If the Release Candidate is any indication (and it should be), then Windows 7 will be a nice upgrade for any Windows user. The new OS, however, is a huge step up for netbook users. Vista is notoriously poorly suited to netbooks; a buggy resource hog that subjects its users to incessant dialog boxes and requires far too many clicks to perform basic tasks, it’s kind of a nightmare to use on a 9-inch laptop with a 1.5-inch trackpad.
Windows XP has been given a boost by netbooks, as its system requirements—more-or-less decided in 2001—are more in line with the specs hardware like the Eee PC and Mini 9. But let’s face it: XP is nearly a decade old. Its user experience is trumped by free alternatives like Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Linpus, and it’s not at all optimized for solid-state drives—especially cheap ones. This means that on low-end, SSD-based netbooks, it borders on unusable.
Hence, Windows 7. It’s noticeably faster than Vista on low-spec machines, properly optimized for netbook hardware, and, most importantly, free (for now). Thing is, installation isn’t quite as easy as it is on a regular PC—in fact, it can be a pain in the ass: netbooks don’t have DVD drives, which means you’ve either got to get your hands on an external drive or boot from a USB stick for a clean install. Furthermore, smaller SSDs, like the 8GB units in popular versions of the Dell Mini 9 and Acer Aspire One, make a default installation impossible, or at least impractically tight. Luckily, there are simple methods to deal with both of these problems. Let’s get started.
What You’ll Need
• A netbook (Minimum 1GB of RAM, 8GB storage space)
• A 4GB or larger USB drive
• A Windows 7 RC Image (details below)
• A Windows XP/Vista PC or a Mac to prepare the flash drive
• For low-end netbooks, lots (and lots) of time
Getting Windows 7
Downloading Windows 7 is a piece of cake. Just navigate to this page and download the 32-bit version. You’ll need to get a free Windows Live ID if you don’t already have one, but this takes about two minutes.
Microsoft will then give you your very own Windows 7 License key, valid until June 1st of next year. (Although after March 1st, it’ll drive you to the edge of sanity by shutting off every two hours. But that’s a different story, and March is a long way off). Microsoft will then offer up your ISO through a nifty little download manager applet, complete with a “resume” function. There are ways to sidestep this, but don’t: you’d be surprised how hard it is to keep a single HTTP connection alive for long enough to download a 2.36GB file.
Preparing Your Flash Drive
1. Open a Terminal (under Utilities)
2. Run diskutil list and determine the device node assigned to your flash media (e.g. /dev/disk2)
3. Run diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskN (replace N with the disk number from the last command; in the previous example, N would be 2)
4. Execute sudo dd if=/path/to/downloaded.iso of=/dev/diskN bs=1m (replace /path/to/downloaded.iso with the path where the image file is located; for example, ./windows7.iso)
5. Run diskutil eject /dev/diskN and remove your flash media when the command completes (this can take a few hours on slower drives)
Starting Your Install
Ok! Now you’ve got a bootable flash drive, and you’re ready to start installing. It should go without saying, but once you start this process, you’ll lose all existing data on your netbook, so you should back up any important files before going through with anything from here forward.
Insert your USB drive and reboot your netbook. As soon as your BIOS screen flashes, you should see instructions for a) changing your netbook’s boot order or b) entering its BIOS setup. In the first situation, simply assign the USB drive as the first boot device. In the second, navigate through your BIOS settings until you find a “Default Boot Order” page, and do the same thing there.
From there, you should see the first Windows 7 installation screens. Anyone with a 16GB or larger storage device in their netbook can just follow the instructions until the installation completes, and skip the next step.
If your SSD is smaller than 16GB, or if you just want to save some space, do what they say, but only until the first reboot. After the Windows 7 installer has restarted your computer, you’ll need to modify the boot order again. Do not allow installation to continue! Manually change the boot order to prioritize the USB drive again, just as you did at the beginning of the installation.
Simple file compression is the secret to squeezing Windows 7 onto your skimpy 8GB SSD. Now that the Windows 7 installer has copied most of its system files to your drive, you’re going to tighten them up with Windows’ trust old “Compact” command. Here’s what you do, as described by Electronic Pulp:
Choose “Repair” at the Windows 7 Setup screen, go to “Command Prompt” and enter the following code:
d: (or whatever drive letter is assigned to your SSD)
compact.exe d:\*.* /c /s /i
And wait. And wait and wait and wait. This can take anywhere from eight hours to two days, so you’ll want to set your netbook down in a corner and forget about it for a while. [Note: compressing so many of your system files does have a performance cost, but in day-to-day use, it’s negligible]
Once this is done, reboot the netbook again and let it continue the installation as normal. That’s it!
All said and done, an 8GB SSD should have nearly 2GB of free space left—not much, but enough to work with. And given that most netbooks come with inbuilt, flush SD expansion slots, and that high-capacity SD cards are extremely affordable, having a small amount of space on your root drive isn’t at all prohibitive.Setup and Customization Help
Windows 7 works fairly well out of the box, but as with any new Windows installation, you’re going to need to download some drivers. Vista drivers usually do the trick, but sometimes workarounds are necessary. Thankfully, most popular netbooks have spawned helpful fan forums, many of which have Windows 7 subforums. Some of the best:
So there you go! Enjoy your new Windows 7 netbook! Please share your experiences in the comments-your feedback is a huge benefit to our Saturday guides. And of course, have a great weekend!
While Gateway‘s been on the laptop bandwagon of late, it’s good to see the company doing its thang on the desktop front, too. Kicking things off is the bargain-priced LX6810-01, which houses 8GB of RAM, NVIDIA graphics, a built-in TV tuner and a $799.99 price tag. The even more affordable DX4200-11 gets going at just $609.99 and features an AMD quad-core CPU, ATI Radeon graphics, 6GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive. Stepping things up quite significantly is the FX6800-09, which sports a Core i7 CPU and a $1,649.99 sticker. Rounding out the bunch is the $1,299.99 FX6800-11 and the currently unpriced entry-level FX6800-01e. If any of these caught your fancy, head on past the break for a look at the full release.
It’s very possible that we’re just reading too far between the lines here, but a recent post over at macles* lines up awesomely with specifications gleaned from a recent Acer FCC filing. Basically, what we’re probably looking at is a forthcoming Aspire One with an 11.6-inch panel (as opposed to the 10-inch versions available now), a 1,366 x 768 resolution and very strangely placed Ethernet and VGA ports. Furthermore, we’re also told that this bugger will house an Atom Z530 CPU, Intel’s SCH USW15S chipset (Poulsbo) and GMA500 integrated graphics. Oh, and there’s also an extended battery option that should provide up to eight hours of life. Interested yet?
That “Dead Rising 2” video from last week, that kinda looked like it could have been Dead Rising 2? It was totally Dead Rising 2. Capcom has officially announced the title not just for Xbox 360, but for PS3 and PC as well! The sequel occurs years after the events of the first game — with the zombie virus now spread throughout the United States. The action will take place in the “gambling paradise of Fortune City”. The main character is apparently no longer Frank West, but some guy in a jacket instead.
As rumored, the game is being developed by Canada’s Blue Castle Games. According to the press release, “A number of members from the original Dead Rising team will be working alongside Blue Castle Games throughout the development process,” including producer Keiji Inafune.
Gallery: Dead Rising 2
Yes, Virginia, there’s a leaked copy of Windows 7 beta floating around, and if you aren’t the type to “break the law” and check it out yourself, the folks at Tech Cast News have made for you a picture-laden walkthrough of the installation process and some of the OS’s new features, including Alt+Tab doppelganger Aero Peek, the icon-only Taskbar interface, and the Smart Folder-esque Libraries. Overall, they found the beta a major improvement over Vista and predict the final release will put Microsoft in consumers’ good graces again. Here’s hoping that apparent January beta release comes to fruition so we can sweep that other OS under the rug a little bit faster.
Update: Looks like Tech Cast News is down, standby for innovative Ballmer-based conspiracy theories.
Update 2: … and it’s back!
We always loved us that Voodoo-designed HP Blackbird 002, but it was certainly a behemoth. Now it looks like the duo are going for a more realistic size — and hopefully pricepoint — with the all-new HP Firebird PC 803 that just fell in our lap, a gaming tower which flips the disc drive and most other components on their sides to save on space. The resulting kit seems to have more in common with gaming consoles than desktop PCs in terms of design, with very little configurability or expansion available, but the leaked specs are still quite palatable to the modern PC gamer:
- NVIDIA nForce 760i SLI chipset
- Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz processor
- 4GB of RAM
- Dual NVIDIA GeForce 9800S cards
- Two 320GB SATA drives
- 5-in-1 card reader
- 6 USB, 1 FireWire, 2 eSATA, 1 S/PDIF and 1 DVI dual-link
- 802.11n WiFi
To save on space (and heat), the Firebird actually uses an external power supply, but we suppose the included wireless keyboard and mouse should help to make up for that clutter. As you’ve probably gleaned from the specs, those small form factor 9800S cards aren’t going to be putting away the frame rates quite like the cutting edge cards from NVIDIA and AMD, and the seeming lack of expandability makes the (theoretical) up-front cost savings seem a bit less exciting, but for a certain type of gamer the Firebird could be a welcome respite from monstrous, unrealistic and just-as-quickly-outmoded performance towers.
P.S.: Rahul’s dubious rant about the boutique gaming industry — which Voodoo still serves — makes a lot more sense in this light. [Thanks to everyone who sent this in]
This is definitely not what Microsoft had in mind when it launched its recent $300mm ad campaign. In what can only be described as a coup for distributors, Microsoft has given in to the pressure and extended XP’s stay of execution. Redmond has indeed confirmed that January 31, 2009 is no longer the end of the road for XP PC sales. Instead, January 31 is now the final date on which distributors can place orders for Windows XP OEM licenses and orders can be filled through May 30 of next year. For you, the end user, this means that Vista will not be your only Windows OS option for new PC purchases in the coming year as XP-powered PCs will be available for many months to come. This is no doubt viewed as a major check in the loss column within Microsoft – the company has been pushing Vista in full force lately in the hopes that it might reverse the negative connotations carried forth by Apple’s marketing and the bad tastes left behind from a bumpy launch. On the bright side of things, Microsoft can likely look forward to some massive XP license orders in early Q1 2009 that will help get its calendar year off to a flying start. Sure this likely isn’t Microsoft’s optimal situation but hey, in this day and age beggars can’t be choosers.