(Re)installing Windows 7 on a MacBook Pro early 2008

My Windows 7 RC (release candidate) expired earlier this month, so I decided to install the actual release bits on my MacBook Pro (Early 2008, or MBP4,1 for those in the know). I had previously bought and installed Vista (full license) on my MBP, so I bought an upgrade license for Windows 7 Ultimate at an OK academic price and set about installing it.

One complication, which is actually documented, albeit not in the most transparent terms, is that you need to have a prior version of Windows installed on your computer in order to complete the installation and activation of a Win7 upgrade, even if you are planning to do a "clean install"; it is not enough to have the older version DVD available. Well, turns out that’s not strictly true from a technical point of view, but I wanted to play by the rules. Of course, when I installed Win7RC, I wiped out the existing Vista install; but, luckily, before doing so, I made a copy of the Vista partition using the excellent WinClone. So, the very first step (step 0, if you will) was to restore the Vista partition. That required updating WinClone, as the version I had did not run under Snow Leopard. Incidentally, for a few brief minutes I was worried that the updated version might use a different file format for their images, but luckily that was not the case.

I then started the Win7 installation process. I use rEFIt, so upon rebooting I was greeted with not one, not two, but five different boot options: Mac OS X, Vista, and, on the installation DVD, the “EFI64 monitor” (I think), Windows 7, and a “Legacy” OS. Not knowing better, I simply rebooted and held down the C key, thereby forcing my MBP to boot from DVD.

The first part of the installation process was uneventful. I was then asked to reboot, and here I encountered the first stumbling block. At this stage, the installation DVD is still required—it certainly was not ejected, and in fact it was accessed several times in subsequent steps of the installation process. However, what was not clear was whether I should reboot from disk or from DVD. I reasoned that the most user-friendly solution would be to reboot from DVD: after all, the user still has the media in the DVD reader, which means that most PCs will attempt to boot from DVD first; thus, it makes sense for the installation program on the DVD to detect that stage two of the process has been reached, and proceed as required.

But, of course, the Win7 installation program is not quite so smart. Upon rebooting, it cheerfully offered to start the process from scratch. Time to reboot! Henceforth, I figured that what I was supposed to do was boot from disk. I am not sure whether this is a Mac-only thing; perhaps there are ways for the installation software to determine the boot order via BIOS, and the Mac does not provide a good enough emulation of the PC BIOS for that to work. Certainly, Mac OS X system updates and OS upgrades seem to be able to force rebooting from a particular volume. Be that as it may, it was a bit of a stumbling block for me.

Anyway, after a few other restarts, I was greeted with the Win7 first-run dialogs, entered by license key, created a user, etc.. Then I was good to go; it was time to log in and install the Bootcamp drivers. However, being extremely risk- and virus-averse, I first downloaded and installed the Microsoft Security Essentials.

Installing Bootcamp is also a two-step maneuver. You must first use the Snow Leopard DVD to install Bootcamp 3.0, then reboot, then use Apple Software Update to install, you guessed it, the Bootcamp 3.1 update! And, yes, reboot once again. After many years on the Mac (and Linux before that), one forgets how rebooting is a normal part of life as a Windows user. One would have thought that the ubermodern Windows 7 would have dispensed with the need to reboot by now—heck, under Linux, you can even update the kernel without rebooting—but that’s not the case.

Anyway, I now have a fully licensed copy of Windows 7 Ultimate on my MBP. Oh, and it’s 64 bits, so Windows finally sees all 4GB of RAM. I’ll report on my experiences, in particular as regards battery life. I thought the additional RAM would decrease disk thrashing and hence extend battery life, but that does not seem to be the case so far.

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