A couple of weeks ago I got one of those tiny Asus EEE PCs which is in the new class of computers called netbooks. It’s pretty small and light but just large enough to be really useful as a laptop. Originally, it came loaded with Linux which I left on for about a day before I longed for some of my regular Windows apps. So I dug out the product key for an old Dell laptop that I no longer use and installed Windows XP Pro on the netbook. While very slightly slower than the Linux that was on there before, the performance of XP on this machine is perfectly acceptable for my uses which are browsing the net, watching videos and reading books in PDF format.
Not being a big fan of XP anymore, I did try putting Vista on the Asus but it just felt a little too sluggish for my taste. However, watching the Windows 7 keynote on Tuesday morning I was a little stunned to see Steven Sinofsky show a netbook running the new OS. Actually, I was stunned, then skeptical and then finally curious. So I got my hands on a copy of the PDC build of Windows 7, first noticing that it was actually several hundred megabytes smaller than Vista 32-bit with SP1 integrated.
Playing it safe, I began by installing Windows 7 into a virtual machine with only 1GB of RAM allocated just to become familiar with the OS and see how it performed within those memory constraints. My first impressions were that it didn’t look terribly different from Vista but also that it was a very snappy OS even with just 1GB of RAM. Having installed Vista in a similar environment, my unscientific opinion is that Windows 7 is at least as fast as Vista and perceptibly faster.
So, having been satisfied with Windows 7 in a virtual sandbox, I was now ready to install it on my netbook… at 10 o’clock at night. I tried to keep my expectations low because I wasn’t even sure I would get past the initial setup dialog. Happily, the install proceeded quickly through selecting the partition for installation and then copying/expanding the files. However, it soon got bogged down during the later stages of installing and configuring the OS, sometimes spending upwards of 10 to 20 minutes displaying nothing but a blank screen and an intermittent blink of the hard drive light. Trying to be patient, I just let it run and it eventually appeared to install and then rebooted. It was now 1am.
After the reboot, something strange began to happen. All I got was a black screen, no hard drive light and no response to keyboard or mouse input. Figuring I was probably sunk, I did a hard reset and got the same black screen. I tried another hard reset except this time I must not have pressed the power button for long enough because it just put the machine to sleep. I believe that sleep is only supported if the OS has working chipset and video drivers so I was a little puzzled. At the very least it showed that it actually did boot into Windows. So I pressed the power button again to wake it up and was relieved to see a login dialog.
After logging in, I got the usual “personalizing” and “configuring” first-use messages so the system wasn’t usable yet. After about another 10 or 15 minutes, I finally got a fully functional Windows 7 desktop. The thing that initially amazed me was that it had Aero running with transparency enabled and I hadn’t even loaded any drivers yet! And even with the maximum eye candy running it didn’t perform too badly. I really had no expectation that my little Asus was capable of running Aero because I only got Vista Basic when I had previously installed Vista. That said, even though the glass effects in Windows 7 looked really nice there definitely was some lag in performance so I left Aero running and just turned off transparency. That allowed me to still enjoy the benefits of video hardware acceleration without the overhead imposed by the glass effects. So the machine was now fully installed and it was just after 2am.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and light because there were some things that just didn’t want to work. Most of the Asus software and drivers wouldn’t install, throwing up a message that the OS wasn’t supported. However, the most important driver (wireless networking) did install just fine, as did the Bluetooth driver. The only things I’m really missing are the shortcut function keys that control the volume. Other than that, I haven’t found much to complain about. A couple of times IE has temporarily gotten into a non-responsive state but there have been no application crashes or incompatibilities and not a single blue screen thus far. I’ll try to install some more software on it later and see where application compatibility begins to break down. It looks like IIS and .NET are installed so I may even try to do some development on it. Curiously, the .NET Framework version is 3.5.1 as opposed to just 3.5.
So my initial skepticism that netbooks could run Windows 7 has quickly gone away. In fact, it appears that Asus is already planning to release a Windows 7 based netbook as early as next summer! As for my Windows 7 netbook, it seems to be just as usable as Windows XP Pro was and is much, much nicer to look at. I was just amazed and impressed that the correct Aero-compatible video drivers were installed by default. I’m definitely keeping Windows 7 on this machine permanently and now I can’t wait for the open Beta early next year!
|Model ||Asus EEE PC 901 |
|CPU ||Intel 1.6GHz Atom |
|RAM ||1GB |
|OS ||Windows 7 32-bit Build 6801 |
|Install Size ||~9GB on a 16GB SSD drive |
|Battery Life ||~6 hours (about the same as with XP and Linux) |