Installing Windows 7 on an older computer: a realistic scenario

Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist

A family member recently started attending a large university and decided to use the school’s computer rental program rather than shell out a bunch of cash early in the semester. The computer turned about to be a 2005-vintage Dell Latitude 610 with a 1.6GHZ processor (single core) and 1GB of RAM.  The operating system was Windows XP.  This family member had prior experience at home using Vista and more recently Windows 7 beta and RTM, and found having to use XP again really frustrating. I was visiting her campus last week and offered to upgrade her machine for her. The bottom line: a pretty painless experience with only one minor hiccup, and a computer that now runs faster (yes, faster than XP), is more secure, and is much easier to use. Since this was a pretty standard configuration of what a lot of XP users are facing, I thought I’d share the experience.

Step 0: Update your computer’s BIOS to the latest version.  When it starts up note the BIOS version then go to the manufacturer’s website and verify you have the latest version installed.  If you don’t then follow the instructions on the website and update it. This is important since the BIOS version can determine if Windows Update will send you the latest drivers for your onboard devices.  It can also prevent crashes and blue-screens due to incompatible device drivers (most notably video drivers). Do this before you start with the installation. You want Windows to install and update with only the latest drivers.

Step 1: Prep and backup.  Since the fall semester has just started, the computer only had a hand full of folders and documents, and no music that couldn’t be reloaded, so I just copied and pasted the folders on the desktop to a USB flash drive and then did the same thing to the documents folder contents. No need to run Windows backup for such a simple file transfer.

Step 2: Install the OS.  This family member qualified for MSDNAA (must be a STEM-D student currently enrolled in a STEM-D course or active in a technology club) so I used the Windows 7 Enterprise SKU available on the administrator’s portal (I have my own MSDNAA account). Since I do not recommend “upgrading” to Windows 7, we did a new install.  This is easy to do if you know how.  Just insert the installation DVD and when you get to the screen asking if you want to upgrade or do a new or “custom” installation, choose new/custom.  Then when it shows you the directory window, click on “Advanced” (bottom right corner of screen) and delete all the partitions until you just have a single partition at location 0.  If you don’t do this step you will end up with two versions of Windows with a dual-boot option, which will slow down your startup and take up a bunch of disk space.  Once you have just a single partition at 0 click next and complete the rest of the installation normally.

Step 3. Apply all current updates, drivers and patches.  Go to programs, then run Windows Update. This took me over an hour because you have to keep repeating this step five or six times since some updates have to be applied before the next one’s become available.  Take a look at both optional and important updates.  Some of the “optional” updates are really not since they frequently include device drivers for audio, video, networking, etc. One of the optional updates is Windows Live Essentials, which includes the new Windows Movie Maker (much improved from the XP/Vista version) and several other applications.  When Windows Update said there were no more updates available, I checked and found out that the audio driver for the built-in speakers did not get installed. This was the minor hiccup.  To fix it, I went out to Dell’s website and navigated to the Drivers and Downloads page. I entered the product tag number and found out that there are not special drivers for Windows 7 for the Dell Latitude 610, because it was too old. They didn’t even have the option to select Windows Vista as the OS.  So I bit the bullet and downloaded the Windows XP audio driver, and voila! It worked just fine. Keep checking Windows Update every day for a few days; some drivers take a day or two to show up for some reason.  Also visit’s website. The first time you visit, it will prompt you to install Silverlight, and at the same time (you’ll be prompted to) sign up for Microsoft Update which will check more than just Windows; it will check every Microsoft product on your computer.

Step 4. Install anti-malware software. For this installation, we had the option of using a well-known anti-virus product that the university has a site license for, Forefront Client security that comes with MSDNAA, or the new Windows Security Essentials, that is free and replaced Windows One Care.  We chose to go with Windows Security Essentials because I’ve always had problems with the third-party anti-malware programs, and Security Essentials has a really simple interface and was designed to work properly with Windows.  The installation took only a few minutes and hasn’t made a noticeable negative performance impact. And did I say it was free?

Step 5. Install Office 2007.  I had an extra seat remaining on an Office 2007 Home and Student edition DVD, but we decided to take advantage of the Ultimate Steal and downloaded Office Ultimate 2007 for $59.95.  Validation took less than a minute and the download and installation 15 minutes.  Then we started the update and patch process again, which took another hour or so because Service Pack 2 is huge (>300MB) and there are several patch cycles to go through to get it all updated.

Step 6.  Install third-party applications.  The highest priority here was Adobe Acrobat Reader and the flash player.   Tech students will want to install MatLab or O-Matrix, Visual Studio, Zune Software (or other music management software),etc.

Step 7. Restore back-up files.  Copy your files back to your document folders or desktop. Connect your Zune and synch your collection to your device to restore the music & video on your computer.

Step 8. Plug in and test peripherals. If your printer was plugged in when you did the install, most likely the drivers are installed but you’ll want to test it and potentially make sure it is set as the default.  Plug in your webcam, Internet headset, headphones, etc. and make sure all of the devices are working. If you find something that isn’t working, leave it plugged in and run Windows Update to see if the driver can be found. If that doesn’t work, then go to the device manufacturer’s website and download and install the latest drivers that they have for the device.

Total time for the rebuild was about six hours, although most of that was download and installation.  I usually do other work and just keep an eye on the screen so I can click to start the next step.  The computer now boots up in about 60 seconds; 30 seconds to the log on screen and other 30 seconds before the desktop shows up. Overall performance is great, plus you get the much improved UI throughout.  My family member is extremely happy with the new installation, and shows it off to anyone around, particularly if they have a similar rental running XP. I bet the campus tech support is going to start hearing from other students soon.



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