Windows 7 on a Mac Mini

Hi, I'm a Mac <i>and</i> a PC. CNET News' Ina Fried tries out Microsoft's latest OS on an older Intel Mac.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read

An inside look at Beyond Binary labs. I've got three demo machines running Windows 7, including the Mac Mini. Ina Fried/CNET News

Finding myself with some free time on Tuesday, I decided to try and see whether and how Windows 7 would install using Boot Camp on a Mac.

I must say, I get a little sick pleasure turning a Mac into a Windows machine, knowing that it has to make both Microsoft and Apple's skin crawl to see their progeny used in such a way.

Plus, Macs do tend to make for pretty zippy (if pricey) Windows machines.

With that--and an older demo Mac Mini I hadn't been using much--I was off to the races. I got a fair bit of help from this site. The operating system installed no problem, although I had a bit of trouble getting the sound to work.

But after trying a couple of things, I was able to use the driver on a Leopard DVD (the Boot Camp program itself wouldn't run, but was able to use Windows' File Explorer to get the driver itself from the disk.)

I now have three Windows 7 machines up and running--a Lenovo X300, an older Dell XPS M1210 and, as of Tuesday, the Mac Mini. That's in addition to my corporate sanctioned IBM ThinkPad running Windows XP. Things are getting a bit crowded in my cube, but I did some cleaning and have also expanded into to another nearby desk.

For today, I am using the Mac Mini as my main machine, including for writing this blog. I'm not the benchmarking type, but it feels plenty zippy doing the basics. I also had the machine run its internal rating system known as the "Windows Experience Index," which rates a system based on its internal components. Because of it's slow hard drive, the Mini ranked only a 2.0.

The experience index, introduced with Vista, offers a sort of bare-bones assessment of how fast a computer should be based on its various components. It's not a real-world test, which would vary based on the number of applications one installs, their network connection, and other factors.

Here's Windows 7's take on how ready the Mac Mini is to run the operating system. It got a 2.0 out of 7.9, based largely on its slower hard drive. CNET News

With Vista, Microsoft ranked systems from 1.0 to 5.9. With Windows 7, it upped the highest possible ranking to 7.9 and made some other tweaks to the system.

By way of comparison, the older Dell XPS also scores a 2.0, again based on the hard drive. The Lenovo X300 scored a 3.1, weighed down not by its hard drive (it uses a fast solid-state drive instead) but by its graphics performance.

I plan to keep trying out the different machines, as well as installing different combinations of software to see how things work in various setups.

Now, I like Windows 7. I think it has the potential to be everything Vista should have been.

Vista had a great built-in graphics engine, but didn't really harness that engine to make working simpler. It had better security, but used it more like a weapon to wield over the user, as opposed to making them invisibly safer. That said, I'm not ready to sign on to this petition, which calls for Microsoft to release the product right now. There are still some issues to work out.

I still have not been able to get the newsroom's Sprint wireless card working and the video driver on the X300 crashes when I try and record TV and do other tasks at the same time. On that same system, Word 2007 has started crashing, sending me back to WordPad.

As for using a Mac to run Windows 7, there are some pluses and minuses. First of all, it's not supported--by anyone. Apple approves of Boot Camp for XP and Vista, so if Windows 7 messes up your Mac, I can't imagine you'll find much sympathy in Cupertino (though Apple might use your experience in one of its ads).

More likely, though, you may have trouble finding all of the drivers you need. The Mac Mini is kind of the easiest one, with the least number of drivers required. I've also read about some problems iMac users have had with blue screens of death under Windows 7, allegedly caused by an Nvidia driver issue. In any case, it's been enough to keep me from putting Win 7 on my home iMac.

On the plus side, the Windows 7 beta allows you to try Windows for free (legally) on your Mac. For those who don't want to go the Boot Camp route, either because they are risk averse or because they actually want to use their Mac as a Mac, there are the usual virtualization options--namely VMware and Parallels. I might just try that on the iMac.