Monday, November 23, 2009

My Windows 7 Install Experience

I recently installed Windows 7 Home Premium edition on my primary desktop machine at home.  Since I built the machine fairly recently (November 2008), I was confident that my hardware could handle the OS; also, I had been running 64-bit Vista, which has similar hardware requirements.  I was also curious to get a firsthand look at the Windows 7 given all of the positive buzz (particularly relative to Vista, which had comparatively negative buzz at launch).  Finally, being a PC technology enthusiast, it’s always fun to be running the “latest and greatest.”

My install experience was largely very positive.  I did run into two significant snags, however.

Snag #1 – Windows wouldn’t recognize my wireless card

I run a wireless network at home, and have my PC connected to the network over the wireless (due primarily to the fact there happens to be no phone jack to plug my DSL modem into anywhere near the PC).  The wireless card I’ve always used with this machine, and had no problems with, is a Netgear WG311v3 (an internal PCI-slot network card). 

Unfortunately, after getting Windows 7 installed, Windows wouldn’t recognize the WG311v3 card.  The problem was that Windows 7 64-bit allows the use of only signed drivers, and Netgear has not released a signed driver for this card (despite the fact that this card is still actively sold in stores, as of the time of this writing).  I was surprised by this problem, since apparently the restriction of using signed drivers only has been around in previous versions of Windows as well, and I had been using this card with no problems under Vista 64-bit – I’m still not sure at this point why this card worked for me under Vista 64-bit, but not Windows 7 64-bit. 

After fighting with this problem for 3 hours or so (trying alternative drivers, and other workarounds), I gave up: I temporarily ran a long ethernet cable across my living room to the router to allow me to get online, and I ordered an inexpensive MediaLink MWN-USB54G USB Wireless-G adapter ($30 on at the time of this writing) which had great reviews and was reported by multiple reviewers in their comments to work fine with Windows 7 64-bit.  When the MWN-USB54G arrived a few days later, I plugged it in, and Windows 7 recognized it immediately and I was able to get online wirelessly with no problems – no need to use the enclosed CD.

So, boo to Netgear for not releasing a signed driver for their WG311v3 wireless card, and a bummer that I had to spend a little money on new hardware, but at this point I’m happy and have had no problems with the MWN-USB54G over the past couple of weeks of use.

Snag #2 – Problems initially getting Windows “activated” (registered)

Prior to installing Windows 7, my machine had a single 1.0 TB hard drive; for the purposes of this post, I’ll call this “drive 1.”  I had been running Vista Ultimate edition, for which a direct overinstall-type upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium is not supported.  A “default” path to getting Window 7 installed in this case might have been to do the following:

  • Move my 100+ GB of documents (mostly photos and home videos of the family) to external storage
  • Format the hard drive
  • Install Windows 7
  • Recopy the 100+ GB of documents back onto the drive

However, I didn’t have a convenient way to copy the documents off the drive and then back on.  I decided instead to do the following:

  • Remove the hard drive, “drive 1,” from the machine
  • Add a new 500 GB hard drive to the machine, “drive 2,” to become the new C: drive
  • Install Windows 7
  • Add “drive 1” back to the machine – “drive 1” now becomes D:

This procedure successfully got me up and running with Windows 7, with Windows on my C: drive, and all of my documents on my D: drive.

This plan did hit one significant snag: During the initial install, when I was prompted for my CD-key, Windows wouldn’t accept it.  I double-checked the key I’d entered and verified it was correct, but entry of the key still failed with a generic error message.  Being a power user, I figured I could just clear the CD-key field and hit “Continue,” and Windows would let me go through with the install – and this did indeed turn out to be the case – but I might have been stuck if I didn’t know to do that.

Upon getting Windows up and running, I used the built-in “Activate Windows” utility (which I found easily simply by typing “Activate” into the Run/Search field on the Start menu – very cool!) to try and activate Windows using my CD-key once again.  This time I got a better error message instead of the generic one I was getting during initial setup: “The Software Licensing Service determined that this specified product key can only be used for upgrading, not clean installations.”

This made sense – Since I didn’t do an overinstall of Vista, and in fact had completely removed the drive with the Vista install on it from the machine completely while the initial Windows 7 install was running, of course Windows had no way of knowing that I legitimately was eligible for an “upgrade.”  Still, it would have been nice to have gotten a better error message during the initial setup.  Having realized the problem, I would have expected to have been offered some option to insert my old Vista DVD and/or enter my old Vista CD-key in order to prove to Windows 7 that I was, in fact, eligible for the upgrade, but there wasn’t any option like that.

Ultimately, I ended up using a workaround that I found on Paul Thurrott’s article Clean Install Windows 7 with Upgrade Media to successfully activate Windows.  I used “Method #2” from that page, and it worked fine for me!  (Thanks, Paul!)