Windows 8 on the MacBook Air: Not just yet

The Windows 8 developer preview is generating a lot of interest. But is it ready to install on a MacBook Air?

With the developer preview of Windows 8 available to the public, it was only a matter of time before someone installed it on Apple's MacBook line of laptops. Since I've written articles about running Windows 7 on the MacBook air in the past, it only made sense that I would try to run it myself.

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Since this was a test, and not a bare metal installation, I simply chose to install the developer preview from within Windows 7. This way I didn't have to fiddle with external DVD drives or USB sticks. Perhaps later when the new OS is more stable I will revisit that method.

Installation was fairly straightforward. There is no in-place upgrade, but like before with Windows 7 and Vista installations, you are able to perform a clean install which backs up your Windows, Program Files and Users directories into a directory named Windows.old. There is the option to migrate your user account data to the new installation, and that seemed to work fairly well.

After several reboots, I booted into Windows 8, and immediately noticed some issues. For one thing, I was limited to the basic video driver. My resolution was limited to 1024x768, instead of the 1366x768 native to my MacBook Air. When I checked my device manager, I discovered that a number of devices had no drivers. Obviously the Boot Camp drivers from Apple had not migrated over.

This led to hunting around the internet for people that had tried what I did, and managed to get the Boot Camp drivers installed. What I discovered was not encouraging. For instance, the only driver packs I found were for the 2011 third-generation MacBook Air, while mine is the second generation 2010 model. There were no Nvidia drivers that would install under Windows 8.

Also, the packs of 32- and 64-bit drivers that I found all seemed to be for the 2011 model. Half of them worked. I got the drivers for my trackpad and bluetooth working, but I couldn't get the display drivers working to use an external monitor. The iSight camera driver wouldn't install. I was left with a functional installation of Windows 8, but it wasn't really capable of being used properly.

I understand that the folks with the third generation MacBook Air laptops had much better luck, being able to use separate Intel HD graphics drivers. It's possible, and likely, that those drivers I could not install do work properly with the 2011 model.

Please keep in mind, this was an experiment. I backed up an image of my Windows 7 installation with the full intention of restoring it once I was done testing. I actually didn't do that, but that is the topic for my next article.

For a pre-beta release, Windows 8 did manage to install and work on the MacBook Air without too much trouble. The real trouble begins when you try to install the Boot Camp drivers. Boot Camp itself won't install, and this is no surprise. It would be silly to expect Apple to update Boot Camp to work with Windows 8 right now. The people who got it to work had to rip out the drivers from the Boot Camp install, which is a hack and not intended for regular users.

At this point, I would not recommend attempting the use of Windows 8 on a MacBook air, unless you were planning on running it inside of a VM like Parallels or VirtualBox. I will definitely revisit once Apple has a version of Boot Camp that works with Windows 8.

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