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Running Windows 7 Beta on a Dell E6500

So I’ve spent a good portion of time I didn’t have in the first place messing around with trying to get a stable laptop. For two years I was using a Dell D820 with Vista and after getting SP1 to resolve most of the major annoyances it was a pretty solid machine. Save for the flaky Bluetooth which usually kicked my mouse off after a day or two and would promptly blue-screen soon after.

So after getting a replacement E6500 I started to setup and customize my applications. I immediately noticed that the keyboard was worse, the hard drive was noisy, and a fresh install of Vista was terribly unstable. After a second rebuild I simply wiped the entire thing and gave Window 7 a go. I read that the Bluetooth drivers don’t install on W7 but since that device has been problematic in my hardware (even after replacing the internal card) I simply disabled it in the BIOS of my comparably more stable E6500 and ditched my BT mouse.

As much as I liked my Logitech V470 Bluetooth mouse, their new V450 Nano USB mouse I purchased is even better. The tracking is smoother and since it contains the same optical components as the previous one (848nm Laser) I chalked it up to the Bluetooth radio not being as solid as the USB radio. My biggest aversion to the USB mice was the stupidly huge dongles that were required, but the Nano USB receiver on the new design only sticks out of the USB port barely a 1/4 of an inch so you simply leave it in the laptop at all times. Goodbye Bluetooth, hello Windows 7.

Setup

My first (an only) attempt at performing an upgrade install failed about mid-way through with an ‘unknown error’. Fine, I didn’t like that build of Vista anyways, so I wiped the hard drive and started with a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate. The installation went without a hitch and after logging in I immediately knew the video drivers hadn’t loaded. I also noticed that three additional devices were marked as unknown in the device manager: 5880, SM Bus Controller, and Unknown Device.

The 5880 device is actually the Broadcom BCM5880 Unified Security Hub which integrates the internal Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and biometric fingerprint reader. Ok, fine. I can still type my password to login and the reader only worked about 3/4 of the time in Vista anyway.

The Unknown Device lists a hardware ID as “USBVID_413C&PID_8149” and a quick search showed this is the Wireless 410 Bluetooth & UWB Minicard which I have since disabled in the BIOS. There is a lengthy discussion on the NotebookReview forums regarding Windows 7 installation on a Dell E6400 which is very similar to the E6500. Some of the posts talk about installing the BT drivers successfully in compatibility mode, so if anyone gets them working please leave some comments as I doubt I’ll test this myself.

The SM Bus Controller is the Intel ICH9 Family SMBus Controller 2930 and finding drivers for that was a bit of a pain. After some searching I found that the correct software package for the Intel Mobile Chipset: R182522 (8.7.0.1007, A00). The installation package won’t run correctly so simply update the drivers manually from the Device Manager and search for drivers in the expanded location (e.g. C:DellDriversR182522). Make sure to include subfolders in the search.

These remaining packages were all downloaded from Dell using the service tag to list Vista x64 drivers:

  • BIOS – Dell A11
    • Upgraded from A09 to A11 for good measure.
  • Video – Dell nVidia Quadro NVS 160m A01 (7.15.11.7607)
    • After rebooting I had to run and calculate the Windows Experience Index in order to get Aero functioning. The EXI scored at 4.4, with the graphics hardware dragging that score down. The hard disk was 5.9 and the CPU/RAM scores were both 6.4
    • There is also a Windows Update showing for a “Prerelease WDDM 1.1 “ driver for this device but there a some discussions out there about performance issues with this driver. I choose to hide it from Windows Update as I’m seeing no video-related issues right now.
  • Pointing Device – Dell Touchpad A08 (7.102.101.215)
  • Audio – Dell IDT 92HDXXX A05 (6.10.0.6124)
    • I tried A04 and A05 drivers but with either I experienced problems with the STavCS64.exe process consuming 50% CPU after some time as it would run amuck on one core. A coworker pointed out to me that process is related to the Windows “Audio Service” which is simply an event monitor for when you plug headphones into an audio jack and stuff like that. Since I’d rather not melt my fan on this thing I simply disabled the Windows service and audio still works fine. Some people have reported better audio quality with the default Windows drivers, but I was experiencing loud popping noises during shutdown/restart until loading in the Dell IDT drivers. I also read a tip to disable the internal computer speaker to get better audio quality for music but then system beeps will be muted.
  • Software – Dell System Software A01
  • Software – Control Point System Manager A07

Impressions

I’ve been using W7 in a virtual machine for some time now so I’ve already seen (and liked) most of the UI changes: the drastically improved layout and organization of OS settings and features, the much better Network and Sharing Center, and all the other changes that other beta testers have been raving about. I’m still getting used to the taskbar experience but it’s growing on me.

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