Sunday, 18 September 2011

Tutorial #1: Installing 64-bit Windows 8 onto 32-bit Windows 7 PC using USB Boot Drive

The Daily Review - 19th September 2011
Photo © Photo Knockouts |

This tutorial walks you through installing the 64-bit version of the Developer Preview of Windows 8 and Developer Tools on an old PC that has 32-bit Windows installed, using a USB boot key.

Why the 64-bit version?

Because, at the time of writing the only 32-bit version available from Microsoft excludes the preview developer tools like Expression Blend 5 for HTML and Visual Studio 2011 Express Edition.

Why not install from DVD?

Because the 64-bit image is too big for most DVDs, clocking in at just under 5GB. Microsoft's Developer Preview web site insists that 'most' modern writers can write to a DVD-9 dual-layer format disc. This is not true in my experience, and most other PC owners seem to have come to the same conclusion. A USB boot key of at least 8GB size is an easier bet.

What sort of PC will I need?

Well a 64-bit one of course. For the purposes of this tutorial I did a clean install on an HP DV2-1035E netbook, which originally came with Windows Vista and has since been upgraded to Windows 7. It has been a huge disappointment because although it has 4GB memory, the initially promised Blu-ray drive (my main reason for purchasing) never materialised from HP, and the Athlon Nero 64-bit processor and graphics subsystem are slower than the slowest thing from the planet VerySlowIndeed. Can Windows 8 give it a boost? Yes it can!

In truth the netbook has been such a poor performer it's been unusable for development work, and in the 3 years I've owned it, it's had less use than my iPad got in its first week of purchase. The poor battery life has only compounded the problems, so the notebook was of little use.

Windows 8 has given it a new lease of life. Hooked up to a 42" plasma, with an external keyboard and mouse, it's become an extremely usable development PC, which it wasn't before. There are stories on Twitter of people with much lower spec'ed PCs (with much less memory) being similarly surprised by the performance boost they've got with Windows 8. And for a pre-beta preview release it's surprisingly stable.

What do I need?

You will need the following to renovate your old PC

  • A USB Key of at least 8GB (I used this 16GB Sandisk Cruzier USB Key which cost under £12, delivered from Amazon UK).
  • The Windows 8 Developer Download ISO image which can be downloaded from here (the first listed download)
  • A Windows 7 32-bit installation ISO (from MSDN) or original install DVD (why you will need this will be explained shortly!)
  • Software that can grab files from inside an ISO file eg WinZip or 7-Zip (needed to grab a 32-bit boot driver for the USB key, explained shortly)
  • The Windows 7 DVD/USB Download Tool which is a free download, available on Codeplex
  • A PC that supports a width of at least 1024 pixels and a height of 768 pixels

How long will it take to install?

There have been some impressive Twitter reports of Windows 8 installing in less than 10 minutes! Although the install process is generally much quicker than Vista or Windows7, with much fewer steps to fill in, it still took nearly 2 hours to install on my 'old' netbook, with most of the time being spent with a 'progress' roller saying 'Configuring Settings'.

Some blurry install screenshots

Step 1: Download the required software to your hard drive, install the Windows 7 DVD/USB Download Tool and insert the USB key

Using the links above this should be quite straightforward. Run the Windows 7 DVD/USB Download Tool msi so the software is installed and ready to create your bootable USB drive.

Step 2: Extract bootsect.exe from the Windows 7 32-bit ISO to the Download Tool directory

This is the annoying bit. If you just run the Windows 7 USB Download Tool against the new 64-bit Windows 8 ISO image it will fail at the very last step with an irritating 'Bootsect.exe is invalid' error.

Google this and you'll find LOTS of hits, all with the same annoying instruction to go to the Microsoft Store and select an option against your Windows 7 order to get the 32-bit version of this file. Not much use to anyone who didn't buy from the Microsoft Store (that'll be all of us then!) and there are some hilariously heated exchanges on different forums as users get frustrated trying to find this file, and getting auto-robot answers to go the the Store from Microsoft support staff.

The problem is that the ISO is 64-bit, but you're trying to create a bootable USB drive from a 32-bit Windows operating system. You need the 32-bit version of Bootsect.exe, but the only sites claiming to have it are extremely dubious ones that expect you to sign up and run proprietary 'downloader' programs for a Microsoft file that Microsoft themselves won't let you have directly. Dodgy!

This is why we need the Windows 7 32-bit ISO or original install DVD. If you crack open the ISO with a utility like Winzip or 7-Zip and browse to the Boot sub-directory you will find the required 32-bit bootsect.exe file there. You need to copy this to the folder where the Windows 7 USB Download tool was installed. This will usually be a folder of the form C:\Users\xxxxxxx\AppData\Local\Apps\Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool where 'xxxxxxx' is your user id.

Some more blurry install screenshots

Step 3: Run the Download tool to create your bootable USB Drive

With that file copied across you can then run the tool which then walks you through a four-step wizard, which asks you to browse to the Windows 8 ISO image, then the USB key and then starts copying the required files to the USB key.

Step 4: Boot the USB drive

Reboot your PC drive, using the BIOS over-ride key (which varies from one PC to another) to select a different boot drive than the hard disk that's normally used. When your PC boots up it normally tells you which key this is, but tends to flash up and disappear quite promptly so you need to be quick to catch it if you don't already know which key it is (it was F9 on my HP DV2).

Even more blurry install screenshots

Step 5: Customise the installation

You'll eventually get a Metro-like set of input screens to let you customise the installation with things like your PC name, the Windows Live id you want to log in with and the name of the network you want to connect to. I was impressed with the way the startup automatically detected my weird HP wirless network driver (something my Windows 7 upgrade had spectacularly failed to do), but came acropper trying to connect to my secure home network, repeatedly displaying an error stating that the network password was invalid.

It may be something to do with the fact I have a 13-character password that is actually a 'regular' 12-character password padded out with a space at the end that caused Windows 8 to object to a password that works fine in Windows 7. I remembered having had a similar problem trying to connect an Apple Mini Mac, where it transpired that Apple requires the wireless password to be input in ASCII hexadecimal code. In desperation I tried this approach for Windows 8 - and it worked! Go figure!

Install Windows Updates

None of the Metro apps will run unless you have at least 1024x768 resolution. In my case my laptop was 1200x720 and I couldn't figure out why desktop apps worked fine but Metro tiles would just swing lazily when I clicked the mouse on them. A quick change to up the resolution to a height of 768 fixed everything for me. Some users have found themselves 'locked' to too low a resolution that they couldn't up-rate until they ran Windows Update. Within hours of the Windows 8 ISO becoming available there were already 10 important updates available, so make sure you run Windows Update until your system is fully up-to-date. I've found new updates nearly every day since I first did the install!

Final set of blurry install screenshots

Install Windows Applications

After you've played with Metro for a while, you'll probably feel confident enough to want to install your main PC apps. It's early days for me, but just one word of warning about Office 2010. Installation of the 64-bit version of this will fail because a 32-bit version of the PowerPoint Viewer has already been installed on the ISO image, and Office doesn't like having mixed 64-bit and 32-bit pieces lying around. You will need to go to Control Panel and uninstall the PowerPoint Viewer software for the 64-bit Office 2010 installation to complete successfully.

I'm sure there will be other gotcha's for people, depending on their hardware/software configurations. If you've got a story to tell, or a tip for others, please post it in the Comments section below. For my part, once I'd sorted out the bootsect.exe issue, and a way to enter my wireless networking password, the installation just went very smoothly - arguably the best Windows installation I've ever had :-)

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