Saturday, February 23, 2008

Building a Windows 2008 x64 Laptop

My primary machine is a Dell XPS M1330 laptop. This has 4GB of memory and a dual core Intel T7300 2 GHz processor. Up until recently I have been running 32-bit Windows Vista as the main operating system. To be honest, I was disappointed with the performance. Considering the specifications, I was expecting the machine to be a bit quicker round the block. I found that I was waiting to switch between applications. Outlook was tediously slow some times.

Now this could be for a number of reasons – Dell pre-loads the application with many "performance enhancing utilities". Anyway, I decided it was time for a rebuild. Daniel Larson has been harping on how good Windows 2008 is, so I grabbed my installation disk and dived right in.

I wanted to take advantage of the whole 4 GB of memory I have, so I went with the 64-bit version (under 32-bit Windows only sees about 3.4 GB). I reckon that going 64-bit should also give me a performance boost too. The challenge is that I would have to make sure all the various software and hardware that I use would still run under 64-bit. There was only one way to find out for real.

I was also keen to see what Hyper-V was all about. This is Microsoft's new version of Virtual Server. The idea is that it takes advantage of features in your processor to run more efficiently. I wasn't 100% sure if my processor supported these capabilities, but I was willing to give it a shot.

I was getting tired of doing development work within a VPC and transferring files between the guest and host operating systems. I liked the idea of running SharePoint 2007 directly on my main operating system. No more booting up a VPC to check exactly where a configuration option was. I would be able to code directly on the host. Now VPCs aren't that much of a pain, and they have their own advantages, but I was keen to see what it would be like to run MOSS natively.

Finally, by going Windows 2008, I can run 64-bit virtual machines. Yes – I could also do this with VMWare on Vista, but since I was going to get all the other benefits with Windows 2008, this was an extra bonus. This may become more important later this year. I suspect that Microsoft will start to release early betas of SharePoint vNext before the year is out. If this is only going to run on 64-bit (just like Exchange), I want to be set up so that I can install them.

Right – so now that I convinced myself, it was time to begin. My first mistake was to back up all my content using Vista backups. I had been running these for a while, so it seemed like a safe bet. The problem came later when I attempted to restore these from Windows 2008. The backup software is not the same between these platforms and I couldn't find any software that would read the Visa backups. I ended up restoring these to another Vista computer and then copying the files across. So I'd recommend just copying your Vista data files onto a separate hard drive.

Another hassle with the Vista backups is that it does not include executable files or help files by default. So even after the restore I had to download the MOSS and WSS SDK packages again. Not a big hassle, but something to be aware of.

As a belt-and-braces measure, I used Acronis TrueImage to take a snapshot of my entire computer. This was in case the exercise turned into an unmitigated disaster and I needed to roll back. My 130 GB of content got compressed down to a 85 GB file. Thankfully I haven't had to use this, so I can't say what the restore process is like.

Now for the risky part. I downloaded the Windows 2008 RTM from my MSDN subscription and created a DVD. I rebooted and walked through the process of deleting my existing partitions (eek!) and creating one new partition for the new install.

WARNING: If you are planning to use Hyper-V then make sure to leave the regional settings at US English during installation. I'm in Australia, so I thought I would change these during the installation process. It turns out that the current (beta) release of Hyper-V does not like this, and I ended up having to re-install from scratch. Note that you can't just revert to the US English regional settings if you experience this problem. You can only change to your correct locale AFTER Hyper-V has been enabled. I'm sure this will get fixed soon.

Apart from that hiccup, the process was straightforward. My Bluetooth mouse worked from the moment the installation commenced. I think the installation process took about 30 minutes before I was booting into my new desktop.

After getting the bare bones installation up and running, here are the configuration changes that I've made:

1. Configured my BIOS to enable Virtualisation support

2. Enabled the following server roles:
  • File Server (including the Windows Search Service)
  • Hyper-V
  • Web Server (including, and IIS 6 Management)
3. Enabled the following server features:
  • .Net Framework 3.0
  • Desktop Experience – includes Media Player
  • Wireless LAN Service – you need this to connect to your WiFi LAN
4. Disabled the shutdown prompt by updating my local group policy
  • Start->Run->"gpedit.msc" -> Administrative Template ->System-> Display Shutdown event tracked -> Disable
5. Configured my Hyper-V network so that I can easily share files between my host and client machines (Bryant Likes's blog)

6. Installed the Synaptic x64 Fingerprint reader driver

7. Installed the Dell x64 sound card drivers

Now I'm very content with my setup. Response time is much faster than my old build. Hyper-V is very slick. VPCs seem to run more efficiently. There are a few hassles though:

  • Sleep mode is gone – I think this is due to Hyper-V
  • Battery life seems to be worse, probably because the power management seems less sophisticated than Vista.
  • Even though my Bluetooth mouse worked, I couldn't connect to my Bluetooth mobile phone (a Nokia N73). I did try to install the Dell x64 Bluetooth drivers, but that didn't help. In fact, now my Bluetooth mouse no longer works :(
  • Picasa won't install (photo management software)
  • Microsoft Shared View beta installs, but won't log in

On balance though, I'm happy. The performance boost is great and I'll now get some experience poking around the new OS. I've just gotten MOSS 2007 up and running, so I can see what it's like to develop straight on the laptop.

Here are some of the links I found useful when doing my installation: