Windows 7 on MacBook Pro: Nice, but still has poor battery life

Windows 7, like Windows Vista and XP, drains battery life fast on Intel-based Mac laptops.

Windows 7 rates my unibody 15-inch MacBook Pro at 5.3, which is very high for a laptop. Dong Ngo/CNET

I have had Windows 7 Ultimate RTM (release to manufacturer) for a few days. This is, of course, a legitimate copy, not the leaked copy that you can download from the Internet. That's the good news.

The bad news is I have had to test it, which has been lot of work. We tested the new operating system against Windows Vista SP2 and Windows XP SP3. Overall, Windows 7 offers a much more pleasant experience than Windows Vista. Everything works more smoothly. The new OS takes less time to launch applications, and it's nice just to browse around its functions and features. It's also very pretty. However, it is slower than Windows XP, except for the boot and shutdown times, where XP has always been a drag.

Version 2.0 of Boot Camp (included on the Mac OS X Leopard DVD) wouldn't run unless you make it run in Windows Vista/XP compatibility mode. Dong Ngo/CNET

You can read a lot more about the new operating system via our official review done by my colleague Seth Rosenblatt. I want address something here that's not very mainstream (yet): running Windows 7 on Intel-based Mac hardware, specifically on a unibody 15" MacBook Pro.

Setting up Windows 7 on a Mac is easy, just as it is with Windows XP or Vista. First, you use the Boot Camp Assistant (which is found in the Applications\Utilities folder). The application helps you resize the hard drive to create a new partition for Windows. (Pick the size carefully, as you can't resize this partition again without having to reinstall Windows from scratch). After that, the installation starts and goes on just as it would on a PC.

(If you have been using Windows XP or Vista on your Mac, you can just start the installation of Windows 7 from within the existing OS. You will have the option to do either an upgrade or a clean installation on the same partition).

It took about 30 minutes for me to get Windows 7 Ultimate RTM installed on the second partition (both 32-bit and 64-bit versions took about the same amount of time). Now the trick is to install Boot Camp, which includes all the drivers and the Boot Camp control panel, and lets you control other functions of the laptop such as mouse, shortcut key, and the multitouch trackpad.

Apple includes Boot Camp on the OS X Leopard DVD; however, I ran into an error stating that it required Windows XP or Windows Vista to run. This could be fixed simply by changing the properties of the installer file to make it run in Windows XP or Vista compatibility mode.

Once Boot Camp has installed, you will need to update it to the 2.1 version that can be downloaded here for Windows 32-bit and here for Windows 64-bit.

Boot Camp 2.1, despite the message, works fine with Windows 7; just make sure you run Windows Update after installing it. Dong Ngo/CNET

When I ran Boot Camp 2.1's installer, a message appeared, saying that there were known compatibility issues, but I decided to install it anyway. After the installation, when the computer restarted, Windows 7's Action Center appeared and pointed me to download the update for Nvidia chipset. (Alternatively, if you run Windows Update, that would have downloaded from there, too). The update seemed to fix the incompatibility, and the Action Center was happy at the next boot.

But I wasn't very happy yet, though, as the right-click function, which is one of the most important features when using Windows, didn't work with the laptop's muiltitouch trackpad (it worked fine with a USB mouse). After doing more research, I found a multitouch trackpad update that solved it. The right-click function was now the two-finger tab on the pad. And that was it; I now have myself a Windows 7 machine running on a nice piece of Mac hardware, and everything seemed perfect.

The two-finger tab right-click takes some getting used to but works great. Dong Ngo/CNET

It was almost perfect, that is. What's missing has been a known issue with Mac laptop running Boot Camp: the battery life. According to Apple, the MacBook Pro offers about eight hours of battery life (in my experience it's more like about five hours, which is still very impressive). However, when running Windows XP and Vista, this reduces the life to just merely an hour and a half. And you guessed it: it's the same with Windows 7. The battery somehow drains really fast, even when the screen brightness turned down, I couldn't get two hours out of a full charge, even when just doing regular work on the machine.

While I don't know the exact reason, my best guess is this is because the Mac hardware is not optimized for Windows drivers. I hope that Apple (or Microsoft or hardware vendors) would look into this and make the MacBook, or any other Mac laptop, a truly great platform for Windows 7.

Other than that, Windows 7 has been working great on my MacBook Pro. After some anecdotal testing, it felt faster than the machine's original operating system. It looks good, too, even prettier than when it is installed on PC hardware.

I believe that Windows 7 will work fine on other Intel-based Macs, too, though some tweaking might be necessary. My colleague Ina Fried tried the release candidate of the OS on the Mac Mini and it worked fine. Considering the fact that the OS is not even out to the public, this level of support is really encouraging.

When the battery life issue is resolved, if ever, I cannot see myself having a computer that can only run just either Windows or Mac. Windows 7 on a Mac might be the solution that unites both schools of fanboys.

Windows 7 doesn't help improve the battery life of MacBook Pro laptop, which is about 90 minutes on the 15-inch version, as opposed to about five hours when running Mac OS X. Dong Ngo/CNET

About the author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews networking and storage products, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

 

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