Does 64-bit stop the rot in Windows 7?

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

Jon Honeyball
19 May 2011

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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