Dell XPS A2420 All-in-one Media Center Windows 7 Upgrade!
May 24, 2011
The Windows 7 upgrades continue!
The main reason why the XPS A2420 was one of the last machines that I have upgraded to Windows 7, was purely down to the fact that I had no reason to do so, until recently :)
The machine has been happily running the factory installed Vista Home Premium Edition from new, and for 95% of its life has been used as a Media Center; hence pretty much all that is was running was Windows Media Center. The machine was regularly updated with all important, and recommended updates from Microsoft. Also, all recommended hardware upgrades (from Microsoft) were applied. So far, so good.
This system is an extremely effective Media Center PC. With it’s built in web-cam and microphones, it is also a very useful video-conferencing system, or just handy for the odd bit of Skyping with friends and family. Using a handy XBOX-360 as a Media Center Extender allows recorded TV from the A2420 to be shared to the TV in the living room. Sharing the “Recorded TV” folder on the A2420 allows the content to be watched on any laptop in the house – a handy bonus :)
I believe that this sytem has remaind stable and useable for such a long time, as virtually no additional software has been installed other than Skype, and some virus-scanning and anti-malware utilities. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and recently the system has started mis-behaving. Initially it started by refusing to create thumbnails of recorded programmes in the RecordedTV; not a bid deal – we can live without thumbnails. Not long after this the system started to respond very slowly when switching between menu sections, with the “spinning circle of wait” hanginng around longer and longer. This was possibly related to the the thumbnail issue – perhaps the system was trying to rebuild all the thumbnails every time the menu section was opened?
In order to minimise Media Center down-time (it’s an *important* highly used system around here!), I sought some remedies, spending a couple of days Bing’ing and Google’ing possible answers.
I tried a variety of the suggested solutions, including, amongst other things, checking the registry to ensure that Media Center Recorded TV content was still associated with the Media Center application; deleting thumbnail previews; clear thumbnail caches; clearing the Media Center database; plenty of reboots. No improvement.
I was left with two options:
- Reboot & return the system to “factory configuration” – Vista Home Premium Edition
- Upgrade to Windows 7
I had resisted installing Windows 7 on this sytem for some time as I understood there to be a number of problems due to the fact that this system has never (officially) been supported with Windows 7. This is understandable, given that the hardware ceased production not long after Windows 7 was made available, so retrofitting support for equipment that is no longer available is costly and unlikely to happen. Having said that – there are no especially exotic components within the system, so in theory there shouldn’t be too many issues.
There are a number of reports on the web describing issues with getting the graphics card working; it is an Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT, yes indeedy, a *mobile* graphics card, usually found in laptops. There is a driver available from Nvidia for this family of cards, however there were numerous reports of difficulty installing this Nvidia update, both on Windows 7, and, indeed, on Vista systems. I had, in the past, tried the latter, to see if it would fix an occasional glitchy driver issue, however the installer had refused to play ball, so that line of attack had been abandoned. There are ways to hack the installer files in order to force the issue… which I was ready to do, however, this turned out not to be required.
As I was in the midst of a software upgrade, I thought I’d take the opportunity to invalidate my long-expired warranty and upgrade the hard-disk inside the system; switching out the 320Gb 3.5″ SATA drive with a 500Gb 2.5″ laptop unit. Copious use of zip-ties made this all possible – it should be OK, the system is moved very rarely, so shouldn’t rattle about too much!
The Windows 7 (32bit version) installation went very smoothly… initially the system booted using the default VGA driver at a very low resolution (well, low by today’s HD standards!). I made the decision to allow the system to go through the Microsoft Online Update process before I tackled the graphics card driver install. To my pleasant surprise I found that the Online Update now seems to contain a native driver for the GeForce 9600M GT card. Almost all of the components now work (after allowing all updates to download and install), including the proximity detector which triggers the system to light up the touch-sensitive controls on the front panel; the aver-media TV-Tuner card; the receiver for the infra-red remote.
Currently the only outstanding (driverless) items are:
- Multi-media card reader (Ricoh R5C843 MMC Host Controller)
- The mysterious Intel Eaglelake HECI Controller
But for now, the system is back up and running, recording TV, playing it back, all that good stuff!