in Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Software

The Best Windows PC is… a Mac?

Windows XP Installing on a MacBook Pro

Some of you will know of my odd status as a PC and Mac user.  I switch between both depending on where I am and what I’m doing; you’ll also know of my weakness for shiny Apple hardware and my purchase of a MacBook Pro within hours of their release.  So I followed with interest the competition to get Windows XP running on the MacBook, and even tried out the open source effort that resulted; eventually giving up on it when I realised that driver support just wasn’t there.

Until now.  Apple just officially sanctioned dual booting on their Intel-based machines with “Boot Camp”.  A preview for now (apparently of Leopard code) it creates a driver CD and then allows an XP SP2 CD to boot and install.  Of course I had to try it within hours of finding out about it.  Here’s how I got on….

Luckily last night I’d already downloaded and installed the latest OS X update (10.4.6).  This whole “Boot Camp” thing explains why the update for the MacBook was considerably larger than the same update on my PPC based G5.  The only thing left to do was download the MacBook Pro firmware update, and the Boot Camp assistant itself.  With the firmware updated I could go ahead and run the assistant.

After accepting the dire warnings that this is preview software and shouldn’t be used in a production environment it allowed me to burn a CD with XP drivers for all the MacBook Pro hardware.  (Well, nearly all the hardware – see later on for what’s not included.)

After building the driver CD, you must choose how much of the OS X drive to partition for Windows.  I chose to give up about 25Gb for Windows – that should be adequate for testing and installing games.  Also, with MacDrive I should be able to access data on the Mac partition from Windows.  This was a very simple process – drag the slider around until happy and then click the button, it had finished in less than 60 seconds.  Then, stick the XP Pro SP2 CD in and reboot the MacBook…

The system booted from the XP CD into a standard setup screen.  No sign of any behind the scenes magic (patching system files on the fly) like in the open-source effort, it just worked… I may dig out my Vista DVD and see if whatever Apple have done will allow that to boot. :)

Unfortunately the first try failed at the partition selection screen when the system hung – to the point where I had to power off.  I unplugged all the usb devices I had in, and started again – this time it worked perfectly.  I selected the partition to format and it started copying files across.  Checking the FAQ reveals that there is a known issue: the Mighty Mouse can’t be plugged in during the first install of XP.

After the usual thrashing about, and a little over an hour after I downloaded the file I was looking at an (admittedly low res) Windows XP desktop.  Success!

I put the Apple created driver CD in and let it unpack everything.  The entire install runs unattended – it does the Intel Chipset, then the ATI graphics.  I didn’t notice the network install happen, but all of a sudden the icons popped up for wireless and LAN in the system tray.  After that came the audio install and a reboot.

When it came back up the panel was running at its native resolution.  One more new hardware found wizard later (BlueTooth) and the entire system was working.  Just over an hour from a machine with just OS X on to a machine running a fully patched copy of Windows XP Pro SP2.

Hardware that doesn’t work:  the IR remote, the iSight camera, the sudden-motion-sensor, the ambient light sensor.

The next important things:

  • How fast can it run Microsoft Virtual Server R2, and with how many concurrent virtual machines.
  • And, perhaps most important: can it run UT2004, Rise of Nations and Counter-Strike: Source ?

More info to come…

  1. Flash git with too many toys and too much freee time????

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