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Upgrading to Windows 7 for Studio Sequencer Heads
Upgrading from Vista or XP to 7
Windows 7 offers a promise of a fast, stable, multimedia computer. Having installed Windows 7 on my main machine, going through the compatibility issues and banging my head against the wall while troubleshooting bugs I still don't think I can give people the green light. Should you upgrade? What do you stand to gain? What might you lose? That's the point of this article.
Should you upgrade?
My answer is simple. Yes! IF! Especially if you are new and building your first system. Don't bother with the old Windows OS. Just make sure all the gear you acquire is also new and has Win 7 drivers. For the rest of us, the answer changes. The real question is probably not IF but When should you upgrade. The fact is that not all the drivers are ready. Manufacturers that intend to update their products may not have done so. I doubt the situation becomes much better quickly, though its evident that the big players are getting onboard. After all, we are in a recession.
The good news is that Sonar 8.5 and the December 09 release of Cubase 5.1 are Windows 7 compatible.
Compared to Mac OSX 10.6 "Snow Leopard". It may appear on the surface the Win 7 is getting simpler like Mac OS X. But its really a surface thing. Its still good old windows underneath and can be tweaked deep into its code with a few mouse clicks. The registry is still there, as is window's hodge podge array of files and dialog boxes as you descend into the bowels of the OS. There is a cool performance meter where you can measure the speed of your system, a feature that no doubt will lead many a tweakhead astray to all night sessions optimizing windows.
Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional or Ultimate? A tough call it was for me and Microsoft wasn't particularly helpful on this one. I decided to go with home premium, for one main reason. It costs less! I got professional when I went XP and don't think I ever used its features. However, I may have been wrong on this. Professional and ultimate have a windows XP compatibility mode I wish I had, now that some old stuff is breaking. Professional also has a backup utility and lets you connect to company networks more securely.
The major gains:
The biggest gain is entirely subjective and largely visual. Windows 7 feels and looks different than Vista. It has a slick, hyped, more graphic feel and stunning look. The way the windows look in the "aero" themes, the sounds, the menus, the backgrounds have clearly made Windows 7 a thing of beauty to behold. After a few days on Win 7, going back to Vista is a drag with its its ploddy design and mud under the hood. I utterly love Win 7's look and flow. There are plenty of free themes at Microsoft. Free downloads that will extend the visual appeal of Win 7 after everyone gets tired of the great themes in the box.
Windows 7 boots and shuts down faster--than Vista. Tweakers that need to reboot a lot will rejoice. (but if you NEED to reboot to troubleshoot for 4 hours stretches, is this a good thing?)
Faster operation of processes. Just about everything you can imagine is enhanced, from disk loading, file management, audio processing. Programs that used to take a minute to load come up in seconds. Saving big files is faster, and the web is much faster.
Better file organization. You can set up your folders in many different ways. Yet under the hood you will recognize many of the same cryptic dialog boxes XP had.
There's quite a few little niceties for artists. The windows media player is greater than ever, now does TV if you get one of those USB tuners. There are a bunch of add-ons at Microsoft--"Windows Live Essentials" which are designed to creep into and take over your iLife. lol. If you have a large sample library on your PC, you will find it much easier to organize.
The major drawbacks:
Not all your older hardware and software is going to work. The older your gear is, the less likely manufacturers will supply an update. Its just not in their interests to do so.
Don't think you are going to be able to upgrade from Win XP in an hour, or 3, or 30. While you can upgrade to Win 7 "on top" of Vista, with XP you need to do a clean install. If you have a lot of programs on your computer, consider spending about a week to upgrade and tune your new OS.
As is par for the course when a major upgrade happens, a lot of software companies decide its time for a paid upgrade as well.
Make sure your audio interface has drivers for Windows 7. If it is not, expect it to work poorly, if it all. Upgrading to Windows 7 may require other upgrades to your system, not only audio interfaces, but to your synths that use USB midi drivers as well. Don't expect this to be easy, but be thankful when it is.
MIDI interfacing: Lots of USB interfaces do not have Windows 7 drivers yet. If you have to use a USB interface, check the status of it's drivers. In some cases, older midi interfaces may be having their last hurrah on Vista/XP. I was quite disappointed to find out my Roland V-synth GT cannot connect by USB to Windows 7. The hybrid midi/audio driver simply does not work. My aging Emagic Unitor 8 port interfaces are not working, though I have not tried the older XP drivers. I am hoping I am not orphaned on those.
Steps to consider before upgrading:
Consider your existing hardware drivers. If you have to replace $2,000 worth of hardware to run Windows 7, then you might consider whether the upgrade is worth it for you. The two critical items are your audio interface and software. Before you purchase an upgrade, make a list of your hardware that requires computer drivers and see if they are windows 7 compatible. If they do not specifically say they are compatible, chances are they will not work on XP. Often you can get away with using Vista drivers on Windows 7 but its high risk. So check out your manufacturers websites and look for driver updates. If the updates are still "in development" you should consider waiting.
The Wave of the future? There is no doubt in my mind that Win 7 is a hit. I predict it will rapidly replace Vista as the OS of choice for musicians and graphic artists. So if you are serious about staying contemporary with your system, its not a matter of "if" you will upgrade, but when you will take the plunge. With a bit of advance planning on your part the transition will be painless and awesome.
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