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Monday, 26 October 2009

Windows 7, it's here

Well, launch day for Windows 7 was 22 October 2009 & I can see that my copy (yes, I have purchased a legitimate copy of Windows 7 Professional) was posted in time to arrive on the launch day.
Sure enough I arrived home to find the package in my house on the day of launch - I'm pretty impressed that the release was co-ordinated well enough to deliver on the release day. Happy so far.

So, what shall I do with it? Well, first try is an old 80Gb SATA (that's SATA not SATA II) drive in my htpc. Boot off DVD, 20 mins of churning and it's there. Impresed twice now, no having to manually reboot several time, good progress info but nothing on screen saying "your install will complete in 28 minutes" for 2 hours. Nice.

Does it work though. Well, yes. My sound card & wireless card have not been picked up but everything else is functional, even the graphics card gets a driver first time out.

Installing the wireless card proves a trial - largely because I've forgotten a trick - I have a netgear WPN111 and the smartwizard makes light work of installation unless you cancel it the first time, oops, yes I did just that & now it opens & closes and does nothing else. So I have to rely on the built in Windows wireless config - so after half a dozen reboots and having to enter the same information repeatedly the settings finally stick. There must be an easier way of getting wireless config sorted but it's certainly not unique to Windows 7. Luckily the sound card installs no problems.

It's only then that I remember to check for driver updates from the motherboard manufacturer (I'm using a Gigabyte GA-MA78GPM-DS2H which in theory is a great board but was dropped pretty quickly, probably because Gigabyte got sick of me raising queries about why their BIOS randomly forgets or ignores settings). To my surprise there are some updates so they get loaded on too. No problems so far. Still impressed.

Windows Update is busily doing it's thing & is painless.

Boot times are acceptable especially given that boot times on Vista were measured in geological ages & I've got an old SATA drive in use (which I later discover has a problem and occasionally decides to have a rest) & is certainly on a par with XP Professional which my HTPC install has been using.

Sleep mode is something else. I have no idea why but XP sleep always goes via the BIOS loading screens first whilst Windows 7 sleep goes direct from pressing the power button to the login screen, massive restart saving. I'm happy with that especially having recently discovered that this machine uses 4.1 watts in sleep, 3.8 in standby and 3.8 turned off - that was a surprise that my machine is off but it's using the same level of power as hibernate whilst sleep uses an irrelevant amount more considering the benefit. A bit of research (with my friend google) discovers that the PSU always takes power to enable facilities such as WOL (wake on lan - that nice idea that doesn't work with wireless cards for some reason). I use a UPS so having the machine in sleep mode is pretty safe.

I've changed the config to log me straight into the desktop (security freaks please run screaming around the room now) - much more practical for a HTPC which the wife might try to use that having a password on a box that might not have a keyboard attach. Going straight to desktop is a little weird in Windows 7 because it does a lot of loading of services and whatnot after login to reduce start time so sometimes it does loads of disk churning before showing the desktop when bypassing the password which would ordinarily not show while you peck away at the keyboard.

Why am I installing Windows 7 on my HTPC? I've spent something like a year (or is it two?) trying to get a "perfect" setup or at least something that I can live with. I don't have Media Centre on XP but I do on Vista and it's rubbish, it's can't play HD, it can't do this, it can't do that and it doesn't play this format or that one etc Yuk Yuk Yuk. So I've tested all the freely available media centre products I could lay my hands on and iMedian which came with my Silverstone GD01 (great case, far too big but I have a passive CPU cooler & only using one of the internal fans with the guard removed so pretty quiet). iMedian was probably a student's final year project to demonstrate how to make a difficult to use system. The best product out there is MediaPortal. It has everything and does everything but takes quite a lot of configuration and has endless options. Great product and fully working but just when I'm happy the next version appears with no upgrade path.......and Windows 7 is coming so let's wait and try MediaPortal on Windows 7 for a kicks.

If you are still reading you will be interested to know that I started typing this as soon as I commenced a reinstall on my machine using a Hitatchi 1TB SATA II drive & I've got this far and Windows 7 is sitting at the desktop ready to use with me having only had to configure half a dozen simple steps the hardest of which was rekeying the product key - so install time < 30 minutes. A reinstall already surely not? Yes, I've spent a few hours this weekend and two solid evenings tinkering with Windows 7 and I'm happy that it works, all my questions answered and it's stable. All files formats I need work (I've had to use Divx Converter to convert my MKV files to DIVX but that was no big deal).

Windows 7 is awesome - Microsoft you have got it right, well done, I think I'm going to add this to the list of Microsoft successes (the other two are Visio and SQL Server so it seems to me that this is the first one that Microsoft have actually developed for themselves).

So what's converted me. Well Windows 7 installs easily. Everything I have tried works. Unlike on Vista, file operations happen in the near future - I don't think they are as good as XP was still and certainly pathetic compared to Linux but not painful. Sleep is great and happens when expected, I've had one hiccup on resume but that hasn't repeated since the piles of updates have been downloaded.

Windows Media Centre for Windows 7 is excellent, it picked up my TV card (hauppage wintv-hvr-3000) with no problems, loaded up the satellite channels, gives me a TV guide. Adding My Movies makes movies a pleasure to access and adding Divx resolves the only file format problem I encountered. TV recording within 5 minutes of original install. My iMon remote and front panel work perfectly too which is miles better than I every managed with MediaPortal.

All in all Windows 7 is very impressive and is going into service tonight.