Roughly a year after my Windows Vista installation on a MacBook Air (MBA), it is time for an update. Running Windows 7 for quite some time on my personal laptop and on my office systems, I decided it was time for an upgrade.

Vista runs great on the MBA. I almost never had any issues. Since a few weeks ago the keyboard backlight has to be turned on manually. Sometimes the laptop does not come back from sleep and requires hard reboot (same but less often in Mac OS). That said I consider the MBA a decent system to run Windows Vista.

So far we (we? See later) have only little experience running Windows 7 Beta on the MBA but boot time has greatly improved and resume from sleep hasn’t caused any issues. The keyboard backlight works again. The whole system seems to run much faster and is more responsive.

Read on to find out about my installation of 32-bit Vista Ultimate on a MacBook Air.

Vista on a MacBook Air – Wrap up

Quite a few people sent private email or left comments on the previous post about the Vista install. Thanks very much for your attention, tips and questions and apologize if I have not replied to you!

I ended up with a Windows Vista Boot Camp installation and the MBA is very, very rarely booted into the Mac OS. I kept both, Vista and the Mac OS, up to date with fixes and Service Packs and both OSses work very well on the MBA.

Below an image of the perf. information window of Windows Vista on the MBA:


I cannot confirm that the MBA gets hot when in Vista and doing more than just web browsing. All in all I am a happy customer.

I have to admit though that I do not have a lot of access to the MBA. My wife is using it. She “took it away” from me some time ago. Her previous laptop was a <insert a common brand name > and she felt like she wanted to use something more stylish. What can you do … She uses the laptop every day, always running Vista.
Looking at the typical use pattern, doing email, writing documents, surfing the web, working with spreadsheets for her small business, I would consider her an information worker type of user.

Windows 7 on a MacBook Air

Let’s take a look at the Windows 7 install on our MBA. Remember, I have a previous installation of Windows Vista on the disk. The goal was to wipe the existing Windows Vista partition and install Windows 7 (Win7) instead. My MBA has a 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a 64GB solid state drive. It is one of the first generation MBAs and YMMV when installing and running Win7.
BTW, I installed the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate. I didn’t see the need for a 64-bit OS on a system like the MBA.


USB Boot

I tried to build a USB stick with the Win7 ISO image on it to boot the MBA from a USB stick. There’s a great video over at TechNet Edge Installing Win7 using a USB Stick. I tried to create the USB stick using the video and paying close attention to the comments from many of the folks having watched the video. I could never get the MBA to boot from a USB stick or even recognize the USB stick as a bootable device. My stripped down version of the Mac OS on another USBV stick boots just fine. I’ve tried the media I prepared on a laptop and it worked well. Since I did not figure out what the issue is, I assume it is due to user error or I missed something. Too bad. Note to self: Further investigation necessary.


Network Boot

The MBA allows accessing a wirelessly shared DVD/CD-ROM. Did it work to boot and install from it? Short answer, no. I have 2 wireless networks at home, one for video streaming (802.11n), one for web, email etc (802.11g). Only the latter was visible. The transmission is protected via WPA2. I was able to connect to the network form the MBA boot screen but I was not able to see the disk I had shared via the Apple utility on the same network on an XP box. Even removing WPA and opening the network wide did not yield any results. Note to self: Requires more testing.


Installation via SuperDrive

This is the installation I went for. Connecting the DVD drive, rebooting the MBA and waiting for the DVD media to appear in the boot menu while pressing the Option key. After selecting the DVD icon, everything continued to go very smooth. Well, I had to reboot once because I missed the “Press any key to boot from DVD …” dialog and the system booted back into Windows Vista.

Having done quite a few installations over the last months I was a bit surprised how long the installation actually took. For Windows 7 standards I have to say. While I did not measure the exact time, it took about 40 minutes from booting the DVD to first sign on (“Preparing your desktop”).

No surprises at all during the installation. Not that I expected any ;). Preparing the desktop for the first time took roughly 45 seconds. At some point during the install I was asked which wireless network I wanted to join. Very nice! The MBA has a Broadcom 802.11n network adapter according to the Vista device manager.

When the user desktop was prepared for the first time, Windows Update kicked in and found 2 updates available. One is the Windows Defender signature file, the other is a Windows Beta update for Win7. Both installed flawlessly and after reboot (the Windows Beta update does some post logoff and pre-logon work, be a bit patient), the system was up to the latest beta software.


Boot Camp and drivers

Now for the fun part. Devices. This is a great story! Again, depending on your model and hardware configuration YMMV!
The only driver that was marked as missing from the device manager was the driver for the built-in iSight camera. Further investigation yielded the following: The right mouse button (two-finger-on-the-mouse-pad-mouse-button-click) did not work, the backlit keyboard stayed dark and none of the function keys did work either. No panic, we have not yet installed the Boot Camp drivers.

I inserted the Mac OS installation disk that comes with the MBA and the driver installation kicked in. Took a while but was worth every minute. BTW, my Boot Camp version is 2.01. I installed the Boot Camp stuff and enabled automatic update to catch some later drivers and updates, if available. After an eventless installation, a reboot is required. What a great and pleasant surprise! All drivers did install and everything I tried (keyboard, mouse, camera …) worked great.

Oh well, expect for the sound. The OS install prepared a High Definition Audio device that did not work. Since I knew Realtek HD audio hardware is installed I went to the Realtek website, downloaded and installed the audio codec/device driver for Vista (you have to accept the agreement to get to the download), unfortunately to no effect. After a reboot audio was still not working.

Since I had seen this in another installation before, I tried the same trick as before and it worked. Just to into the device manager and update the driver manually via Update Driver Software …/Browse my Computer…/Let me pick…/Have Disk and navigate to the Vista folder of the extracted ZIP file you’ve downloaded from Realtek. Install the “Realtek High Definition Audio” device (I picked the first from 2 in the list). I had to reboot after the installation to get full fidelity (from the one built-in speaker J).


Files and Settings Transfer

Not much to say here. Works as expected. In Vista I ran the transfer wizard and saved all files and settings to a connected USB drive. After the installation I ran the Windows 7 version via double click onto the file to restore the settings and files. Just works. All email accounts, mailboxes, files, settings for all Microsoft and most 3rd party applications have been restored and – after a reboot – the desktop is restored with all shortcuts and stuff from the previous Vista desktop.

Note to self: Write an update to this post about user experience running Windows 7 and applications on the MacBook Air.