Windows 7 on Netbooks: Attractive Proposition

I’ve been fiddling and futzing with Windows 7 on a variety of platforms lately, prepping to write a few articles on this new OS. One of the more interesting installs has been to get Windows 7 up and running on my Asus Eee PC 1000 HE netbook. I went ahead and bumped the RAM up from the default of 1 GB to 2GB (and I’ve since learned the platform won’t support 4GB SO-DIMMs, though that won’t stop me from trying one anyway if one should fall into my hands), and am using a Logitech Nano V550 laser mouse instead of the built-in touchpad (I can type better and faster using a mouse than when using a touchpad, and for me it’s all about the typing).

Surprisingly, the Atom N280 processor (1.66 GHz, single core but hyperthreaded) does a fair-to-good-job with Windows 7. I turned off most of the visual Aero effects and don’t use it for any heavy-duty graphics (even though it has an HDMI output and other reviews indicate the Mobile Intel 945 can push many more pixels that its own display’s 1024 x 600), but it’s otherwise OK for the usual netbook fare: e-mail, surfing, text editing, card games, and so forth. I’m tempted to stick a fast SSD in this box (like the Intel X-25M 80 or 160 GB), and see how it does then, but what’s the point of spending more on a drive than on the computer inside which it runs?

Overall, though: this little box is pretty snappy and I think I know why: MS has finally decided to go through and remove most of the bloat that crept into Windows Vista. The beta Win7 version is an Ultimate Edition, just like the Vista version I run on my desktop machine. A quick peek into Task Manager shows some interesting contrasts between the two environments, however: 38 processes active on the 1000HE, 78 on the desktop machine, 28% memory utilization on Win7; 50+% on Vista, and idle CPU usage runs between 0 and 2% on Win7 as compared to 0-5% on Vista (to be fair, though, I run a lot more stuff on the desktop than I do on the netbook, and the various background processes, updaters, and whatnot add up pretty quickly). Give MS some credit for trimming things back, and for making a new OS more netbook-friendly than an existing one. When was the last time that happened with Windows? Never, ever, ever!

Some random observations of cool new stuff in Windows 7:

  • Backup (from the built-in Backup and Restore facility) now permits you to target network drives for image backups as well as file-by-file snapshots.
  • During my one system hang (so far) for Win 7, I used CTRL-SHIFT-ESC to fire off Task Manager successfully, then ran rstrui.exe from its New Task (Run…) menu item to return to the restore point immediately prior to the driver install that caused the desktop and Windows Explorer to go bye-bye. The Restore worked and I fixed the problem without having to do what Vista Reliability Monitor calls a “disruptive shutdown.” I wish the same technique worked more often in Vista!
  • Win 7 Reliability Index doesn’t charge the user points off for application crashes any more (Vista charges at least 0.8 index points for each such crash).
  • By and large, the vast majority of Vista drivers (and software) works on Windows 7 without a glitch or complaint. I was even able to use my favorite analysis tools: Halfdone Development’s Unknown Device and Phoenix Technologies DriverAgent to identify, download, and check driver status on all of the Windows 7 installs I did. In each case, no more than half-a-dozen drivers needed updating after Windows 7 install and subsequent Windows Update did their things.
  • Wireless networking is a breeze in Windows 7. You can pick the network you want to join, and type the security identifier/passphrase, right into the pop-up from the notification/tray area on the Start menu. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth both worked perfectly from the initial boot forward (even though I did update my wireless drivers: a hacked set is available for the Asus Eee PC models at www.laptopvideo2go.com that turns on all the internal driver options and really improves the range and signal strength the Wi-Fi module can pick up. You can also find newer wired Ethernet drivers on the Atheros site as well.

It’s pretty cool to see my Eee PC 1000HE running a Windows 7 desktop, and all that that entails. Check this shot out!

Check the details to see how svelte Win7 can be (click to enlarge).

Check the details to see how svelte Win7 can be (click to enlarge).

I’ve got to say that this is the first version of Windows that I find myself anticipating with some degree of eagerness, since Windows 2000 replaced Windows NT 4, or perhaps when Windows XP first came along. Hopefully, Microsoft will make it even faster and smaller for its final release —and we can certainly expect Basic and Home versions to be leaner and meaner than the “kitchen-sink” Ultimate version. It should be interesting…

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