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Does 64-bit stop the rot in Windows 7?

Posted on 19 May 2011 at 14:19

Once the rot sets into Windows, it can be impossible to clear. Jon Honeyball thought Windows 7 64-bit was different - how wrong he was

I hate it when things don’t work properly; friends will attest that I’m like a bear with a sore head when confronted with a glitchy computer.

Worse still, as I advance in years I find myself less willing to “nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure” (to quote from Alien). I have to be sure that I’ve explored every avenue to fix the damn thing before I’ll give up, which results in a worse temper, more grey hair and the consumption of a large gin and tonic.

Twenty years ago, I saw it as a challenge: by trying to dig through whatever had befallen Windows I learned a huge amount about its configuration, systems settings and so forth. Today, it’s just a bore. Our operating systems should no longer implode.

Windows has a poor reputation for being something that requires six-monthly reinstalls because it “rots”

Windows has a poor reputation for being something that requires six-monthly reinstalls because it “rots”; in other words, chronic problems accumulate and make the system behave less solidly.

Admittedly, much of this rot is self-inflicted. A lot of Windows applications, particularly device drivers, aren’t well written. Add a pile of dodgy apps and a smattering of drivers to a clean Windows installation, and it isn’t difficult to see how things start to go wrong. Whether that’s Microsoft’s fault isn’t really the point.

Is Windows 7 better?

Windows 7, however, appears to be more robust in the face of this “six months rot”, and this is especially true of Windows 7 64-bit, which requires the use of 64-bit drivers.

This has helped to weed out the dodgy driver vendors, which has effectively minimised the rot. It was therefore especially galling to discover that a six-month-old laptop of mine, running Windows 7 64-bit, had fallen off a cliff in terms of performance and stability.

It happens to be a Dell, but I’m not convinced this is part of the problem since Dell has a pretty good reputation for providing up-to-date drivers on its website, although it does force you to download each one, piece by piece, in a ritual not unlike choosing individual pieces of sushi at a restaurant. That takes hours, and you don’t feel particularly full afterwards.

The problem first reared its head when the laptop stopped recognising USB memory sticks. I try to keep a minimum number of machines attached to my main network in the office, simply to keep the network browsing performance under control, and if I want to transfer a few files to a laptop then using a USB stick is just as quick.

However, this laptop – a Studio XPS – suddenly decided not to play ball. It didn’t matter which USB stick I used; none of them registered with the operating system. I could hear that familiar “dum dim” sound as plug-and-play found the device, but nothing was mounted as a file system.

unknown devices

Unfortunately, pressure of work got in the way at that point and I didn’t have time to follow up the problem for some weeks. When the moment to investigate arrived I dived into Device Manager and discovered the Windows equivalent of a multi-car pile-up.

It definitely isn’t a good thing when you find multiple entries listed as “unknown device” under “other devices”. The first thing to do was to see if Windows Update knew about any new drivers, but that didn’t help.

So I went to the Dell website and downloaded every driver it had for that laptop model. One thing I like about Dell’s site is that you can enter the unique build number for your device and it should tell you what you need to know.

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User comments

Fancy a BSOD?

Windows 7 64-bit - try using an external hard drive attached via usb.
Alternatively, try googling "windows 7 64-bit external bsod" = 1.5m hits.
Not saying that's definitive, but take a quick look anyway.

By mikerussell999 on 19 May 2011

Nuke it from orbit...

... was said by Ripley, but in Aliens, not Alien.

Well, since I have naff all to suggest that's practical, I thought I'd try being pedantic.

By Noghar on 19 May 2011

What a shame

Just had to reinstall my Windows 7 x64 install. I was getting BSODs on shutdown. Also one of my services (Diagnostic Policy Service) refused to start, and there were problems with disk management.

As the article said, most of it is self-inflicted from installing, uninstalling programs & tweaking, but isn't that normal use for any OS?

Hopefully Windows 8 will be better in this respect, and OS X seems to age better (one of the culprits seems to be Window's registry), even though I prefer Windows 7.

By pbryanw on 19 May 2011

@Noghar there's nothing more satisfying than a good bit of trivia pedantry. (at least not to the person dispensing it at any rate!)

It is possible to foul up an OSX installation but it takes a lot of time and effort.

Even in 64bit guise Windows7 is all too easy to ruin, although it does take longer than it used to.

By SirRoderickSpode on 19 May 2011

I'm a network manager at a school and I've lost count of the number of pen drives that have been plugged into my 18 month old W7 64bit laptop.

In fact this has been far more reliable in this respect compared to my previous XP powered laptop.

By bazzer on 19 May 2011

Try XP

I have never yet (famous last words) had to Nuke an XP installation. Not one out of 7 has suffered such a fate. That said I have always used mainstream hardware and minimised the junk I install.

By tirons1 on 19 May 2011

Try DeepFreeze

I use DeepFreeze (about £25), which allows you to lock down your machine. You have to unfreeze and reboot each time you want to install any new apps or devices, but it does allow you to tinker without any unwanted side effects.

By howardabates1 on 20 May 2011

A lot of drivers are horrifically written. Sometimes removing them nigh on impossible.

By james016 on 20 May 2011

Hmm

Don't know, been happy W7 user ever since it came out.. i do believe that these problems are very small in numbers in comparison to the working computer population. i use ccleaner to clean my computer occasionally, but otherwise, its still fast and not really slowing down (maybe because i have i7 @2.8, with 6gig ram @1600, it compensates) just a question, maybe this happened because you did not safely remove your devices!!!! D

By mobilegnet on 20 May 2011

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

In all seriousness I diarize a wipe and reinstall for every 6 months, just like dentist appointments. And like going to the dentist, it's not as uncomfortable as it used to be, and it keeps things a lot healthier.

By rozman on 20 May 2011

My wish list for Windows 8 would be a more reliable USB experience.

I use Windows 7 64 bit and find:

1) Sometimes the USB device that once worked is no no longer found. Or works intermittently

2) USB ext drives that are on a go-slow due to a USB bug that's been present since Windows Vista but never fixed

On the plus side - fingers crossed - I've found USB3 to be more reliable. Even USB2 devices work more reliably in USB3 slots. Pity then I have 8 USB 2 slots and just 2 USB3 slots

By cyberindie on 20 May 2011

Residual charge?

I have seen a similar problem on an XP desktop. I tried everything I knew to locate the issue (not a lot in comparison to your efforts), but the suggestion that fixed it was to turn off the machine, unplug the mains and hold down the power button to drain all residual power from the PSU. Unbelievably, on powering back up the problem was gone. The suggestion was that it was some sort of static or residual charge in the USB socket hardware. It sounds odd, but it worked!

By ianawood on 20 May 2011

Am I Lucky?

I've got a computer running XP x86 perfectly fine. That was installed about 4-5 months after XP was released and hasn't been touched since.
My Win7 x64 machine is still going strong since Win7 was released. It's even survived me moving the windows partition onto new HDD's (Did that twice)
Windows is inherently stable IMO - it's the crap that gets piled onto it which causes the problems. Kudos to the man who writes something that can detect (and correct) badly written software.

By tom502 on 20 May 2011

*

By hasn't been touched - I mean reinstalled. It's been heavily used almost every day.

By tom502 on 20 May 2011

No Problems here...

John - your description of your inability to tolerate 'glitches', and its development over time exactly describes mine! The hours I've wasted recently avoiding the nuclear option.......

I'm running a good number of Windows 7 64-bit machines at work, and my personal Laptop etc at home.

I have had virtually no problems. I've had zero issues that can't be traced directly back to "dodgy" software that usually tries to install crap drivers.

I have limited experience of OSX (3 at work) , but nothing suggests that an equally hard-used (and abused) OSX machine is any more or less reliable than w& 64-bit.

I work for a Graphics\Web-design company and I'd have to say that installing Adobe software tends to make things less reliable....

By wittgenfrog on 21 May 2011

Every time I read about people reinstalling Windows from scratch -- even seasoned professionals -- I shake my head and wonder: Have you never heard of making an image of your system?
That is, re-install it, get it to the point of absolute perfection, then save an image of the system. In the future, you can return to the perfect system in the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee.

It's not just you; I've read this on countless tech sites.

By Bruce_Fraser on 22 May 2011

Had no such problems at all since the beta came out

Been running win7 64 ultimate since the beta came out and never ran into anything like this.
Its been rock solid for my company.
Vista was a nightmare, seems win7 has fixed all the bugs.
For me it works flawlessly even running Adobe CS5 and all the latest drivers

By siddallj on 23 May 2011

Power off

Just heard about a crazy trick.

Turn the power off.

For laptops. Take the battery out. Wait a couple of minutes and plug it in again.

By Tom8000 on 24 May 2011

Delete, delete, del

I would have begun by deleting all the unknown devices from device manager and then uninstall the USB Bus/driver, restarting and hoping Win7 finds a suitable USB driver, one way or another.

I might have tried a rollback to see what driver/system update caused the problem.

How many of you have come across the message saying that the USB stick needs to be formatted or scanned for errors, and how many have went through with this data killer more than once?

By skgiven on 27 May 2011

I had same problem

I have the same problem with a customers laptop I spent about an hour trying to fix it but just re-installed windows. Windows 7 is ok but its hardly revolutionary and neither will Windows 8 Microsoft are too conservative I can't wait for Google Chrome OS to come out!

By pchealer on 28 May 2011

I had same problem

I have the same problem with a customers laptop I spent about an hour trying to fix it but just re-installed windows. Windows 7 is ok but its hardly revolutionary and neither will Windows 8 Microsoft are too conservative I can't wait for Google Chrome OS to come out!

By pchealer on 28 May 2011

I gave up some time ago

I gave up on Windows at home some time ago. I've never had any problems with W7 on my work PC or laptop but they are locked down and almost never get any new software or drivers installed.

At home I realised I was having similar issues to John, along with some other tricksy ones equally difficult to sort out.

I'd got the nuke & build process down to a fine art!

I initially moved my computers to Linux and things did improve but my focus then changed from fixing stuff to finding the 'perfect' mix of applications to fit my needs. I never did achieve this and Linux proved to be only slightly less disappointing than Windows.

I recently bought a new iMac and to date I'm spending all my time using it rather than fixing it or tweaking it. We shall see if this continues or if OS X 'rots' in the same way.

To link this to another article I think Windows would benefit from scrapping legacy support, like Apple does for older hardware when a new OS is launched, and starting with a clean slate.

By njm1404 on 9 Jun 2011

Re-Activation

I regularly used to nuke problem PC's, but now I have to think long and hard about going through the hassle of re-activating my programs.

Microsoft is a fairly easy process, but smaller vendors such as Farmatech for example (who make RAdmin, a remote desktop program) can keep you waiting for days after quizzing you as to why you need to reactivate.

Last time I nuked by main PC it took me nearly a week to convince everyone that I wasn’t a software pirate and just wanted to re-install the programs I had paid for.

By Waggers on 10 Jun 2011

@Noghar

Being pedantic only works if you're correct, the line was said by Hicks first then repeated by Ripley.
So I've put something about the article in....
I've found Windows 7 x64 to be pretty good, but not a patch on the stability I got from Windows 2000 when I used that.

By paladine on 15 Jun 2011

I have a Solution

Hi Jon

Read you article on Windows 7 rot and the hassles you had with USB flash drives.

I had exactly the same problem - drives that used to work suddenly showing as unknown.

I spent a lot of time trying to sort it out, I focussed on trying to find a driver that would fix it.
Eventually I resorted to a trick from old Win XP days of tricking a repair install to use drivers already installed.

From the device manager right click on the "unknown mass storage" device and click "update driver".
Then select "browse my computer for driver software" - browse through to the c:\windows\winsxs folder keep the "include subdirectories" ticked.
When windows complains about the driver it finds just click OK

hey presto! Windows now finally loads a driver that works and your USB drives will work again.

By Jason_S on 20 Jul 2011

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Jon Honeyball

Jon Honeyball

Jon is one of the UK's most respected IT journalists and a contributing editor to PC Pro since it launched in 1994. He specialises in Microsoft technologies, including client/server and office automation applications.

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