Is Blocking XP SP2 Bizarre?

You know that Linden Lab announced they are changing the system requirements to run SL. Ciaran Laval has an article up titled: Linden Lab’s Bizarre System Requirements Move. Now why does he think it is a bizarre move?

Server Scripting Meeting 2014-18

Server Scripting Meeting 2014-18

It is a sort article, so finding Ciaran’s reasoning is easy. The key point I dispute and that changes how I see the move is contained in this paragraph:

This is a very bizarre move considering the client will happily run on Windows XP SP2. There are numerous reasons why clients crash on systems, people running Windows XP are likely to be running older hardware and have less RAM than modern systems, for example, but upgrading to a new OS or Service Pack is not likely to improve their performance to any great degree in terms of Second Life.

He is right. The current set of Linden and third party viewers do run in Windows XP-SP2. The word ‘happily’ as used there I find highly questionable. The Lab is looking at stats with crash rates that show operating systems. XP crashes a lot. When running the SL Viewer it is very likely to crash every few minutes. I know a person running XP-SP2 and I am amazed when he makes it through a UG meeting (60+/- minutes).

One of the big changes in XP’s Service Pack 3 (SP3) was changes to networking. Security was another big part of the change. You can read a review of SP3 here: Windows XP SP3 Review. (Feb 2008)

I don’t know what changed in SP3 that helps it run the SL Viewer. What we do know is those using XP with only SP2 have horrible crash rates. Adding SP3 makes a difference. But, XP still sucks. Many were hopping Linden Lab would stop supporting XP all together.

Ciraran’s comment about older hardware is mixed. I’ll say it is accurate but incomplete.

Some older hardware can run newer operating systems (OS) just fine. I am updating older computers to Windows 7 and finding the gotchas and pleasant surprises. One gotcha is memory. Win7 needs 3GB minimum of RAM in my thinking.  XP can run with 512mb, but should have 2 or 3gb, but does really well on 1gb. I think Win7 is a dog with only 1gb just as XP is with 512mb.

With little memory both systems have to move data from memory to disk and back (paging or page faults it is called). That makes for a slow computer. Memory operates at the speed of light and has no moving parts. Memory data paths are 64 to 256 bits wide. Data paths to the physical drives that spin a disk are 1 bit wide. Memory is WAY faster than disk drives, think hundreds of times. (Reference) When dealing with the timing of things in SL this slow memory swapping makes for problems often seen as crashes.

One can add memory to an older computer quite cheaply and improve performance. But, to continue to run SP2 on an XP machine and try to run SL Viewer ‘happily’…  I don’t think so.

Ciaran doubts that adding a new OS to old hardware will improve the performance of the SL Viewer. Well, that can be said to be accurate but I think it very incomplete. If you have an XP SP3 machine with 2 or 3 gb of RAM that can run Win7, changing is going to make a huge difference in your crash rate using the same hardware. I too doubt it will improve your Frames per Second (FPS) rate much… but ‘much’ in this case may be 10%.

The newer OS’s are MUCH better at parallel processing and task switching. They are also much smarter about supporting hardware data caching and the CPU guessing which program steps to preload all while making better use of the video card. They are called upgrades for a reason.

Which Machines

If you are wondering if your machine can handle Win7, run the Microsoft test package: Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. The program will tell you what your machine needs to run Win7. If it won’t quite cut Win7, consider Vista. Vista is not so bad with all the updates installed. It has a worse reputation than it deserves. When first released it was horrible. But, with updates it got better and is now essentially Win7, but cheaper to buy and less demanding of hardware.

But Will It Install?

I’ve learned this is one of the questions I should have asked starting out. Windows 7 thinks it can use AHCI disk access when installing. If you don’t have AHCI then you are going to have to add drivers during the install to be able to install Win7. The MS Advisor is not good at providing that information. Nor do they explain and clearly tell you that AHCI version 8 or newer is needed to avoid installing drivers during installation.

So, how do you find out if you computer has AHCI 8 or better built in? I use Speccy, a free program to tell. Run it and read the details about your motherboard. Look for the term Southbridge and then AHCI and ICH. If you have nvidia nForce chips, I haven’t found out where the cutoff point is yet. I do know 570 and up works.

Is It Bizarre?

I don’t think it bizarre to decide to stop allowing the install of Second Life on hardware and OS’s where the viewer is going to frequently fail. That just damages the reputation of SL and leaves people with a bad taste.

It is possible to improve viewer performance by upgrading old hardware to a newer OS. Each generation OS does a better job of moving data and running games. Even if it only reduces the number of crashes, that is an improvement.

Also, people are confused about what dropping support means. It isn’t like they will block an SP2 users. They just won’t let them install newer viewers, from which the Lindens will likely have removing code the viewer needs to run via SP2. So, crash rates would be even worse than we see now and the last thing one wants to hear is the problem they are having is that their computer sucks. That just alienates people from SL. Just tell them up front it isn’t going to work. Then if they find a way to get it to sort of sucky run, they will know they have done something and however sucky it is will be OK.

If new people coming to SL find they can’t run SL on their hardware and OS, well, they don’t make it in and they may be disappointed. But, I doubt they are ‘alienated’ or associate SL with computer crashes. So, I see them as more likely to try again when they have a newer computer. Where as the alienated are unlikely to ever return.

It would be bizarre if Linden Lab had not made this decision.

Trend

We will likely see more of this ‘support change’ behavior in the future.

There is a portion of users that think it a good idea. They see it as allowing the rest of the SL users and the world itself to move ahead.

Another group feels it is important to keep as many users as possible no matter the cost. Others that it is some how cruel to leave users with older hardware behind. I do not subscribe to either of those views. But, I think I can see how people think those things.

The Lab is left to balance all those views and decide on their course of action. I think this change in system requirements is long over due and overall helps the users and Second Life.

2 thoughts on “Is Blocking XP SP2 Bizarre?

  1. Agreed. Maintaining indefinite support (and backwards compatibility) for too long holds back technological progress. I am thinking about the removal of crappy fixed-function GL render code from the Viewer’s render pipeline, and the amazing things built on top of the better and newer render pipeline, as I write this.

    • It would be interesting to see a viewer built for the newer OpenGL versions. If you decide to work on the render pipeline please keep me informed. 🙂

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