Dell XPS All-in-one A2420

Dell XPS ONE A2420

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!

Windows 7 Update Update

March 3, 2010

Still plugging away with Windows 7 on a variety of machines.
Latest one to feel the goodness is my Dell Latitude E4300, now upgraded to swanky full 64bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate. With an SSD on board it is a nice machine to work on!

Only a couple of tweaks required post-install… convenience rather than driver issues…
… essential install is the Dell Control Point (DCP) System Manager software as it gives you the nice on-screen-displays, and allows you to tweak such things as the backlight brightness on the E4300 backlit keyboard. I am totally converted, I find it odd to use a machine without a backlit keyboard these days!
Get 64bit (Vista & Win7) DCP System Manager here:

http://support.dell.com/support/downloads/format.aspx?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs&deviceid=21360&libid=60&releaseid=R252981&vercnt=4&formatcnt=0&SystemID=LAT_E4300&servicetag=&os=WV64&osl=en&catid=-1&dateid=-1&typeid=-1&formatid=-1&impid=-1&checkFormat=true

Or if that link ever breaks; search from http://support.dell.com/ with your machine type, and select driver and software downloads.

Windows 7 Update

July 11, 2009

I keep meaning to update my progress with Windows 7… but am getting distracted by “other things that need my attention”.

Dell Latitude E4300

One of my team very kindly short-circuited my procrastination gene and handed me an SSD with a Windows 7 RC image for my E4300 already pre-installed. Even I can manage a hard-disk swap 🙂

It’s a very nice environment to work in… No doubt this is helped an awful lot by the responsive solid state disk on which the OS is installed. It’s nice that everything “just works”. Not had a single crash the whole time I’ve been using it… no song and dance required with any of the peripherals that I have tested it with so far (cameras, music players, etc.) This is in contrast to a friend of mine, a vocal Open Source and Linux supporter, who was bitching to me about the flakiness of USB memory stick support in the latest version of his once favoured Linux distribution!

Windows 7 (RC), so far so good 🙂

Windows7 Take 1

February 2, 2009

Microsoft Windows

I finally got around to downloading and burning a DVD of Windows7 beta.
It was a close run thing, as I was also busily downloading openSUSE 11.1; that’s next 🙂

The first machine that came to hand was a splendid Dell Latitude D610, with the following spec.:

  • Pentium M 1.8GHz
  • 1.5Gb RAM
  • Intel 915GM integrated graphics
  • Broadcom BCM 4309 a/b/g wireless
  • 14″ XGA (1024×768) LCD
  • 40Gb 2.5″ IDE hard disk

No exotic hardware… so there were no driver issues 🙂

Observations during/post the install:

  1. At the very first “Get ready to install” screen, the helpful “Guide to installation” makes copious references to Windows Vista installation 🙂
  2. Once you press the “Go install” button you have the option to choose a partition on which to install Windows7.
  3. Windows does like its restarts 🙂
  4. I don’t mind, as I like the Win7 logo… I’m a sucker for the shiny lights, and cylon-like flashing bar.
  5. Having to enter a license key is still weird for me… as I’ve only ever used corporately pre-activated Windows builds and Linux.
  6. Faultless detection of wireless hardware, slick connection to the access point, smooth instant download of new patches. An altogether reassuring experience.
  7. The D610 scores a 1.0 out 7.9 on the Windows Experience Index…all due to the rather poor performance of the integrated video card. Doesn’t matter – I wasn’t expecting a killer gaming machine!

Altogether, a nice first pass.

Next up for the Windows7 treatment will be the Latitude XT (first generation) tablet.

[Edit: for handy Latitude XT installation notes, please see the comment from Andy. Nice one, thanks for sharing!]

Microsoft and Virtualization

January 16, 2009

Microsoft Windows

I have a varied selection of Operating Systems installed on various systems that I use. However one thing is quite clear (to me at least), each OS is there for a reason, and usually that is down to the fact that I need it for a particular application (personal preference), or that’s what policy dictates is on the machine 😉

To the point… I have in the recent past defaulted to “install a Linux distro.” on any machine that I have to use for myself… this is likely due to three things:

  1. I generally have a DVD of a Linux distro. to hand
  2. I know (somewhat) what I am doing with Linux
  3. Linux is free (as in beer, as well as freedom), so I can legally install it anywhere I so choose. ¹

However, lately, I get the feeling I’ve been too Linux-centric, and have been missing out on what Windows has to offer. For example, my work laptop, has Vista installed, which, you know, isn’t so bad [gasp!]. My usage for that system is pretty straightforward – I need to *get my job done*, and that usually means E-mail (our corporate standard is Exchange, and Outlook 2007 works well enough), and a selection of Office 2007 applications – for interoperability reasons, I don’t have much choice there, and frankly the applications are very good, but for the price, they should be!

The bottom line is that I’m probably too focused on the mono-culture that is Linux 🙂 and perhaps I should broaden my horizons to include some of those Microsoft Operating Systems too. So I will make a New Year’s Resolution to try installing some Windows OS on machines that need a new OS for a change.

Perhaps I’ll even try a Beta of the new Windows 7. A handy install guide is on Guillaume Field’s blog. In fact maybe I’ll even go so far as trying it out on my rather nice Dell Mini-9, according to Guillaume’s Guide to Installing Windows 7 on a Dell Mini-9.

Full disclosure: I work with Guillaume, and frankly he generally knows what he is doing with Microsoft products, so I would bookmark that blog if you ever think you might want to hear about Microsoft’s latest toys!

¹ I probably have  enough COA stickers attached to the back/underside of various systems for me to legally install Windows everywhere too 🙂