Sunday, August 31, 2008
My trusty old gigantic Sony Vaio is about 4 years old. It served me well and still works but it’s about to become my main development machine for the next couple of months and I can’t afford to have it die on me during that time.
It was time to get something as gigantic and more up-to-date in terms of technology.
I use VMware on my main desktop to keep multiple OS setups that match typical configurations of my customer’s machines.
This allows me to test my software before deployment and make sure everything works as expected. It saved me many times from strange bugs and I would consider these final tests to be a mandatory step before deployment.
My old trusty vaio would be hard pressed to run any of these without slowing down to a crawl.
I looked at some possible replacements. Initially I checked Lenovo’s offerings but they don’t seem to offer anything in large screen size (WUXGA 1920×1200) (Note, actually, they have, but not really for me).
Dito for Dell, not counting their humongous XPS M1730 luggable gaming machine that was wayyy over the top as a work computer, not to mention probably heavier than its volume in pure gold.
On a hint from a friend I checked out Apple’s online store and saw they had a nice Macbook Pro configuration. I went to check it out in the retail store close to my office and they had that exact specification in stock, so, in what must have been the highest rated expense/time-to-think ratio of any decision I ever took, well, I bought it…
The spec, some bragging rights:
- Macbook Pro 17″
- Core Duo T9500 2.6GHz processor
- nVidia 8600M GT 512MB graphics card
- 200GB 7200rpm drive
- Kingston 4GB DDR2 667MHz RAM
- Hi Resolution 17″ 1920×1200 glossy screen
It’s a very nice machine, Apple knows how to make nice hardware, there is no question there.
OSX has some cool features, some of them still a bit foreign to me and some minor annoyances are creeping up, like Thunderbird’s not picking up my system date and time settings and displaying the date in the wrong format (a pet peeve of me), probably not Apple’s fault but annoying nonetheless.
So far so good and while I don’t mind using OSX for my browsing, email and creative stuff, that machine is meant to be running Windows Server 2008 x64 as a development platform.
Why Windows Server 2008 x64?
Well, it has some excellent features, a smaller footprint than Vista, all the aero eye candy, is apparently noticeably faster than Vista and has none of the nagging security prompt (you are considered administrator though, so keeping safe is entirely up to you).
The 64 bit version can also address the full 4GB of RAM without limitation and all server features are optionally installable.
By default, the installation is actually pretty minimal and you have to set services and options to get Windows configured as a proper workstation. It is after all, meant to be a server.
Oh, I almost forgot that there is also support for HyperV, although you must make sure you download the right version (if you list all available downloads in your MSDN subscription, you’ll see some that are explicitly without that technology).
Installing Windows Server 2008 x64 is remarkably easy.
- Get your hands on the ISO from your MSDN subscription or an install DVD from somewhere else (like a MS event, or even as a free 240 days download from Microsoft).
- You’ll need to repackage the ISO as it won’t work properly (something to do with non-standard file naming options).
It’s fairly easy if you follow the instructions from Jowie’s website (cached version): you can get the ImgBurn software for free as well, which is a good find in itself. It should’t take more than 30 minutes to repackage the DVD.
- In OSX, go to Applications > Utilities > Boot camp and follow the instructions on screen.
You will be able to resize the default partition by just moving the slider. I left 60GB for OSX and allocated the rest to Windows. The good thing is that OSX can read Windows partitions, so you can always store data there. Windows however, can’t read the HFS+ mac file system, although there are some third-party tools that can do it   .
- Insert your repackaged DVD and Bootcamp will have rebooted the machine.
After a few minutes of blank screen (and no HDD activity light to let you know something is happening), windows setup launches.
- You will be then prompted with the choice of partition to install to.
Select the one named BOOTCAMP, then click the advanced options button and click format. From there one, windows will install everything, then reboot, then carry on installing, then reboot one last time.
- Now, insert your OSX recovery CD 1. It should automatically launch the driver installation.
Once done, you’ll reboot to a nice, full-resolution windows prompt.
- All drivers will have been installed correctly except the one for Bluetooth. To easily solve that issue, just go to Spencer Harbar’s website and read how to install the Bluetooth drivers. Takes 5 minutes tops.
The final touches
A few notes to quickly get things running as expected.
- Get the most of your configuration by following the list of tweaks from Vijayshinva Karnure from Microsoft India.
- There are more tweaks, and even more tweaks available as well (don’t forget to enable Superfetch).
- Microsoft has a whole KB entry on enabling user experience.
- In the Control Panel > System > Advanced System Settings > Advanced > Settings > Advanced > Processor scheduling, set to Programs instead of Background services.
- Activate your copy of Windows using Control Panel > System.
I was getting an error code 0x8007232B DNS name does not exist error. To force activation, just click on the Change Product Key button and re-enter the same key you used during install.
Windows will activate straight away.
- When booting your Macbook, press the Option key and you will be presented a list of boot choices.
- You can check on Apple’s Bootcamp webpage other information about how to use the track pad, keyboard layouts etc,
- http://www.sturmnet.org/blog/archives/2008/10/02/stuff-i-use-on-the-mac/ Lots of software recommendations for someone switching from Windows to the Mac.