive. (Here’s a picture.) I personally think SSDs are the future and a computer sold with a regular hard disk in five years will seem as quaint as selling one with a tape drive is today. However the technology is still really early, as evidenced by the difficulty I had obtaining one, the cost, and the relatively small storage size (larger sizes are promised or announced, but only 32GB is commercially available). 32gb is more than enough for my primary HD, as anything heavy I can store on a cheap and slow SATA drive or on the network.
I spend a lot of time on my desktop, so I’m fairly sensitive to the speed of things there. I year or so ago I upgraded to a Western Digital 10k Raptor SATA drive and I was pleasantly surprised by the speed boost, more than I normally get from upgrading the CPU. So I thought the SSD would be a nice chance to refresh my desktop and also do a clean install of Windows Vista, which I’ve had laying around. I decided not to touch the CPU, memory, or graphics card, which are a FX-55, 4gb, and Radeon X800 respectively. Installing the SSD was easy, I just needed an IDE converter because it is laptop size.

First off, I like Vista better than Windows XP. There are just a lot of little things, like when you press Windows + M it minimizes windows on both monitors, that are a lot more polished. Also, thanks to the SSD, install and boot times are incredibly fast. Launching programs also feels snappier. The visual effects seem fine on my slightly-old video card, and in general everything feels great. There is also a benefit to wiping the OS and starting with a fresh, I probably had some cruft accumulated before which may have contributed to a slowdown. I don’t know if Vista is worth an upgrade, but if you’re going to start fresh I would go for it.

I have run into two problem, one large and one small. First, about 24 hours after I had set things up,  I came back to the computer and it said it had rebooted to recover from a “blue screen” error. I have no idea what caused this, but it hasn’t happened since.

More importantly though, something is seriously wrong with the sound. System sounds, and playing music through iTunes or Windows Media sounds great… for about 5 minutes. At some seemingly random point all the sound switches to this really awful distortion which is painful to the ear. When this happens I have to close the application that was playing sound, be it a Youtube video in Firefox or an MP3 in Windows Media, and restart the application for any sound on the computer to return to normal. This sucks. I’m just using the standard nForce sound card built into my motherboard, nothing fancy, and according to Vista it can’t find a better driver for it. I’ve googled around a lot but can’t find anyone with a similar problem, but if I figure out a fix I’ll update this entry to help future net searchers.

39 thoughts on “Vista, SSD, and Sound

  1. I’d disagree about SSD drives being the future–for desktops, anyway. Niche areas where limited storage is fine may very well go that route, but enthusiasts will continue to use magnetic media because the capacities are so much larger…. and more importantly, the cost-per-gigabyte for large SSD drives is prohibitive, and will likely stay that way for quite a bit longer than 5 years.

    cf. This CNET article.

  2. Vista definitely is great. I’ve grown quite attached to it myself.

    As for your sound problem, my first guess would be something wrong with the sound card or its drivers. It seems a lot of people with nForce motherboards are having sound-related problems with Vista. If you haven’t already, I’d see about going to the manufacturer’s website to get any drivers instead of going through Windows. Maybe try a third-party driver? Definitely sounds like an odd problem, and I hope you figure it out.

  3. I’m guessing what you’re hearing is commonly referred to as ‘stuttering’. I’ve heard that some people with this problem resolved it by installing “NVIDIA nForce3 250 Parallel ATA Controller (v2.6)” and “NVIDIA nForce3 250 Serial ATA Controller (v2.6)” from the nForce XP drivers. For other general Vista tips and information, have a peak at my WordPress powered site ITsVISTA. Hope this helps!

  4. Vista has me pulling my hair and seriously debating wiping it, buying a copy of XP Pro and installing that. But lack of XP drivers for my Toshiba has me worried.

    I’ve had numerous issues with programs running fine… and then stop working. Net Stumblers inability to see my net card is frustrating me, and The “minor” issues with Vista and Firefox has me gnashing teeth. I’ve been using it… but so far besides the nice boot times I haven’t seen anything to really hold me back… except hopes that Vista will get the patch that will save me $300…

  5. It’s not stuttering, I think, the audio plays perfectly in time but it sounds like it’s coming out of a tin speaker and a lot of the sounds are distorted.

  6. I had Vista installed for about two weeks and then dumped it for XP Pro. Sure, there’s a lot of bling bling, but after about one week all the jazz wore off and it just seemed bloated.
    Not to mention that the bastard is a memory hog! On my system, admittedly not as powerful as yours, it snagged a full 46% more than XP Pro running several services (Apache, MySQL, y’know the usual stuff) in the background.
    I’m sure Vista is fine for people with more money than sense, who are able to get the latest hardware…. SSD, anyone? ;) Just kidding!

  7. Matt,

    You are discovering what happens when an OS is released well before Vendors have anything remotely approaching stable drivers in place.

    Most Vista drivers should be considered beta – that means video rendering issues and odd artefacts in sound reproduction.

    The same thing happened when XP was released, the only difference was that vendors were a bit more inclined to care about it than Vista.

    Genuinely, unless you have a burning reason to use Vista, go back to XP – yes, you’ll lose some of the nice candy and neat gadgets, but you’ll be a lot less frustrated in the process.

    Oh, and the windows + m combination works just fine in XP, over two monitors. ;)

  8. I’m gonna take a guess here, based largely on some similar issues I’ve seen on my friend’s and my wife’s laptop. Both have low-spec on-board sound, and both have experienced occasional audio distortion.

    After extensive searching I concluded that this was being caused by two background services, consuming massive amounts of CPU cycles and making the hard drives churn like they were dying!

    The services causing problems (for me at least) were SuperFetch and Fast Indexing. I won’t go into detail here about what they do or how they work (not to mention why they’re stupidly implemented) but suffice to say that once I had disabled them and rebooted the audio problem had been solved. Hey – if it don’t work then you can always put it back and you’ll be no worse off!

    Feel free to drop me a mail if you want details on how to proceed, but I’m sure you can handle it yourself! ;)

    @Thomas (“Vista is fine for people … who are able to get the latest hardware”): This, quite frankly, is rubbish. I’ve just spent less than £300 on a brand-new PC system, not including the peripherals I already had) and Vista Ultimate runs like a dream with knobs on.

    Thanks for listening!

    Paul

  9. How much did you end up paying for the SSD? 32gb should have cost you at least $300… and anyone with that much money to pull out has got to have a considerable sum on hand, or probably be crazy enough to buy one… I mean right, HD is unreliable and crap but realise that your flash drive will only last you for the next 4-5 years before growing unstable, depending on use of course.

    And I agree, you should switch to Ubuntu + Beryl. Personally I think dapper is better than feisty being that its LTS still, and I’m waiting for the next LTS to upgrade. Mark Shuttleworth is a genious!

  10. Hi Matt. I’ve been running Vista since it went RTM and have had my shares of nightmares. The issue you’ve got sounds like an issue with the native drivers support for Vista. Windows Update is supposed to download the new drivers to you as they get released from the manufactures of your components but it never does that.

    Now sure who the manufacturer of your computer is but my machine is a DELL and DELL allows you to go to their website and downloaded all updated software for the OS you want for the components you have. I had started trolling the individual company sites and had gotten most of the Vista updates but DELL got me the rest. All my issues with my DVD burner, HD sounds, etc were gone when I had the updated Vista drivers from the manufacturer. So I would recommend you Google the individual components and get the Vista-ready drivers and utilities. It’s made using my computer fun again :) Good luck.

  11. There is an item up at the microsoft site about the sound issue. I can’t remember where, but it discussed this issue or one very similar.

    I have Vista and about a week after install notepad, wordpad, and paint all stopped saving new files. I can edit an existing but if I make a new one, it does not save. If anyone know a solution I would appreciate the help…

    The Readyboost is pretty spiffy. I bought a 4 gig flash drive and use it to get nearly 4 additional gigs of RAM.

  12. Found your blog through the WordPress Dashboard.

    You’re the first person I’ve found who has the same issue.

    I have exactly the same issue with sound. It doesn’t seem to come about with time, but rather when I leave iTunes open while the computer either suspends or goes to hibernate. Sometimes it simply won’t have any sound at all, and pressing the play button in iTunes toggles the button to the pause button, but the seek bar does not advance. This seems to require me to log off–interestingly, the log-off sound will work. Other times, I get the distortion that you speak of–it reminds me of using battery powered headphones that are low on battery. In this case, simply restarting the application fixes it.

    If I don’t have iTunes open, I don’t seem to encounter this problem, and if I set the power settings such that the computer never goes to standby, I also don’t seem to have this issue. What’s strange, though, is that as you mentioned, it’s not just a specific application’s sounds that get screwed up, it’s all the sounds, including system sounds!

    I have a Compaq Presario R3000, which I believe is nForce. I looked for drivers, but Windows can’t find any newer ones, and I couldn’t find any for download. It doesn’t help that Compaq has declared my laptop too old for Vista.

    Keep us updated if you find any solutions–I’d like to get this foxed, too.

  13. First off, I like Vista better than Windows XP. There are just a lot of little things, like when you press Windows + M it minimizes windows on both monitors, that are a lot more polished.

    As it does on XP….

  14. @Paul: Rubbish? Harsh, maybe. Not rubbish! But perhaps it’s geographical. Top of the line computers are ridiculously expensive in Denmark. And yes, I know that you don’t need state-of-the-art tech to run Vista, but my rather powerful system ground to a halt.

  15. I did a fresh Vista install about 10 days ago. Interesting you have sound issues. My niggle is video where in spite of the WHQ-certified Nvidia Vista driver, weird things happen including system freezes. To be fair to Nvidia, they clearly say regard any Vista driver as beta.

    Still, for me Vista rocks and there’s no going back to XP.

  16. Matt,

    There are known issues with the quality of nVidia drivers out there with Vista. Once you get passed the drivers though, I’m in love with Vista. Programs start faster, the UI design (not specifically Aero) seems more modern and well…at least for me I don’t get blue screens. Then again, I play it safe and use signed drivers.

  17. I didn’t realise you’d gone back to Windows. I thought I’d read a post of yours about Linux a while ago.

    I’d like to echo the comments about Feisty (which if you’re using Vista is the better choice as you obviously have no concern for stability ;). Otherwise Dapper and wait for the next LTS as Sam said.

    When you’re not playing games I really don’t see a benefit to using Windows.

  18. I also have similar problems with Sound in Vista. Except, if I pause WMP, or use the Music controls on my keyboard, the sound will completely stop, even the OS’s sounds. They won’t come back until I restart, either. Don’t know if it’s still doing this, though, I now refrain from using the Music controls on my keyboard, and the Pause button on WMP. I’m still hoping that Asus will release Vista drivers for my around a year old motherboard. All they have right now for Vista is PC Probe. :P

    What version of Vista do you have, and what’s your Windows Experience Index rating?

  19. Sweet, my rating was either 4.7 or 4.3 (that’s the lowest score, which ends up being the final score) (not sure, since I’m not at my Vista PC right now, and I’ve installed Vista on about 3 other machines, so I get the scores mixed up sometimes :P ).

  20. Matt, NeoSmart Technologies has an excellent guide to getting the right drivers for your sound card, complete with optimization steps and dl links for all the various drivers.

    I used this guide to get my digital audio piping the way I want it until Feisty comes out (today!)..

  21. There are rumors going around, which I like to keep going around, that Apple is going to release an Ultra Light portable with SSD technology.

    My understanding of the potential specs:

    12″ LCD widescreen display
    SSD storage drive
    No optical drive
    Super battery life
    Dual core Intel CPU

    This will be a great computer for the traveler, photographer and tourist. Nothing heavy, nothing fancy just fast quick and light.

    Hope they announce something soon
    Bradford Knowlton
    http://x86Virtualization.com/

  22. Matt, I hate to play Devil’s Advocate, but the reason Vista runs fine on your system is that you have 4Gb of RAM. Even most average systems will only have a quarter of that.

  23. Hi Matt,

    I’ve been having the same problem with Vista native sound drivers on my Intel chipset which is 3 years old now.

    Updating the drivers through Windows Update resolves some of the issues, but ultimately, the only way to get sound back up and running is to restart the Windows Audio service each time.

    I’ve posted a workaround for others as I was sure I wasn’t alone.

    This is probably my biggest bug bear since the Vista BETAs, and I’m annoyed that it still hasn’t been sorted. (Yes, I did send a bug report.)

    Oh, well. If I *really* need sound, I just plug in my USB headset.

  24. same problem with vista and itunes. All sound stops after about 5 minutes of playing. If I kill the itunes process on the processes tab in the task manager. I can restart itunes and hear sound. The problem is in itunes. (they probably have a timer to kill sound after 5 minutes. lol)

  25. For all of you that think SSD is not the replacement of magnetic media: Dell is selling laptops with it already.

  26. Windows Vista still has too many problems to be used as the operating system of your primary computer. For one, which is minor but an inconvenience nonetheless, plugging your iPod into a computer running off Vista could corrupt both Windows and the iPod’s HD. Windows released an update that did not work, and does not plan to have a working patch for another month.

    Also, as nice and sleek as Vista looks, it is more for the average user who does not need to use the full power of their PC. For more advanced users, such as myself and I imagine many others, Windows 2k + XP (and even better; Linux) are the way to go. Of course, this is my opinion. But I believe it has a good base.

  27. I know Vista is a nightmare for ACER laptops too…especially the 5572x series…crashs hard drives etc.

    In the end..I rather stick to XP for the while..and Debian.

    Nice article abt the SSD…very tempted.

    Azrin @ http://www.azrin.net

  28. hey matt, are you still running vista on your ssd?
    I am curious, how much did you pay?
    those 32gb ones are quite pricey over here in Germany.
    I have heard they wanted to drop prices this summer when introducing the new 256GB versions…

    I’d really need a ssd drive to team up with my water-cooled pc, since my tinitus is getting worse.

    Have you stuck your ssd directly on the mainboard IDE port using an adapter or attached it with a cable?

    questions over questions, maybe if you got some time you can reply,
    cheers jez

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