Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

Summary: There's still a great deal of interest in using Windows 7 as the primary operating system on Apple MacBooks. Reader issues are addressed.

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Last year I published a ZDNet article about installing Windows 7 as the default operating system on a MacBook Air. It was well-received, and generated a number of questions from the readers.

There's still a great deal of interest in using Windows 7 as the primary operating system on Apple MacBooks. I should point out that this project is really for those people who are truly enamored with Apple hardware, but not so much with the operating system. If you're just looking for something like a regular MacBook Pro, consider the HP Envy series.

If you're looking for a thin and light device like a MacBook Air, take a look at the Acer Aspire TimelineX series. There's also the Sony Vaio Z series. Both of these laptops have high-end CPUs. Or you could go with a lower-power, more conservatively-priced Lenovo Thinkpad X120e with the new AMD Fusion CPU that doesn't run so hot that it ruins a man's ability to father children like the previous model.

If you're still with me at this point, you're probably the kind of person for which this article is intended. I am still quite happily using WIndows 7 on my MacBook Air 11, with no real issues. The only major obstacle I face is that I need to boot the system to OSX in order to update the system firmware. I have an external USB hard drive with OSX installed for this very purpose.

One reader asks:

i am sorry can you explain in detail how to install windows. how did you access mdr sector etc. from the very beginning. i have the widnows on my usb, but i wont detect it. also i previously had windows on my mac, but it doesn't work properly. viruses. also my bootcamp doesn't open, you know how to fix this. feedback appreciated

The entire hard drive partition had to be wiped and recreated using the Disk Utility function found on the OSX Install disc. On the MacBook Air, the install disc is actually a small USB stick. Once the hard drive is wiped and recreated as a Master Boot Record type with FAT formatting, you can then boot to a Windows 7 install DVD and install directly to the hard drive.

As for the other issues, that's obviously a problem with your BootCamp Windows install and unfortunately I can't really help you with that. Create a clean Windows BootCamp install and make sure to install anti-virus and anti-malware apps.

The same reader asks:

hey..can you explain further how you did it...my mac is also not recognizing the usb. i have a windows already installed on mac, but its got viruses. and the bootcamp doesn't open, u know how i can fix this, i dont have my restore original cds, makes it all so worse

You can't install Windows 7 from a USB stick to a MacBook without the use of rEFIt. I've found this to be an unnecessary added level of complexity if you want to run only Windows 7 on your MacBook. I also ran into a number of issues with rEFIt, and do not recommend it. You should use an install DVD. The DVD drive, however, can be a USB-connected one.

Again, I can't help you fix your broken BootCamp install. If you don't have the original discs, contact your manufacturer for a new set or purchase one.

[More reader questions]»

Another reader writes:

We all have still following problems:

1. how to make boot time faster. black screen with flashing underline takes 20-30 sec. till windows begins to load. it is probably a searching for boot record or something like that.

2. how to update efi firmware with windows if we dont have the macOS on ssd. and how to get driver updates if they come.

3. how to make the rest 8 GB of the ssd usefull. the real ssd size is 64 GB and that 8gb partition is blocked. it is not possible to delete it by using efi and mac-stick utilities.

4. Touchpad is somehow funny. its too sensitive for touching and does not have many options to adjust the settings.

1. I have not found any way to make this boot process faster. However, it does seem to be the correct amount of time to boot. The delay could very well be the special Apple EFI boot system looking for an OSX partition first.

2. I resolved this by using an external USB hard drive, which I also use for backups. I attached it to the computer and used the OSX install USB stick to install OSX to the external drive. Some people have claimed success using an external USB stick, but I would recommend a 16GB stick minimum. An external hard drive would have a lot more storage and would likely be cheaper if you shop around.

3. I completely wiped the partition using the OSX install USB stick through the Disk Utility, and then manually created the Master Boot Record partition before booting to the Windows 7 install DVD. My 128GB SSD drive is actually 113GB.

Keep in mind that hard drive and computer manufacturers call a megabyte 1 million bytes, when in reality it is supposed to be 1,048,576 bytes (1024x1024). A gigabyte is 1,073,741,824 bytes. 64 gigabytes is supposed to be 68,719,476,736 bytes. The difference between the advertised size and the actual size is about 4.7GB. Add to that the overhead of formatting the drive itself, and you probably end up with somewhere between 55 and 57GB.

4. I can't really help you with tweaking the touchpad. Apple doesn't provide very much control over the touchpad sensitivity and configuration. I prefer a mouse anyway, and use a Logitech VX Nano wireless mouse with my laptop.

Another reader asks:

Read your install report,I too have same needs,except needed dual operating. After install of win7,it wasn't wifi capable so uninstalled win 7 to make mac only & now it will not boot up unless I hold "option" key down. Could you please help me

I'm not sure what you did during your install to cause this. Did you have an OSX installation and use the BootCamp install process found within OSX itself? If not, you may have done something to corrupt the partition, making it non-bootable. OSX will not boot from a Master Boot Record partition. If that's the case, you may need to wipe the entire drive and recreate it using the proper GUID (GPT) partition meant for OSX.

By the way, if you did not download the BootCamp drivers from Apple and put them on a USB stick so you could install them within Windows, that may very well explain why the hardware didn't function properly after installing Windows.

Another reader writes:

1. So apparently the USB rescue drive allows one to wipe out the MAC OS and create a true windows capable partition with an MBR? Did I get that right? Is that covered in the Bootcamp Doc?

2. Is the end result truly a windows machine in all respects? The catch here is I'd like to use Acronis TrueHome 2011 for disk imaging so I can recover the OS if something gets corrupted. Acronis even allows imbedding itself in the MBR so you can run recovery without a DVD Drive and recovery CD. I don't know if this machine would boot and act in a pure windows manner so any software (imaging/defragmenting) that interacts with the pc at boot time would in fact run okay.

3. If I'm misunderstanding this, and I DID end up having to use Bootcamp to keep a small Mac partition and create a dual boot machine, would that kill the 'acronis' capability in question # 2?

4. one last question. No discussion of TRIM support for the SSD; Is there any? If not, how are you going to handle keeping the drive up to speed? is there a manual method for swiping (or whatever) the drive?

1. The functionality to do this is not in the BootCamp instructions. You need to boot from the OSX install USB stick or DVD disc that comes with your MacBook and use the Disk Utility to access the partition functions.

2. For all intents and purposes, the resulting machine is a Windows one. However, since Apple uses a proprietary form of EFI instead of BIOS, I could not tell you if adding Acronis to the mix would function. Personally I use the Microsoft Windows 7 disk imaging system to back up a complete system image to an external drive. If I ever need to restore it, I can simply boot from a Windows 7 install DVD and restore the saved image.

3. It is very likely that Acronis will not work at all with a dual BootCamp installation. Your best bet to see how well Acronis supports such a configuration would be to contact them directly.

4. Windows 7 should disable disk defragmentation, Superfetch, Prefetcher and ReadyBoost features if you have a current SSD drive. If you want to check their state, navigate to the following registry entry:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

If the superfetch and prefetch features are disabled, their registry value should be 0.

I'd like to thank everyone for their interest and their questions. I hope I was able to help.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

    "You can?t install Windows 7 from a USB stick to a MacBook."

    Um, thats what I did....
    jhughesy
    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @jhughesy I'm sorry, I should have explained the difficulties with the use of rEFIt in the installation process. I did go over it in the oriiginal article. I've amended the answer in the current article. Thanks for reminding me.
      Scott Raymond
      • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

        @Scott Raymond
        Have I missed the point somewhere. I run windows (XPPro, don't need or like 7) happily as a vitual machine. I use parallels with no problems
        brian_terry@...
      • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

        @Scott Raymond
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      • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

        @Scott Raymond
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      • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

        @Scott Raymond
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    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @brian_terry@... The point here is to run Windows 7 natively, not as a VM.
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    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      Agreed! I did install it too!
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    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @jhughesy

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  • Great 2 articles, Scott. Some of the best ZDNet blogs I've read

    I just have a few questions. When OSX Lion is released soon, it will have TRIM support for SSDs. (In fact, I believe the next update to Snow Leopard may have this feature as well.)

    Will you be able to enable this feature on your Win 7 MacBook Air? Or does your machine or Win 7 WinTel laptops, in general, already support this feature?

    Personally, I would have used a virtual Win 7 machine configuration on a MacBook Air under the philosophy that two of something is always better than one (in this case, two operating systems). But I completely understand your stated reasons for doing what you did.

    Please continue the good writing. Its a joy to read.
    kenosha77a
    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @kenosha7777 Unfortunately, Windows 7 doesn't appear to have TRIM support; instead it disables ReadyBoost and SuperFetch. I couldn't tell how well it will compare to TRIM, but you can be sure I'll be testing that out once OSX 10.7 is released.

      Update: My bad, Windows 7 does support TRIM:

      http://blogs.msdn.com/b/e7/archive/2009/05/05/support-and-q-a-for-solid-state-drives-and.aspx
      Scott Raymond
      • Windows 7 supports TRIM since day 1

        @Scott Raymond -- Unfortunately, you are mistaken.

        Windows 7 supports TRIM as of the RTM October 2009 available as far back as June 2009 to MSDN + Technet members.

        Links appears to be auto-spam-filtered, so I'm reposting anyway...

        Search Wikipedia for TRIM
        Search Microsoft for TRIM + Window 7

        How come you can put links? LOL!

        [i]~~~~~~~~~~
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    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @kenosha7777 - Windows 7 already supports TRIM.
      bitcrazed
    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @kenosha7777

      Windows 7 supported TRIM officially from it's initial release. I think it also worked in the RC. If TRIM is not enabled on the MacBook Air I'd suspect it is either because the SSD firmware doesn't support TRIM, or that it was not configured properly. I believe it requires AHCI.
      tkejlboom
    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @kenosha7777 Current macs dont support TRIM? Really? rofl
      Tommy S.
  • The alternatives

    VMware Fusion,
    Parallels,
    VirtualBox

    I assume based on my experience using VMware and VirtualBox that an image 'suspend to disk' can be accomplished on the Mac.

    This would make booting up any VM instance near instantaneous, yes?

    And what does the user 'sacrifice' by choosing the VM route over BootCamp?: I should think very little, yes?
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Revisiting Windows 7 on MacBooks

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate Bootcamp is really useful if you're running games (because you don't want the system's resources running another OS as well as the game itself) or if you're running a really system hungry application (though this is extremely unlikely, most MacBooks are quite well appointed systems - though I'd probably say adding more RAM would help virtualisation).
      jeremychappell