Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Sunday, 18 November 2007

Vista's been out almost a year, and SP1 is right around the corner. I've been running it at work on my personal machine for about seven or eight months now, just to try and get used to it so when we don't have the option of getting new computers with XP anymore, I'll be able to answer the inevitable questions from the users "where did x y and z go?" Because technically you can install an OS license on two computers if you really read into the fine print, I took the Express Upgrade disc from my computer at work home and installed it on my desktop computer.

Home Computer Work Computer
P4 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo 2.0Ghz
1gb RAM 4gb RAM
80gb PATA OS, 2x250gb SATA data array 80gb SATA
ATI Radeon 9600 256mb nVidia GeForce 7300 256mb
Acer 22" widescreen (1680x1080) Two Dell 17" LCDs
SB Audigy+ 7.1 channel audio Intel integrated audio
LG DVD +/- RW dual layer Sony DVD +/- RW dual layer


My work computer rolls right along with multiple applications open, Symantec Corporate Edition 10 in the background, WMP 11 in toolbar mode playing MP3s, Outlook 2007 open, Active Directory Users & Computers MMC snap-in open, Foldershare satellite in the taskbar and then whatever else I'm working on at the moment.

My home computer runs AVG Free version in the background, uTorrent in the background, Foldershare satellite and iTunes. Generally there's an explorer window or two open, as well as iTunes minimized when I'm not there and open and playing MP3s when  I am around. That's all.

My average processor usage is around 65%. 65% of my computer's resources are used up while it's sitting "idle" or doing something I consider extremely low-key, like playing MP3s through iTunes. It's so bad that iTunes actually starts "skipping" while trying to play MP3s. Doing anything, skipping forward to another song, opening a window, changing folders in Explorer, renaming a file, ANYTHING causes the processor usage to spike to 100% and slow everything down to a crawl. Heaven forbid I try to listen to music while doing anything file intensive.

Oddly enough, as resource intensive as it is, watching videos with Nero Showtime (I'm forcing myself to use it instead of VLC right now because I paid for Nero 7... right before Nero 8 was released and offered me the chance to upgrade for a low 39.99) doesn't seem to be a problem for the system at all.

I was watching the processor usage today while iTunes was skipping, trying to see WHAT was causing the processor usage and skipping. It didn't add up... I was using maybe 30% of the processor, but the reported usage was 65-70%. I checked "show processes from all users" box and there it was: Audiodg.exe was hogging up 30-65% of the processor cycles, iTunes went between 6% and 30%. What the hell is audiodg.exe? Is it something to do with the new Sound Blaster Audigy card I put in a few weeks ago?

I looked around online and found a pretty good description of it here

The short answer is that audiodg.exe hosts the audio engine for Vista.  All the DSP and other audio processing is done in audiodg.exe.  There are two reason it runs outside of the windows audio service.

The first is that there's 3rd party code that gets loaded into audiodg.exe.  Audio hardware vendors have the ability to install custom DSPs (called Audio Processing Objects or APOs) into the audio pipeline.  For a number of reasons (reliability, serviceability, others) we're not allowed to load 3rd party code into svchost processes (svchost.exe is a generic host process for services that's used inside Windows). So we need to move all the code that interacts with these 3rd party APOs outside the audio service (that way if an APO crashes, it won't take out some other critical part of the system with it).

The second reason for using a separate process for the audio engine is DRM.  The DRM system in Vista requires that the audio samples be processed in a protected process, and (for a number of technical reasons that are too obscure to go into) it's not possible for a svchost hosted service to run in a protected process.


UGH. So this piggy process was introduced in Vista to allow audio processing to run in a protected process because of DRM. Double-ugh. Everything in my iTunes library are plain-Jane VBR MP3s that I ripped from my own CDs. There is no DRM on them, there does not need to be any DRM on them, but they have to be processed through this audiodg process so they CAN. Lame. All it's doing is chewing up resources and making my audio playback skip. It's what the French call "Le Suck".

Vista's vaunted new User Account Control sucks, too. I left it all on to force myself to get used to it. I installed EAC to rip a couple new CDs that I bought, and it installed fine. I navigated to C:\Program Files\EAC and created a new folder called LAME and then unzipped the LAME_enc.dll and exe files into it and told EAC to use the external compressor... but it wouldn't. It would inexplicably fail. I dropped to a command line and tried it myself and got "Access Denied". Turns out that even with an administrator account, you can't execute an .exe file in the program files folder unless Windows/msiexec has put it there itself. If you have a program that didn't come in an .msi installation file, then it won't be able to run. On a whim, I went to Control Panel and turned off UAC. It warned me three times that it was a bad idea, and then asked me to reboot. After a reboot, EAC worked as expected, and I now have a red shield with an X over it in my system tray that periodically reminds me that I've left my system open to unauthorized use and click here to turn UAC back on. At work it's even worse. I had to disable UAC right off the bat in order for ScriptLogic to even run my logon script.

There's a whole laundry list of all small, niggling things that just don't work in Vista. My USB TV Tuner is unsupported in Vista and now has been discontinued. My Microsoft(!!) branded keyboard with the integrated UareU biometric fingerprint scanner doesn't work. The keyboard works, but the fingerprint scanner doesn't.

Probably my biggest gripe with Vista at work (aside from the UAC business described above) is the lack of adequate management tools. I'm a Network Administrator. I spend a lot of time in the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). Active Directory Users and Computers in particular just doesn't work very well. I don't have icons telling me if an object is a user, group, disabled, computer, contact or anything. EVERY icon looks like a text file. Exchange 2003 System Manager won't run, so I can't do anything mailbox-related without VNC'ing to the server or using Remote Desktop to one of the Domain Controllers. ISA management doesn't work (2004 OR 2006), Websense Manager won't run and ScriptLogic Desktop Authority sort of works, but is pointing at the wrong server (although that's not a Vista gripe)

I'm at the point now where I'm ready to declare my experimentation phase with Vista over and roll back my desktop computer at home to XP SP2. Fortunately when I installed Vista, I used an extra hard drive, and I can go back as easily as opening the case, pulling the drive and putting the old one back in. There will be a little work after that, Windows updates and a few driver changes for new hardware. At work it's a little more work to downgrade, but because they're new machines, I've been proactive and made a Ghost image of the new Optiplex with XP SP2. That's another post though :)

Sunday, 18 November 2007 12:06:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [1] | Links | Rants | Microsoft#
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