Installing Vista on a MacBook Air


Unable to resist I got myself a shiny, slim new MacBook Air (MBA). While I am used to Mac OS X, I wanted it to run Vista so I can also take it to image work. My MBA has a 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a 64GB solid state drive and I bought a SuperDrive. Here’s how I installed Vista and why I did it 3 (three) times.

Doing it right the first time helps but I wanted to try different options and see which works best for me. The MBA arrived a couple of days ago but I have not had the time to play with it other than unpacking (the Apple "unboxing" experience is far superior to any other. Instead of sharing similar images again, here are some unboxing images from UNEASYsilence.

The first installation of Vista was in a virtual machine using VMware Fusion

image I won’t bore you with the details of the Fusion installation. There are many good descriptions available on the web and the install really is uneventful. After installation, creating a new virtual machine, selecting Windows and Windows Vista from the drop down menus and off you go. Insert the Vista install DVD into the SuperDrive, boot the VM and the rest is plain Windows install. After the installation and a reboot of the VM, don’t forget to install the VMware tools and drivers.

What I like about this installation:

  • Leopard is still fully available.
  • Windows applications can run seamless on the Mac OS desktop.
  • Both operating systems (OS) running side-by-side smoothly and perform well. Due to limited hard disk space I did not try to run beefier applications like Visual Studio 2008 in the VM though.
  • Most of the time I ran Windows full screen on a "second" desktop using Spaces. This feels even more like you are running 2 totally separate machines side-by-side on the same hardware. This was certainly the best experience of all.

What I do not like about this installation:

  • The SSD drive has only limited capacity. I (still) load lots of data onto my hard disk. On Vista I need many different applications for my daily work. Both operating systems use already a large portion of the disk space.
  • I could not get Vista to run Aero Glass. Fusion claims the hardware does not support Glass in a VM. I did some digging on the web but eventually I gave up. I love the transparency feature of the Vista UI. Without transparency the user experience lacks a key feature. You may think differently about this but for me it was the deciding factor against this version, I wanted Aero Glass.

Second installation attempt, this time using Boot Camp

image Boot Camp allows you to repartition the disk and use the second partition to install Windows Vista or another operating system. After using the Boot Camp assistant in the Mac OS to partition the disk (I split the disk about 50:50) the user is asked to insert the Vista install disk. The UI indicates the OS will reboot if you press Ok to confirm the reboot dialog. That did not work for me. After confirming the dialog box for about 3 or 4 times the system finally shut down and rebooted from the Vista installation DVD in the DVD drive. Again, from there on it is a simple Vista installation. During the final step of the installation I left the desk. When I returned, Leopard had booted up. Turns out the installation does not change the boot order. Mac OS X is the default OS.

When rebooting your MacBook just press and hold the Option key and you will be presented with (in my case) three options, Mac OS X, Windows and network boot. I’ll talk about that in a bit. Selecting Windows boots up Vista and all what is left is installing the Boot Camp utilities and device drivers from the first Leopard installation disk. After a final reboot, you’re good to go.

What I like about this installation:

  • Leopard is still fully available on the first partition
  • Vista is running on bare metal and not in a VM
  • Aero Glass is available
  • Vista is smoking fast!

What I do not like about this installation:

  • The SSD drive has only limited capacity and having two partitions basically cuts your already limited hard disk space in half. There are ways around it and tools available to make Vista see and use a Mac OS drive and vice versa. See MacFUSE and MacWindows and others.

During the third installation I removed the Mac OS partition completely.

image Eventually I settled for this option. It is not the best solution and YMMV quite a bit depending on your needs but I will stay with this configuration for now J. Removing the Mac OS completely is easy. I booted from first Leopard install disk, launched the Disk Utility and removed the 2 partitions I had from the previous install. When creating the new partition, make sure you select MBR as the partition type in the advanced section of the tools partitioning dialog. Pressing the F12 key while rebooting until the DVD ejects was the only way to remove the Mac OS DVD from the SuperDrive. Inserting the Vista DVD, rebooting, installing Vista. Easy. After the final reboot you have a MBA running only Vista. Don’t forget to install the drivers from the first Leopard install DVD.

What I like about this installation:

  • Vista is running on bare metal and not in a VM
  • Aero Glass is available
  • Vista is smoking fast!
  • The full hard disk is available for Vista & apps & data

What I do not like about this installation:

  • Leopard is not available anymore. Turns out that I still want to run the Mac OS from time to time. Since there is currently no legal way to install Leopard client in a virtual machine, you lose the Mac OS. I found an easy way around it. Some time ago I bought a 16GB SD card for my digital camera. Room enough to hold a Leopard installation and leave some space for additional apps and files. Since the MBA has only one USB port, I got myself a cheap USB SD card adapter. SD card/USB and the Remote Disk feature allowed to install a trimmed down version (no additional languages, no printer drivers) of OS X on the 16GB SD card. It shows up in the boot options dialog during reboot and boots the Mac OS nicely. I have to admit the SD card boot and overall performance is not too good but it works for what I need it for. Again, YMMV!
  • Remote Disk does not work as described. It’s true; you don’t need Remote Disk to use this variant of getting Vista onto a MBA but I wanted Leopard on my SD card. In my home network I use WPA to protect my private "airwaves". Turns out that I had to turn off wireless security completely to make Remote Disk work between my PC and the MBA.

All three options allow you to install the 32-bit and the 64-bit version of Vista. I was actually not telling the whole truth when I mentioned only 3 installs. It was actually 4 times. Curious about the 64-bit performance and the driver support I installed the 64-bit version once before installing the 32-bit version of Vista. The Boot Camp DVD (which is the first Leopard install DVD) has all drivers for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows. Really sweet. And the performance rocks, too.

Having played (installing Office and all the other nice tools, migrating my data using FolderShare, editing, writing this blog post …) with the third installation for a while now, I wonder if option 2 (Boot Camp) might have been the better option after all. I could have installed Leopard with minimal options and use the SD card for some of the not so often used files. It would give me a way faster Mac OS and the USB port will not be occupied by default when running Leopard. Isn’t the MBA a device for the connected world anyways? Why don’t I host my data in the cloud? But that’s a completely different story.

Comments (43)

  1. Interesting point at blogs.msdn.com

  2. Holly says:

    I have a question you might be able to answer – on my PC I have partitioned the HD to have programs on one and data on another.  Can you create three partitions on the MBA and keep your data (email, docs, etc) separate from both OS’s?? Is the Mac so secure that one need not worry about a virus?  

    thanks

  3. OD says:

    Hi, I was wondering how u managed to load the Vista x64 drivers. When I autorun the "Mac OS X Install Disk 1" that came with the MBA on Vista, I get the error: "Installation Error -Boot Camp x64 is unsupported on this computer model". Am I loading the wrong disk? Do I need to have "the first Leopard install DVD"? Is that the DVD I got in the box?

    Congratulate me, I just got the MBA as my first (ever) Mac!

  4. Holly, sorry but I am not a Mac expert at all. I do not know if it is possible to have a third partition accessible from both installations. If it were possible it would have to be formatted using the FAT file system.

    I only know about (but haven’t tried) the tools that I mention in the post. They allow read/write access Windows or Mac partitions from the respective other OS.

    Virus: Well, that’s a topic. I guess proper protection against any harmful software is appropriate on both platforms. I do not have any virus software installed in the Mac partition. On the Vista side I run CA Antivirus because we have to. It is (good) corporate policy that all systems employees want to connect to the corporate network must have virus protection software installed.

    HTH – Volker

  5. OD, congratulations! Isn’t it a great small system? I also find it pretty powerful and tend to believe that it run Vista faster than many laptops that I have used in the past.

    64-bit drivers: The 64-bit Vista install has already some 64-bit drivers out of the box. All I did after installing the OS I inserted the Mac OS X install disk 1 and installed the boot camp tools and driver. The error you describe did not show during my installation. Sorry that I cannot be of more help.

  6. Paul says:

    Thanks for the information, well done.

  7. Jeremy says:

    Hey Volker.  Another option I’ve experimented a bit with mixed results is Fusion’s ability to boot from a Bootcamp partition.  If you want both OS X and Vista this has the perk of being able to boot into your Vista partition natively or virtually, so you don’t need to deal with the headache of two install bases.

    On my Mac Pro, I setup Vista on the first (fastest) partition, OSX on the second (slower) partition.  I almost always boot into Vista, but I setup MacFuse w/ NTFS 3G, CrossOver and Fusion on OS X – so if I need to jump back to Windows, it’s pretty seamless.

    When work slows down, I plan on installing Ubuntu on my third partition.  That promises to be a little bit more difficult, although I like that rEFIt allows you to avoid the boot chaining (at least from a UI perspective).

  8. Hi Jeremy. You’re right, a good way to use both OSes. Actually I am currently (after last night’s complete reinstall) playing with this solution and I will blog about it soon. Using the Boot Camp partition in Fusion works great besides that I can’t enable Aero Glass. But I can now use the physical Vista install for work and the physical Mac partition outside of work. The drawback: The disk is very small compared to what you might have in your MBP and there’s not much disk space left for data and files. Cheers.

    Volker

  9. Daniel says:

    Hi

    Great article but I was wondering if I installed Windows using Boot Camp and then get a partion manager delete the Mac partion and resize the Windows partion to the full size of the disk. Would this work and thanks for your help in advance!

  10. In principal it should work. From your description I take it that you want to completely remove the Mac OS from the disk. That is of course possible. You can do that by booting from your Mac OS X Installation DVD and launch the Disk Utility from the main menu. This will allow you to remove the existing partition(s) and create new partition(s). Make sure you set the type to MBR for the partition! That is what Windows understands/needs.

    After done that you will have to reboot the system with a bootable Windows CD/DVD in the DVD drive and you will be able to install Windows.

    If you try to install a 64-bit Windows you might not be able to boot from the DVD!!! I had no issues with 64-bit Vista and Windows XP. Windows Server 2008 made some trouble and I had to burn a new DVD. I’ll blog about this in the next couple of days. HTH, Volker  

  11. Daniel says:

    Thanks for answering so quickly o my last question but I want to know if you can do step two (Boot Camp) and then load this partion manager (GParted http://gparted.sourceforge.net/) and delete the Mac OSX Partion and resize the Windows Vista partion to the full hard disk size.

    Thanks again for answering so quickly!

  12. Sorry but I’ve never tried that and never used GParted. WHatever you do, the very first partition on the Mac drive must stay untouched. It’s the EFI partition as far as I know. This partition does not even show up in the Mac’s Disk Utility.

  13. Tim says:

    I am having trouble installing Windows in the Vmware Fusion. I can’t get Fusion to see the CD rom drive, since it’s a remote disk and not a physical one.

  14. Chris says:

    Wondering if anyone can advise me on where I’m going wrong..

    I’ve tried to install Windows XP Professional with service pack 2 (original disk) on my Macbook Air but keep on getting this message after the first part of the installation is complete: "Disk error, Press any key to restart" (pressed any key but wouldn’t do anything).

    Here is what I have tried:

    1. Opened Boot Camp and split the partition in half (even tried 32GB)

    2. After this process is complete, Boot Camp asks to insert the Windows CD, did this and pressed OK.

    3. The system rebooted in Windows Installer

    4. Asks where I want to install Windows, I selected C:/ (BOOT CAMP) FAT32

    5. Copies all of the Windows setup files

    6. Then tells you the system will restart after 20 or so seconds, and if you want to restart press ENTER

    7. The system restarts, but in Mac OSX. I’ve then tried the whole process again, and when it restarts I hold down the Option key.

    8. A boot menu appears giving 3 options: 1. Mac OS, 2. Windows, 3. Windows CD

    9. I select Windows CD (also have tried Windows)

    10. Blank screen appears and says: Press any key to boot from CD….

    11. I dont press anything then the message appears: "Disk error, Press any key to restart"

    Can anyone help me to solve this please?

    Thanks in advance,

    Chris.

  15. Chris,

    sorry but I’ve never tried to install XP on the MacBook. Have you tried to do the install again? (I know, lame suggestion …) Maybe something went wrong the first time. Also, did you check http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=306504?

  16. Sven says:

    Chris, you need to format the BOOTCAMP partition during the windows installation process to either FAT or NTFS (FAT means you can access the files on the windows partition from OS X). 3

    If you as you seam to do just leave the BOOTCAMP partition as it is, you will get the eror about "Disk Error..".

  17. Julie Dickson says:

    Thanks for posting this information.  I just got a MBA (upgraded from MacBook Pro) and installed VMware Fusion and Windows Vista (which I was running on my MBP for work purposes).  I was very disappointed after the installation to learn that Windows will only run when the superdrive is plugged in!  It won’t run at all without the superdrive (even there is no disk in the drive).  You didn’t mention this issue in your post, so I was wondering if you encountered this problem.  Should I reinstall?  Any suggestions?  Thanks.

  18. Wow, that’s a new one for me. I have not seen this behavior with any of my installations. I am running Vista off the boot camp partition within Fusion and natively (booting the system into Vista) with no problems whatsoever.

    Boot camp or not, if you run Vista in a virtual machine, Fusion, there’s an option to remove the CD/DVD drive from the virtual machine settings. In the virtual machine’s settings, just remove the check mark from the connected check box. Perhaps that’ll help.

  19. JKC says:

    Thanks for this posting – I’ve been having trouble finding a replacement vista notebook/laptop ever since buying my wife a MBA. I’ve looked at every brand that comes loaded with Windows just seem to be so clunky. This is a perfect solution for me.

  20. […] VolkerW made an excellent post today on their site […]…

  21. Norm says:

    There should be no issue running VISTA natively in its own partition with no need for super drive or anything else.  And it is FAST on my MBA.  It is faster than on my other Notebooks – Dell XPS M1330 with the same processor (the Dell has 4MB RAM) and HP tablet – with AMD processor.  I basically have no issues or problems with VISTA on any machine and have run it since beta 1.  But I am unusually careful so that may account for my better success than some others who complain about VISTA being troublesome.  But it runs BETTER in most every way on the MBA than on anything else I’ve used or tested.  It is flawless – and while I am carful, I have exercised it a lot on the MBA.  No lockups; no imcompatibilities; fast always.  It is particularly fast with MS Visio.

  22. Ilgaz says:

    IMHO you should have kept Leopard and keep your big files etc (not home dir, it can get tricky) on a small USB drive.

    Especially Air is not a PC.

    If I were you I would install all MS software (including MSN) to OS X and see how differently they are written with entirely different philosophy. E.g. MSN Messenger has separate UI and Daemon, in Unix way.

    If they have enough memory, I recommend Mactel users running modern machines to buy/use Vista staying away from "Premium" editions (they already paid to OS X). There is really no meaning to suggest an old OS (XP) to a modern machine like that. Older OS X won’t even boot the new Macs.

    Yes, just in case you wonder "So how was the Tiger (10.4) OS X", it doesn’t work that way. Your Machine is compatible/will boot with the OS X DVD version it comes with and later versions _only_.

  23. Paul says:

    I have an Air with Vista installed via Boot Camp.  Does anyone know a way that I can remove OSX from this point without having to uninstall Vista?  I know I can delete the partitions but I’m afraid that will corrupt the boot manager.

  24. Dani says:

    Can some on help me with Instaling Windows WITHOUT super drive? I try it with bootcamp.<br>

    <br>

    1) using second computer with windows CD and remote disc<br>

    2) using boot flash with windows<br>

    <br>

    In first and second too, bootcamp not recognize windows and asking for CD.<br>

    <br>

    Where I´m making mistake?<br>

    <br>

    Thanks for help<br>

    <br>

    zbynek.ludacka@gmail.com

  25. zooone9243 says:

    So I installed Windows Vista Ultimate using option 3 i.e. wiped everything clean. Things were generally OK but the MBA definitely heats up a lot more than it does on Mac OS X. That and I can’t use 3 finger swipe and tap to click. Because of these two reasons I am now going the BootCamp route even though it will mean I will have to conserve my hard disk space.

  26. zooone9243 says:

    Hey Danl, according to an Apple Support article, you must have SuperDrive or other wall-powered USB CD Drive to install Windows using BootCamp. It cannot be done over Remote Disc.

  27. zooone9243 says:

    Hey Danl, according to an Apple Support article, you must have SuperDrive or other wall-powered USB CD Drive to install Windows using BootCamp. It cannot be done over Remote Disc.

  28. K-lo says:

    hi,

    i realize that this blog is practically a year old, but i just want to ask. if you still have your MBA w/ vista, what is the windows exp index that you get? what are the individual scores? and since you’ve had it for almost a year, what are your long term evaluations on it? does it get hot and what not?

  29. @ K-lo. Thx for your questions. I still run Vista on the MBA. It is the only OS on the MacBook and I am still happy. Well, sort of, my wife took over the MBA and is now using it all the time. She says it is the best laptop she ever had and she’ll never give it back.

    As for the scores, I’ve uploaded an image. See for yourself: http://cid-d022b4cf8a00ec64.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/My%20Blog%20Photos/MBA%20scroes.jpg.

    Does it get hot? I would say no. The fan seems to run most of the time but very slow and almost quiet.

    BTW, I am working on getting Windows 7 on the MBA. Try to convince my SO I need the system for some "tests".

  30. K-lo says:

    @ Will

    thank you for responding. i’ve been looking at these macbooks for my next laptop. especially now that they released one with a better graphics card and larger ssd.

    i have high hopes for Windows 7. loading it on the air would be sweet.

    if you are successful with your "tests", please keep us posted. =)

  31. K-lo says:

    @ Will

    hi again,

    in your post, you mentioned installing mac os x on an sd card. would it be possible to have a small partition made within windows for the mac using comp management?

    i’m planning to have 2 small (yet big enough) partitions for just the os then having the rest of the drive for data (common universal files ei jpeg, mp3, etc). i’ve read that boot camp is a pain for multiple partitions. so instead of installing vista with an existing mac os. why not install mac os x with an existing vista os. how did you get it on the sd card?

  32. Roughly a year after my Windows Vista installation on a MacBook Air (MBA), it is time for an update.

  33. News says:

    Roughly a year after my Windows Vista installation on a MacBook Air (MBA), it is time for an update.

  34. Jim Parshall says:

    I have Vista Business 64 installed on MacBook Air. Someone above posted a question on the Windows Experience Index.

    My MacBook Air gets an index of 3.5.

    I am pretty happy with Vista on this computer. I have found Apple’s hardware to be absolutely sweet Vista running machines. It is almost like they were designed for it. 🙂

    My MacBook Pro gets an index of 5.1 if I remember correctly. It is a screamer!

    Great post and thanks!

  35. Krille says:

    Did you do something special to get the fan quiet?

    On my MBA the fan speeds up to full noise, as soon as Vista is starting up. Even if the MBA has just been switched on and should be still cool.

    Its a 2009 MBA Core 2 Duo 1,8GHz/2GB RAM/128GB SSD/Nvidia GeForce 9400M, OS 10.5.5, Vista Ultimate on Bootcamp

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Krille.

  36. @Krille, Sorry to hear about the issue! I didn’t do a thing to get the fan quiete. It is just quiet. Do you experience the same when starting the Mac OS? Once in Vista, any processes running at 100% CPU?

  37. Krille says:

    Thanks for your quick answer, Volker. Indeed today everything is fine.

    It turned out, it was just my impatience and lots of reports of noisy MBA on the net. Seems to have gotten really hot during installation.

    After cooling down 24 hours, the fan is quiet now. Makes me really happy with the most amazing laptop!

  38. Rich says:

    I’m too am having my MBA fan at full throttle when there isn’t any application running. Is there a fix for this? What are your settings?

    I have a rev 1.86/128gbssd.

  39. Qais says:

    Good post brother..I agree with you though, a stripped down Leopard on its own partition with major applications on an SD card would have been a better way to go.

    For those still having heat/fan issues with the macbook air, make sure you do all the updates – apple has a "fix" for this – although it did nothing for me.

    I have seen that the MBA gets extremely hot when rendering video, especially flash or quicktime.  Is this the case in windows as well? I sense the problem is with the Codecs on the macbook air.

    Question for you that have tried: can you install windows through remote disc?

    For those who ask if you can have 3 partitions (1 windows, 1 mac os x, 1 for data)…although clever, the two write data on completely different file systems and they hate accessing each other — it would just make your life hell.

    Good luck everyone

  40. John says:

    Thank you so much, ur post really helped me much

    have a great one

    peace

  41. Dr. Batata says:

    I’m considering buying Macbook Air..

    My Q: where did u get the drives for Vista? do they arrive by deafult with the Macbook Air or can I request it from the site?

    Thank you.

  42. @Dr. Batata. All drivers are on the Mac OS installation disk. Once you boot into Windows, insert the Mac OS install disk and it should autorun.