Installing Windows 8 on a Acer Aspire Netbook, it works pretty well

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UPDATE: March 2nd. I installed the Consumer Preview build and that worked just as the developer build, you still still need to set up scaling if you want to use Metro apps.

One of the interesting thing that Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky showed off at the Build conference was Windows 8 running on a four year old Netbook, he said Windows 8 was more efficient that Windows 7 and would run well on old hardware. So having a couple of old devices doing nothing I thought I would give it a try.

The first PCs I tried it on was my very old Samsung Q1, this was originally a XP device and I didn’t expect much from it. Unfortunately  the Celeron processor runs at 800MHZ so bellow Microsoft’s recommendation and Windows 8 would not install, it pointed out that the processor was to slow and didn’t start the install.

So the next PC I tried was a old Acer Aspire One Netbook, this has a 1.4GHZ processor with 1GB of RAM and ran Windows XP. To get Windows 8 installed I installed Virtual Clone Drive which is a tool that enables you to mount ISO files as disks in XP, Vista or Windows 7. The Windows 8 install is an ISO so I mounted the image and then the install Windows dialog came up, I find this method of installing a lot easier than burning the image to a DVD and then finding a external DVD drive. I then ran the Windows setup and as with my other experience of installing Windows 8 it ran very smoothly. I chose to do a clean install as I didn’t want any of the stuff on the old machine.

Once Windows 8 was installing and running, I logged in using my Windows Live ID and it copied down settings from my other install, including wallpaper and some program shortcuts (including pinned web pages). The first problem I had was that the start screen looked a bit squashed and no Metro apps would load. Windows was running in 800×600 and it was using a Microsoft video driver that would not go any higher so I downloaded downloaded the Windows 7 Intel Mobile GMA 950 graphics drivers and that got it to run it its native 1024×600 which looked much better however Metro apps would not load. This turns out to be a display resolution limitation, Metro apps will not run in less than 1024×768 which the Acer can’t do but there is a hack.

The hack involves setting display scaling so you can set the display to be a non native resolution. To go this you need to load up REGEDIT which you can do by clicking on Start, then start typing REGEDIT, this will bring up the search screen and then click on the app.

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Navigate to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Video

Then find you display devices , I had four listed and it was the 2nd key. Click on the display (it will be something like {CA7B02A8-373B-4A4D-8E4E-4196CF23A532}

Then select 000

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A whole list of keys will be displayed, find “Display1_DownScalingSupported” and set the value to 1 and then quit Regedit and reboot.

After a reboot you can then go in to display settings and change the resolution to 1024×768, its not a native resolution so it doesn’t look as smooth as the native setting but you will find that Metro apps will now load.

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The performance of the Metro apps is a little sluggish but they work and some of the games work very, the traditional Windows programs work fine as well, Windows 8 seems uses less memory that Windows 7 so the whole install feels faster than Windows 7. I tested a couple of Windows programs including Skype and it worked fine. I should also say that other than the display driver I didn’t need to locate any other drivers and tools to get it working.

It’s a shame you have to switch to a scaled display setting as when it was running at 1024×600 it looked better but at least the Metro apps work, Windows 8 actually works better on this Netbook than Windows 7 did and better than the original Windows XP install with all the crap that came pre-installed in it.

The other thing to note is the new boot up time, with Windows 8 new style startup procedure it now starts in about 20 second! So overall I think I may be able to get a bit of use out of the Netbook, at least my kids will enjoy playing on the Metro games.

So if you have an old Netbook knocking around, head over to dev.windows.com and download the 32bit version and give it a try. The build is stable but is missing some Windows features like Windows Media Center but if your interested in looking at the future of Windows its a worth a look.

Coming soon, Windows running on a Acert Iconia Tab

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