Microsoft has released Windows 7 RC 1 into the wild that is the Internet. Until August 20th of 2009 (basically this is the last week) you can sign up for a license key and a link to download the disk image in iso format.

This version will work until June 2010 at which point it will no longer boot, also it will have some other restrictions starting in March 2010. That still provides many months to try it out. I have done just that and would like to relate my experiences, and solutions for particular problems that have arisen.

For more details on the promotion, or to register for your own copy visit windows.microsoft.com.

Items of Note

  • I am NOT responsible if anything described here damages your PC or causes data loss. The software is ‘use at your own risk’ and so is this article.
  • Back up your data. Microsoft will remind you of this, and so do I. Not backing up data before an operating system install is asking for trouble.

My Setup

Here is my configuration:
Motherboard: nVidia GeForce based
CPU: Intel Pentium 2.8Ghz Dual Core (64bit)
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 2x1TB SATA II drives on a RAID 1 (mirror)
Optical Media: SATA DVD-RW
Current System: XP Home / Ubuntu

Where to Start

Firstly, I assume you have succesfully run the Windows 7 Advisor with no issues and have made a working copy of the Windows 7 install disk.

If you are running Windows XP you cannot do an upgrade. Period. Clean install is the only option. This means you either need to start without an OS, or have an empty NTFS formatted partition prior to attempting the install.
If you do not have a blank NTFS partition the installer will stall after the language setting screen.

Once this is ready, reboot your PC with the Windows 7 DVD in the drive – make sure your BIOS is set to boot from it.

If all goes well you should be now installing Windows 7. I wasn’t this lucky.

The Windows 7 Installer Stalls after Loading Windows…

If you get a pretty blue screen with some leaves and a mouse cursor but nothing else after several minutes you may have the problem I had.
There are several reports online of problems installing from a SATA DVD drive. I presume in my case it is because of the way nVidia handles the DVD in relation to the RAID but I’m not certain.

Solution: Create a USB flash drive version of the installer disk (you’ll need 4gb) and boot from that, or (what I did) install an IDE DVD drive temporarily while installing.

Safely Unloading Linux First

Perhaps this should be higher up, but if you have a dual-boot XP/Linux environment and intend on removing the Linux installation to try out Windows 7 be very careful when you delete the Linux partitions from within Windows. Keep in mind that the boot loader (likely GRUB) resides there as well. Deleting the Linux partition will cause your PC to not boot!
With this in mind, I first booted from the XP install disk (after installing a floppy drive for the nVidia RAID drivers) and from the recovery console I ran fixmbr and rebooted. This puts the boot loader back to the original Windows one allowing you to safely remove the Linux partition. (you did back everything up, right?)

Initial Impressions

Once resolving the SATA optical drive issues and creating the NTFS partition (Windows 7 RC 1 does not appear to have a formatting tool like the XP installer) things went smoothly. In fact, the first have of this article was typed up on another PC nearby while I watched the Windows setup run fully automated. The setup will reboot your computer several times during installation.

My computer scores an average 5.9 for the user experience rating, and things are working mostly as they should. My Belkin wireless adapter does not have working drivers (Belkin hasn’t made them for Vista yet either – no fault to Microsoft for this one). I was able to use another USB wireless adapter sucessfully.
My WinTV-GO (analog PCI tv tuner card) does not appear to have working drivers at the moment either, which is frustrating since I wanted to try the Windows Media Player tv functions and the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor said they would be available via Windows Update.

Overall, it works fairly well. I found switching between World of Warcraft and the desktop to be agonizingly slower than the same task on XP. I am intending to do a reinstallation of the game (rather than a program folder copy) on Windows 7 to see if it perhaps will install a more compatible version of the programs and perform better.
Actual game play has no noticeable differences.

I’ll try to keep an updated set of entries here over the next few months detailing more tests of this new system. Overall, I would say that I’m not about to run out and buy it yet, but it’s more promising than Vista.