I recently decided I wanted a new Windows Vista system, rather than attempting an upgrade to my existing desktop and risking potential application problems. I've been running Vista on my notebook since RTM, but don't use the notebook daily like I do a desktop system. I also wanted to be able to set up a dual-boot configuration with the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the OS.

For a change I went with a high-end name-brand computer running an Intel Core 2 Extreme 2.93GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, 1.8TB storage, and SLI-enabled video (though I usually run in dual-monitor configuration). I downloaded all of the necessary Vista drivers from the vendor’s Web site, and then wiped the system before installing Vista Ultimate on the box, followed by Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate, Adobe Photoshop CS3, and a dozen or so other applications I use regularly, plus all of the additional drivers for my various peripheral devices.

After a couple of weeks of use, I decided to install Vista x64 on its own drive. Once again I downloaded all of the appropriate x64 drivers from the vendor’s Web site prior to beginning the installation.

I started to install Vista x64 and that’s where the fun began. After copying all of the files from the installation DVD, the installer would try to start Vista on the computer, at which point I would get a blue screen with a stop error. However, unlike the familiar BSOD errors of the past, this one had no text and no memory dump, and contained just three hexadecimal numbers.

A phone call to the vendor’s dedicated support line for their high-end desktop systems was of little use; although the vendor provides drivers for 64-bit Vista, they don’t actually sell it at this time, and accordingly, don’t support it. The tech was able to make one helpful comment (disconnect USB devices during the installation) but was otherwise unable to assist.

Disconnecting the USB-connected cradle for my PDA actually allowed the 64-bit installation to progress to the point of the final restart for the installation, but at that point the system would show the blue screen again, with the same cryptic message. Web searches were of little use, but I eventually found a very recent Microsoft article "Error message when you try to install Windows Vista on a computer that uses more than 3 GB of RAM: STOP 0x0000000A" (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/929777) that documented a similar issue and defined the problem as being caused, in part, by having more than 3GB of RAM installed.

The article contained a patch that could be applied to the distribution files for the installation or an update that could be applied after Vista x64 was installed. Pulling 2GB of memory from the system (reducing the installed memory to 2GB) allowed Vista x64 to install properly. I was then able to apply the patch, and then re-install the memory, allowing me full access to the 4GB of installed RAM with the 64-bit OS.

Although the problem was solved, I was interested in finding out more about the cause. Installing a 64-bit OS on to a system with 4GB of RAM shouldn’t be an issue. Further investigation showed that part of the problem was the hard disk controller defaulting to 32-bit DMA mode, but the main problem wasn’t an inability to install on a system with 4GB of memory--the problem was installing on a system with more than 4GB of installed memory in total, which includes the memory on the video cards, which, in this case, added another 1.5GB of memory to the mix.

Presumably Microsoft will slipstream this patch as a fix in future releases of the x64 Vista OS. But if you’ve been having problems getting 64-bit Vista to install, this might just be the problem.

Tip – Many readers have contacted me about improving the performance of Vista on their notebook computers. Even with 2GB of RAM, performance on some notebooks really suffers due to the inexpensive graphics controllers in these notebooks and the fact that the vendors tend to enable every gee-whiz feature of Vista. The simplest performance enhancer is to turn off the Aero visual experience:
1. Right-click on the desktop
2. Select Personalize
3. Click on “Theme”
4. Select “Windows Classic”
5. Click OK
The Classic theme doesn’t use Aero and should improve the user experience by making the system appear to perform more quickly.