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I look across the table at the DPE advisor.  A King of Kings from Microsoft.

“Your Mission.” he humbly intones “is to install Windows 7 on this….”

The hands nobly gesture at a tiny under powered device, 1 gig of Ram, 8 gigabyte internal SSD drive.  Tiny 1024×600 display with barely any support by the manufacturer for Vista much less a Beta copy of Windows 7.

The Acer Aspire One.  A $300 Netbook.

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My jaw hits the ground.

“Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND?!” I am tempted to scream out.

And then of course they hit me in the back of the head, knocking me out and dragging me unconscious to a small room to perform this truly impossible task…..

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In truth.  I’m making all of that up.  But now that I’ve got your attention.   This is exactly what I was curious about.  And was quite happy to find that “yes you can” and “yes it will”

The Question

Will Windows 7 Beta install on a machine with minimal hard drive space and will it perform?

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So much to cram into a small platform.  An Acer Aspire One I picked up on boxing day.  $300 Door crasher special.   The catch was only an internal hard drive side of 8 gigabytes (Solid state, even the slow kind too).  I gig of ram, a Dual core Intel Atom chip.   Not even x64 capable.  No Hypervisor.

By all rights, this was good for pretty much surfing the web.  That was .  It came with XP home and nothing else.

So why bother?

Because I had heard Windows 7 liked older hardware, better driver support.  I found Vista ran decently on a gig of ram.   I had tested earlier and found I COULD get Vista Ultimate to install and SQUEEZE into an 8 gigabyte SSD before WITHOUT using any “Lite” versions.

So in theory the newer O/S might work nicer.

To aid me in this, I scooped (on the same boxing day) an external DVD-Burner for $50.  i would use my memory keys and get really cool here, but my kids apparently got to them and I couldn’t find a one.

So “old school” it was.  So Boot up the Acer with one external DVD to see what it would say.   I mean honestly, it would say right off the bat, hard drive too small and complain. Right?

It looked at the Acer.  Instead of complaining it gave me a minor warning.

“The recommended free space for installation is 8273MB”

That lended to the possibility that it WOULD actually fit.  If maybe just a little tight for free space.

So I fired up the install and let it run.   What’s the worst that could happen?  A reinstall back to XP?  The installer took over and did it’s job.

Now on the negative side it was a very slow install.  I think it was the fact that this is the slowest performing SSD drive out there.  Other Acer owners have complained out the Intel SSD as performing slower than a standard 40 gig IDE drive.   It took a little over 65 minutes to install. 

BUT!

Once it was in I was left with…

Some minor drive updates and a little space cleanup. 

Now stock on the install, after all was said and INCLUDING HIBERNATION AND PAGEFILE AND SYSTEMRESTORE STILL ACTIVE, was a whopping 800 megs.

This might not seem much but keep in mind, this is a $300 computer, definitely not on the Microsoft HCL for Vista much less Windows 7!

Now drivers actually weren’t a huge issue.  The Video card and most of the system WAS actually picked up.  But it needed an Intel INF update to bring some of the motherboard drivers in, Wireless wasn’t detected and although my memory card readers WERE running there were some driver specific stuff they need to run right.  Also I had a touchpad mouse built in.   If anybody out there knows those touchpad Mice, they need the manufacturers driver to work right to deal with “bump”.

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“Bump?” you ask?

You’re typing on the keyboard, you “bump” the mouse pad, it moves the mouse.   So the mouse becomes almost unusable as it jumps all over the screen as you’re typing.

So how to resolve that?  Especially when my Touchpad driver was specific to Windows XP?

www.synaptics.com actually designs most of the Touchpads out there and provides a good solid reference driver all the way to Windows Vista.  Handy on these generic laptops / netbooks.  And as it turns out oh so nicely, mine WAS a Synaptics design.  The other version is “ALPS” who I have yet to find a reference driver for.

Now of course I still had some “XP Only” drivers that run off a stupid wizard.  I hate driver wizards.  I understand for consumers it makes it easier for Joe Bloe to make things “just work” but I’m a tech.  I need the ability to browse directly, bypass software thinking I can’t do things and just “try it out”

The wonderful in Windows 7 is the new compatibility mode.  Yes. It was in Vista too but in Windows 7 it seems solid enough and strong enough to both a) convince an automated driver install (even the ones from Intel which are pretty smart I might add) that it IS running in the O/S you insist on.

So setting the “compatibility” to Windows XP or Vista (depending on the driver in question and what IT was spec’d for) allowed the wizard to do it’s work.   You see sometimes they DON’T give you the INF file we techs crave.  

Now what to do for space? 

Well since most of this devices intended use was Blog posting, occasional Word Excel documents and possibly remote access to work.  I wasn’t that concerned about data recovery.

And with sleep mode by itself I found I didn’t ever really use the Hibernation feature. 

So run to Command Prompt as Administrator and execute a

powercfg –h OFF

to Kill the hibernation feature in Windows 7 (Same command by the Way for Vista) to regain some needed space on C: and disabled the system restore and suddenly I’m staring at 1.2 gigs of free space.

Now did I mention I had an extra 8 gig SD card to work with as well as another 2 gig SD?

The Acer Aspire One has one embedded slot that came with a 8 gig SD card with an additional slot on the right for more memory cards (this is still independent of three USB 2.0 ports memory cards.  So I popped in each of my needed cards, Used Disk Management to assign them a static Drive letter (so they wouldn’t pick ‘whatever was available’) and I allocated the 2gb ssd as “Readyboost” drive.   With 8gb untouched, I began moving all my profile folders to new locations on D: (my 8gb SD card).  So entering my user profile under C:users%username% I choose the properties of each key folder such as

CONTACTS

DESKTOP

DOWNLOADS

etc etc and clicking on the “Location Tab” chose a new long term location for the data being my memory card on D:

Now the biggest drawback I have found so far is speed of this internal drive.  It is incredibly slow on installs.  I don’t think this is a Vista/Windows7 issue as it is Acer picking a poor design for the SSD drive.  Apparently some models come with a unit from SAMSUNG (same size) that performs comparable to a normal drive.

But the positive side I have found so far is.

I can fit and run Word, Excel and Powerpoint 2007 on here with space to spare.

Live Writer fits no problem so I can blog away from home or on my main system.

DVD Burning software runs nice as well (what?) Yes that $50 burner came with burning software too.

Full Aero interface.  Score is 2.2 on a $300 Netbook.  

There is still about 4 gig to spare for data.

I can run Audacity off this without issue.

There is a built in Webcam and Microphone and it happily works with my $120 USB mike.

So why bother?  Why bother with the slow install time to make this happen?

What I have for $300 (and potentially the cost of Windows 7 when it arrives is)

A unit with VPN capability that is fully compliant with current NLA authentication for a Terminal Server.

Tiny and easy to use on the train, light on the budget, and decent (3 hours) battery life

Runs a current operating system vs XP Home which will be phased out soon so updates are not a huge issue.

Much prettier eye candy.

One amazing conversation piece!

Wifi built in and still enough memory in the video card to hook up and run a proper Powerpoint presentation.

And Bitlocker to go!

(WHAT?!)

Oh didn’t I mention that?  Windows 7 have a fantastic portable encryption technology called Bitlocker to Go for memory cards, portable keys and pretty anything that a device that is NOT TPM Enabled could deal with.  

Encrypt the drive, provide the pass key and ALL the data on there is encrypted.  The Beautiful part is the encrypted drive CAN be read on other Windows 7 systems with the proper passkey. 

So I have a machine now that’s relatively quick, response, inexpensive, encrypted and a great conversation piece at parties.

And it plays a mean game of Atomic Bomberman as well 🙂

Now for pure trivia.  I also checked out Windows 7 on two other systems that are quiet archaic.  One a Dell Dimension XPS M170 with 2gb of ram that is about 5 years old by design.  The other was a laptop I lovingly nicknamed “Frankenstein” which was a Dell Inspiron 2650 comprised of bits and pieces from Ebay and Acer and whatever I could slap together to make it work.

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The XPS M170 went in without issue with Windows 7.  I believe there was one minor update for maybe the modem I think.  “Frankenstein” was down to only missing the Video driver.   Even in this state with Windows 7 it performs about equal to Windows XP SP2.  Kinda slow but VERY VERY stable.

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Now the negatives. One big negative.  They took away “Movie Maker” and the new version isn’t quite anywhere what it’s brother was like…. yet.

I think they did this just to stop me from doing all those crazy videos 🙂

Cheers and check out Windows 7.  If you’re on Technet Direct, it’s still a free download.

Sean
The Energized Tech
Dedication and Inspiration for the new Generation

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