PC Nerding

Windows 8.1 on Dell XPS M1730

Before you ask: why one should waste 120€ and install Win 8.1 on a 2008 pc? My mom bought a cheap notebook with Win 8.1. By specs, that laptop should be a lot slower than mine’s, but Windows 8 seemed really fast. My huge notebook was still running heaviest OS ever Vista Ultimate (ugh!) and I thought it was worth a try.

Now if you are still using this old car and want to upgrade to Windows 8, don’t. I recently upgraded to 120GB SSD (on a SATA II controller) + 750GB 7200rpm disk, 8gb ram, those plus Windows 8 license were in the 350-400€ range and by shelling out 450-500€ you can buy a new laptop at least on par with M1730’s specs, with warranty, support, drivers already installed and all.

What I really liked was the Windows-ish feeling while installing. Really. Installing a new Windows 8 is still like installing the 15 years old Win 98.
First off, while the Microsoft site says you can’t upgrade from Vista, I purchased the download version thinking “easy, I’m gonna download it, put in a USB stick and install”, mostly because I didn’t want to wait for DVD shipment.
First problem. You can’t upgrade from Vista and that was clear, but the real problem was that the download tool won’t even allow you to download files from Vista. Great.
Unearthed I decided to download an ISO and we all know MS don’t have and official ISO download site. I found that MSDN users can download a RTM copy, so I looked for the hash to make sure I could get an untouched (=virus safe) ISO and I torrented it from TPB. Thumbs up for mandatory piracy.
Obliviously MS official DVD to USB tool wasn’t working with that ISO but using dd on Linux did the trick. I plugged my USB stick and rebooted.
Second problem. My CD key was not working during install, but fortunately the torrent came with a temporary one. Another thumb up for piracy.
Third problem. Windows 8 refused to install to my disk: “We couldn’t create a new partition or locate an existing one. For more information, see the Setup log files”. I tried all the methods I could google, using command line to format and repartition it, loading my controller drivers from another USB stick. Here comes the new Windows (9)8. Looks like Windows 8.1 does not install if there is an USB stick plugged in and the installation one counts. The most straightforward solution was to burn a DVD, but my drive doesn’t work anymore so I can’t boot from it. My solution was to build a PXE server then booting from NIC card.
From now the installation worked flawlessly. Before activating I switched to my legit activation key and Windows activated with no complains.

This is not Win 8.1’s fault, but there’s a fourth problem, caused by using an outdated system like my M1730: drivers. Windows 8 recognizes some stuff but you must manually install (take them from Vista 64 bit category): Chipset driver and Logitech LCD driver from Dell support , PhysX driver (see below), nVidia drivers (get them from nVidia site). You may want to install Dell Quickset for controlling LED colors without accessing bios.
Logitech LCD app you get from Dell website will only support 32 Bit applications. Last Logitech Gaming Software will NOT recognize it. I personally don’t care because I only use it as a clock.
If you have an “unknown PCI device” in your device manager, that’s PhysX. Because of M1730’s unique PhysX card model, PhysX card requires and old version (8.09.04, get it here) and it must be installed BEFORE nVidia drivers. It really doesn’t matter installing them tho because new nVidia drivers will not care about it and will use the second graphics card as PhysX processor.
Webcam will not work if you install drivers from Dell, let Win 8 use a generic driver and hide the Creative driver from Windows Update.

While my installation experience have been the worst in my life, until now my use experience with Windows 8 is ok, everything looks a lot faster than Vista, uses roughly 300MB less ram, the new interface is flat and ugly but I use it only as a big shortcut collection. I’m kinda happy with my new OS because it gave my old system some fresh air.