At the last Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles, the attendees were given a pre-beta version of Windows 7, Vista’s successor operating system. I installed it on a virtual machine and was very impressed by the performance of Windows 7. Since I just got my new laptop (Alienware m15x) and have been installing stuff anyway, I thought I would give it a try and install Win7 in dual boot on this machine. This is the report of the experience.
Partitioning the hard disk
My laptop has a 320GB hard disk. I decided to create 3 partitions: The first one is for Windows Vista (came preinstalled), the second one for Windows 7 and then a last one for data. I like having my data on a separate partition (or a separate hard disk all together). This way, if something happens and I need to reinstall Vista, I don’t need to get all my data back from the backup drive. Of course I still do backup :) in case my hard disk fails completely and I must get a new one. Side note: I use Mozy backup to save all my data to Internet, and it works really great. I like it a lot.
To partition the disk, I used Paragon Partition Manager. The good people at Paragon gave me a free license because I am a MVP, but even before that I was using their tool to manage my partitions. I like the simplicity of it, the UI and the way it assists you in what are sometimes scary operations. For more info about Partition Manager, check the Paragon website and give it a try, the trial version is pretty functional. Note that you don’t really need this, since Vista has the ability to create and manage partitions. The partitioning went well, it was just quite slow but I ended up with two 55 GB partitions (one for Vista, on for Win7) and a 175 GB partition for the data. Eventually I will probably use only one OS (and I hope it’s 7!) so I can just erase the other OS partition and use that for data too.
Setting up Windows 7
This process is really very easy. Simply insert the DVD that we got at PDC, and follow the instructions. Since there is an OS installed already, the setup asks you what you want to do: Upgrade Vista or install Win7 on a free partition.
The laptop was rebooted only once during the setup, and then I was ready to go. When you start the laptop, a screen asks you if you want to boot Windows Vista of Windows 7.
The first step is to install drivers. In my case, I found all the drivers on Alienware support page, and you don’t even need to log on to download them. Note that Win7 supports big resolutions (1920×1200) natively, but the Aero effect is switched off unless you install the display drivers.
I only had two issues so far, one of them I could solve.
- The Intel chipset driver refuses to get installed, because “the operating system is not supported”. This kind of check is really annoying, since Windows 7 uses the same driver model as Vista, and the drivers should work just fine (all the other Vista drivers work perfectly on Windows 7, thank you very much). I was not able to find a workaround for the moment, not even the compatibility troubleshooter that I describe below worked.
- The audio driver also refused to get installed first (Realtek). In that case, however, I was able to use the compatibility troubleshooter. Simply right click on the setup.exe and choose “Troubleshoot compatibility”. This starts a wizard that lets you choose to execute the program “as Vista”. In that case, this solved the problem completely and I now have all the high definition goodness provided by this audio driver.
The only problem I got so far is with ISO mounting solutions. I tried two of them:
- Daemon: This well known tool to mount ISO images of DVDs simply didn’t install on Win7. When you install it, there is a reboot needed, and normally the setup continues after the reboot. In that case however, the setup didn’t continue, but restarted from scratch. Here too, the compatibility troubleshooter did not help.
- VirtualCloneDrive: It was possible to install and use this tool (after a reboot), but it causes strange behaviors as long as it is installed. The laptop either doesn’t go to standby at al, or if it does it is impossible to start any application after it wakes. I tried a few things, but eventually found that uninstalling VirtualCloneDrive after installing the content of the ISO seems to solve the issues I had. So far so good.
So far I only had success with the applications I installed. No instability, no bad behavior, no crash. Nothing to say here.
I am still testing and still have a bunch of apps to instal, but so far I am very impressed by the speed, the stability and the overall slickness of Windows 7. It is fast to start up,fast and smooth to use, and I typically use approximately 30% less RAM than with Vista on the same machine.
Generally speaking, the CPU load is also less, though there are times where background operations slow down, for example when Windows Media Player is building the media library, etc. Still, the OS is really a joy to use at this time, and so far is definitely ripe for a daily use. I will try to work on it exclusively for a while, and see how that goes! In the worst case I can always fall back on Vista, can’t I? :)