Windows 8 Installfest 2: Portable Computers

Continuing my series of article about Windows 8 installations, here’s some information about my Setup experience on various portable computers I have here for testing purposes.

(In future installments, I’ll discuss installing Windows 8 on desktop computers and then how well (or poorly, we’ll see) my wife and kids adapted when I upgraded their PCs to Windows 8.)

But first, something a bit different.


Machine: 32 GB USB 3.0-based memory stick running on ASUS Zenbook (late 2011)
Type: First generation Ultrabook
Specs: 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-2557M, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 13-inch display (1600 x 900)
What it was running earlier: n/a
Type of install: Clean install of Windows 8 Enterprise using the Windows To Go Workspace control panel

Windows To Go is an interesting option, and one that I’d like to see provided as a perk of at least Windows 8 Pro (e.g. you should get a portable install of Windows as part of your purchase of a normal Windows license). Basically, it’s a self-contained Windows install on a specially made USB 3.0 stick, and you can install apps and applications, make customizations, add documents and other data files, and it all travels with you. All you need is a PC to run it on.

The first time you boot with a Windows To Go disk, it takes a while: The system needs to load PC-specific drivers, and that’s something you’ll deal with each time you move it to a new PC, so it’s generally best to try and run it from the same PC or from a small set of PCs.

Once it’s up and running, performance is excellent. It’s a bit slower than when using the PC normally: Boot time is 14 seconds on USB 2.0 but only 9 seconds on USB 3.0. (Normal PC boot is about 4 seconds. Yes, really.) Once you’re up and running however, you don’t notice any performance issues at all. The only hindrance, really, is the size of the disk: At 32 GB, this is the absolute minimum for Windows; I’d prefer 64 GB or more of storage, however.

I’ll be writing a more detailed Windows To Go feature focus article soon.

Verdict: Flawless victory


Machine: ThinkPad Edge 420s (early 2011)
Type: Laptop
Specs: 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5-2410, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 14-inch display (1366 x 768)
What it was running earlier: Windows 7 Ultimate
Type of install: Clean install of Windows 8 Enterprise, boot from USB memory key

For a later series on installing, upgrading, and migrating to Windows 8, I’ve been reapplying the original Windows 7 system images to my older PCs, installing my core applications, and performing backups using Windows Backup. (This will allow me to revert to Windows 7 on these machines later so I can try reinstalling Windows 8 repeatedly using different methods.) During the Windows 8 pre-release period, however, this computer ran various versions of Windows 8.

For this install, I just did a normal clean install and the results were good but not great: Device Manager identified three devices that needed drivers and two of them, Base System Device and Unknown device, were clearly going to require some work. (The third was a more obvious Intel Centrino Advanced N + WiMAX 6250.)

Lenovo does have an excellent support site for its ThinkPads and, more important, a System Update utility that can also help identify missing bits and get them on your PC. Unfortunately, that tool is not available in a Windows 8 compatible version, and though I was able to fool the current one into installing, it wouldn’t work properly.

So. The basic strategy here is to run through the device drivers for that machine for Windows 7 and first see if there are any obvious ones that aren’t available in Device Manager. On a machine like the ThinkPad, I always look to the fingerprint reader first, but there was an entry for the biometric device. So then I tried an SD card. Voila: Plugging a card into the reader resulted in a virtual cricket chirp, so I downloaded and installed the card reader driver, eliminating the Base Device bang.

The Unknown device entry was a bit harder to troubleshoot. Eventually, I ended up Googling and discovered that it was the ThinkPad Power Management Driver. And sure enough, the Windows 7 version of that driver cleaned things up nicely. But I wasted more time on this one than I’m comfortable admitting.

The WiMAX driver was easily identified and installed, of course.

Verdict: Epic struggle


Machine: Lenovo ThinkPad SL410 (late 2009)
Type: Laptop
Specs: 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6670, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 13-inch display (1366 x 768)
What it was running earlier: Windows 7
Type of install: Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro

This well-worn, heavily used, and utterly unremarkable laptop represents what I think is probably the single biggest potential upgrade market for Windows 8: The hundreds of millions of mid-level, Core 2 Duo-based PCs out there. For that reason, I tried an upgrade to see how things went. Aside from the annoyance of having to uninstall Microsoft Security Essentials and then reboot before Setup would continue, there were no surprises during the actual upgrade process.

In fact, it was flawless: Windows 8 came up with a completely clean Device Manager, and even weird third party networking utilities like LogMeIn Hamachi and the mobile broadband connection manager for my Broadband2Go device worked properly.

Verdict: Flawless victory


Machine: Toshiba NB205 (2010)
Type: Netbook
Specs: 1.66 GHz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM, 160 GB hard drive, 10-inch display (1024 x 600)
What it was running earlier: Windows 7 Starter (originally), upgraded to Windows 7 Home Premium
Type of install: Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro (x86)

This lowly netbook presented a number of challenges to Windows 8. First, the Atom processor is utilizes cannot run a 64-bit version of Windows. So I needed to make a boot device for the 32-bit version of Windows 8. Second, the Metro environment in Windows 8 requires a resolution of at least 1024 x 768, and at least 1366 pixels horizontally for the Snap side-by-side app functionality. Since the NB205 has a 1024 x 600 display (typical for netbooks), neither were going to work. I had previously used this machine as the basis for Windows 8 Consumer Preview: The Netbook Experience and knew what I was getting into.

And let’s just say it was glacial. The in-place upgrade took an eternity, or at least felt like it did. Driver installs? An epoch. Moving your settings? Eons. I think it sat on a screen that just said “Getting ready” for about half an hour. But finally, Setup did complete, I was able to finish the First Run experience, and start examining Windows 8.

As far as Setup success goes, the NB205 reported a single banged out item in Device Manager, the imaginatively named Unknown device. After my hair-pulling experience with the ThinkPad Edge, I wasn’t going to screw around with this one, so I just used Google and came up with something called the Toshiba ACPI Value-Added Logical Device. I installed the 32-bit driver for Windows 7 from Toshiba’s support web site and all was well.

At least with Setup, that is. As with Windows 7, however, the Windows 8 experience isn’t great on such a machine. I will save that part of the discussion for my eventual review—that’s what these Installfest articles are building up to, an understanding of how Windows 8 really works on a diverse array of real world PCs—but I can probably state up front that I don’t recommend upgrading this type of machine. Netbooks had one foot in the grave the day they were conceived.

Verdict: Near-flawless (if slow) victory, but why bother?


Machine: Samsung Q1 Ultra (2007)
Type: Ultra-Mobile PC
Specs: 800 MHz Intel A110 (ULV) processor, 1 GB of RAM, 60 GB hard drive, 7-inch touch display (1024 x 600)
What it was running earlier: Windows 7 Starter
Type of install: Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro (x86)

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about this machine, and I can’t honestly say why I’ve even kept it around. If you go all the way back to November 2007, you’ll find The Origami Experience: Windows Vista and the Ultra-Mobile PC, which describes Microsoft’s then-latest doomed effort to make an iPad several years before Apple did it. This device was a second-generation UMPC, but hobbled by Vista it performed poorly and sunk in the market. (Even Windows 7 didn’t run very well on this sad little product.)

Put simply, the UMPC is a netbook without the performance, battery life, or large screen size. (Cough.) It’s pretty terrible.

It’s also incapable of running Windows 8. As it turns out, Windows 8 requires a 1 GHz CPU. So this the first time I’ve seen this particular Setup error:


Ah well.

Verdict: Resounding defeat

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.