posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 18th Jan 2009 21:39 UTC
IconWhen we reviewed the Windows 7 beta, we did so on a standard desktop machine. However, the big thing in hardware right now is not the desktop, but the netbook segment. Since Microsoft claims that Windows 7 is geared towards netbooks, I decided to give the beta a go on my trusty Acer Aspire One. Read on for installation instructions if you don't own an external DVD drive, and a few very short first impressions.

Installation

Installing Windows on a machine without a CD/DVD drive has always been a bit tricky, and you'd think that "geared towards netbooks" would imply that Microsoft made this process a little easier. Well, they didn't, so you'll still have to resort to some tedious work before you can actually start the installation. It's hard to screw this up, but it's still tedious work, and shouldn't really be necessary in this day and age. The instructions below are taken from garyshort.org.

Get yourself a nice USB drive, at least 4GB in size (2GB is too small, and I'm not sure if 3GB drives exist), and plug it in your computer. Then, load up a command prompt with administrative privileges (right click, "Run as administrator..."), and enter the following commands to properly format the USB drive:

diskpart [launches diskpart]
list disk [lists the currently mounted disks, and assigns them a number]
select disk # [selects the USB drive, replace # with your disk's number]
clean [removes any MBR and partition information]
create partition primary [creates primary partition]
select partition 1 [selects the just-created partition]
active [marks the partition as active]
format fs=NTFS [formats the partition as NTFS]
assign [mounts the partition and assigns a drive letter]
exit [terminates diskpart]

The next step is to prepare the bootsector of the USB drive so that it is capable of catapulting the Windows 7 installation routine. To do this, put the Windows 7 DVD in your drive (or mount the .iso image using your tool of choice), and navigate to the /boot directory using a command prompt with administrative privileges. For some weird reason, the prompt I still had running after ceating/formatting the partition on the USB drive no longer had administrative privileges, so I had to load another. Once you're in the boot directory, execute the following command:

bootsect /nt60 # [prepares the boot sector, replace # with your USB drive's drive letter]

The rest is pretty easy. Copy the contents of the Windows 7 DVD/.iso image onto the USB drive. You can do this via drag/drop in Explorer. Once the copy process is complete, you can boot from the USB drive straight into the Windows 7 installation routine as if was a regular bootable DVD. On the Aspire One, this means hitting F12 during boot, invoking the boot menu, and selecting the USB drive as the boot device. Make sure that as soon as the installation routine starts rebooting, that you do not re-launch the installation routine.

That's all there is to it. Tedious, but if you're reading OSNews, this shouldn't pose any problems.

And now what...?

So, how does Windows 7 run on my netbook? My Aspire One is not a stock model, as I made some heavy modifications to it. Not only did I upgrade the RAM from 512MB ot 1.5GB, I also tore out the dreadfully slow SSD, and replaced it with a 1.8" 30GB iPod hard drive (those are the cheapest drives that come with the necessary ZIF connector). I had to cut a lot of plastic struts away inside the casing, but the drive fit. I cut a bed for the drive out of sheets of thin rubber, and secured the drive with patches of double-sided tape. The result is a drive that is cushioned securely in rubber, which is a comforting thought for such a portable device.

In any case, this means that even Windows Vista ran without any problems on my Aspire One. I didn't have to turn anything off for Vista to run fine, so I already knew that Windos 7 wouldn't pose any problems when it comes to performance. Aero ran fine on Vista, and runs just as well on Windows 7.

Windows 7's new taskbar actually works remarkably well for screen-estate constrained devices. When you set the icon size to "small", it actually takes up a little less pixels vertically than the Vista tskbar, and it obviously has a lot more room horizontally to store running applications and launchers because of the lack of text labels. The cleaned-up system tray also helps in this regard.

Note on our previous Windows 7 Beta review

In my Windows 7 beta review, I noted a performance issue with Aero where dragging windows around seemed a little sticky. I theorised this was a driver issue, and I can now say that I was right: the NVIDIA video drivers are not yet optimised for Windows 7. I can say this so confidently because I just bought a new computer, and it comes with an Ati videocard. This machine lacks the performance problems. My netbook, which has an Intel video chipset, also lacks the problems.

In other words: NVIDIA, get your act together.

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