Thursday, January 15, 2009

How to Get, Install and Play With Windows 7, Pain Free

by Matt Buchanan.

You've been thinking about installing Windows 7 Beta 1 now that it's totally available to anyone. Well, here's our complete guide to grabbing, installing and playing with Windows 7—it's (mostly) painless, so no excuses!

Are You Ready?
First thing's first—you might be tired of XP, but can your computer handle Windows 7? Probably! Here are the minimum requirements:
• 1 GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor
• 1 GB of system memory
• 16 GB of available disk space
• Support for DirectX 9 graphics with 128 MB memory (to enable the Aero theme)
• DVD-R/W Drive (actually not necessary)

Where to Get It
Microsoft is obviously the first stop to getting Windows 7. Here's the download page, where you'll pick either 32 or 64-bit version. If you have 4GB of RAM or more, get 64-bit. You'll need your Live ID and Microsoft will want some info about you, but just lie or tell the truth or whatever, and you'll be taken to a download page with your product key. If you have some trouble getting the download link to work after getting your product key (like me), here are the direct links to the 32-bit image file and 64-bit image file.

Even if Microsoft's own servers are crumbling under the strain of surprisingly strong demand (though I downloaded at 1MB/sec just fine), you can always hit BitTorrent. You're looking for Windows 7 Beta 1, build 7000. Other benefit to torrent: It'll still be available after Microsoft's Jan. 24 deadline and you don't need a Microsoft Live ID. But you will need to get your own product key.

Getting Stuff Ready
Windows 7, from everything we've heard is surprisingly stable beta, and it's easy to upgrade from Vista, since it happens automagically. However, that doesn't mean you should run it as your sole OS (especially on your work computer), because your programs might not work with it (they should, but you never know), crash possibilities and other unknown unknowns. should dual boot it, meaning you'll be able to run either OS at startup. Luckily, Lifehacker has a step-by-step guide to doing just that.

It works especially nicely if you have two hard drives in a desktop (like me), but most likely, you'll have to partition. Keep in mind if you're partitioning a single hard drive, the minimum space for Windows 7 is 16GB, and you'll probably want more room than that. Again, Lifehacker has the complete details, but the short version is that in Vista, run "Computer Management" from the Start Menu and you can complete all of the partition voodoo from Disk Management, like shrinking your current volume to give your new Windows 7 partition that minimum 16GB of breathing room. And you know, actually creating the fresh partition for Windows 7. (Do that now, and remember which one it is!) For XP, you'll need the GParted Live CD, which you burn to a CD, restart, boot from disc, and do the partition thang.

How to Get Windows 7 on Your computer
After getting install downloaded and hard drive prepped, you've got a couple of options for actually getting Windows 7 onto your computer. The first, and easiest, is to make a Windows 7 disc by burning the image to a DVD using something like ImgBurn.

If you're installing Windows 7 on a Mac, you can burn the image to a DVD with Disk Utility.

Or, you can do what I'm doing since I'm out of blank DVDs at the moment, and put it on a flash drive for installation. This is also how you'll get it on a netbook or MacBook Air. You'll need a 4GB USB 2.0 flash drive and a mounting program like Daemon Tools on Windows or MountMe on Mac. Format the flash drive in FAT32, mount the Windows 7 image, then copy everything over to the flash drive.

Hello easy part! Pop in your disc or your flash drive. Boot from it, and follow the wizard, installing Windows 7 on your clean partition (under Custom installation type). On a Mac, Boot Camp Assistant will take you through the process after you slide in the Windows disc. Make sure it's the right partition or you will hose your actual current Windows install. Then go watch some TV or take a poop while it does its thing. Come back, and you'll have a few more setup screens—hope you wrote your license key down!—then you'll be up and rolling with Windows 7.

Now what?
The initial setup is fast and easy, but you might wanna check out your driver situation. Mac users, for instance, have a little bit of work ahead of them, since you'll have to install drivers from the OS X disc, and if you're running 64-bit, download the Boot Camp 2.1 update.

Well, there's a lot to check out in Windows 7. Like the new Media Center, which has 10 new features we're really hyped about, like sweet dissolve effects, turboscrolling, virtual channels and remote copying.

The new taskbar is one of its major new UI features that's both exciting and at first a little confusing, since it works a lot differently than the taskbar you're used. Checking out Microsoft's video tour before you jump might save you some frustration. There's also Aero Shake, which knocks all the clutter off your desktop instantly; Snap, with its instant window resizing; and Peek, which is like turbocharged thumbnail previews.

Oh, and whatever you guys do, don't play your MP3s in Windows Media Player, since it could corrupt them! Update: There's a patch out for this issue, here's the 64-bit download and here's the 32-bit.

There's definitely a lot to play around with. Let us know in the comments once you get your install running what else you think people should check out as soon as they get their machine fired up! If you've got any other install tricks, let us know about those too!

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