Windows 7: How low can you go?

Rejuvenating your 7-year-old PC with Windows, not Linux, can now make technical and fiscal sense.

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Refreshing a 2-year-old ultramobile PC (UMPC)

Who: Ivan Golubev, Windows and SQL database administrator

What: "Samsung Q1 ultramobile PC (released in May 2007), which I bought a year ago for business trips. I wasn't the first owner."

Specs: 900MHz 'Dothan' Celeron CPU, 512MB PC3200 RAM, 40GB hard drive (4,200 rpm), Intel 915GMS on-board graphics

Performance: "Windows 7 worked wonderfully on it, very smooth and fast. I ran Office 2007, SQL Management Studio and some administrative tools. The boot-up time was about 50 to 60 seconds, mostly because of the slow hard drive, but wake-up from hibernation worked fast (20 to 30 seconds). To my surprise, Aero worked pretty nice without causing slowdowns. No driver problems, no apps that didn't run."

Windows Experience Index: Not available (Golubev sold the Q1 without recording the score)

Comparison to other OSes: "I had Windows XP Tablet edition on it before, and I must say that Windows 7 looked and worked much better, especially with its touch interface. Windows 7 also ran faster than XP."

Recommend Windows 7? "Yes. It's nicer than Vista, faster than XP -- almost a dream OS."

Tip: "Google 'Windows 7 USB installation' and prepare a 4GB or greater flash drive to install on a UMPC."

Running on a modern but underpowered netbook

Who: Christian Puzder, lawyer-turned-product manager for Thomson Reuters in Eagan, Minn.

What: Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook, released Sept. 2008

Specs: 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU (hyperthreaded), 2GB RAM, 8GB solid-state drive, Intel 945 Express graphics chip

Windows Experience Index: 3.5

Performance: "The Mini came with XP, which ran like a dog. It was just horrible. I tried Dell's version of Ubuntu, which I didn't like very much. When I installed the Windows 7 beta, it took less than half an hour. It was dead easy. I remember installing Windows 3.11 and having to load 26 floppy disks.

"I mostly use the Mini to browse the Web, e-mail and use Web apps like Windows Live. Everything runs really well. I am amazed at how well Windows 7 scales down to lower hardware. I'm running full Aero with the Intel chipset. I did have to find and install the Vista drivers since the Win7 beta didn't have them. But there's no ghosting on the screen, no latency."

Netbook running Windows 7 Aero
Christian Puzder's Dell Mini 9 netbook had no trouble running Windows 7's Aero graphical desktop. (Credit: Christian Puzder)

Would you recommend Windows 7? "I already showed it to a bunch of die-hard Mac people at my company. They went out and bought netbooks, some of them to run Windows 7."

Tips:

  1. "Windows 7 took up 7 out of 8 GB on my SSD. I'd get a larger drive."
  2. "The Mini doesn't have a DVD drive [from which to install Windows 7], so I hooked it up via USB to my Xbox 360's external drive. The Mini saw it straight away in BIOS."

Have your own tale to tell of Windows 7 on low-end hardware? Share it in the reader comments.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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