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Some Intel chips don't support Windows 7 'XP mode'

A small brouhaha is erupting over Microsoft's next operating systems and the chipmaker's processors.

Updated on May 6 at 6:35 p.m. PDT with additional comments from Intel.

A small brouhaha is erupting over Windows 7 and Intel processors. The hubbub is centered on which Intel processors will not support "XP mode" in Windows 7 and, by extension, which PCs will not support XP mode. Retail laptops may be one of the most prominent segments affected.

Sony Vaio laptops sold at retail stores are among a number of models from a variety of PC makers that have processors that don't support Windows 7 XP mode
Sony Vaio laptops sold at retail stores are among a number of models from a variety of PC makers that have processors that don't support Windows 7 XP mode Best Buy

What is XP Mode? Here's how Ina Fried of CNET News describes it: "XP mode consists of two things, the Windows Virtual PC engine and a licensed copy of Windows XP Service Pack 3 as a packaged virtual machine. Although neither piece will be included in the Windows 7 box, XP Mode will be a free download for those who have a license to Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Enterprise, or Windows 7 Ultimate."

XP Mode (XPM) is aimed at businesses that have Windows XP-specific applications that they need to run on Windows 7. XPM allows XP applications to run seamlessly on Windows 7, according to Microsoft. The catch: Intel processors must have Virtualization Technology, or "Intel VT," in order to run XPM. (I won't cover Advanced Micro Devices processors here but will address AMD in a later post.)

Ed Bott's Microsoft Report says that "some of the most popular PCs on the market today...won't be able to use the vaunted Windows XP mode in Windows 7."

Bott lists Intel desktop and mobile processors that will and will not support XP Mode here and here, respectively.

Intel mobile processors may be the most problematic in supporting XP mode; not because of the raw numbers--most newer Intel mobile processors do, in fact, support Intel Virtualization Technology--but because a disproportionate number of those that do not have VT (and therefore don't support XP mode) are laptops sold at retail. (And, undoubtedly, some small businesses purchase laptops at retail.)

In the Core 2 mobile camp, the P7350/7450, the T5200/5250/5270/5300/5450/5470 series, and the T6400/6570 do not support VT, according to Bott's blog. And this can be confirmed on Intel's Web site.

A quick glance at Best Buy shows a somewhat lengthy list of laptop SKUs (models) with, for instance, the T6400 (non-VT) processor. The list includes Dell Studio, Toshiba Satellite, HP Pavilion, Sony Vaio, Asus, and Gateway laptops.

In the $600 to $899 laptop range, I found about 30 different SKUs with T6400 processors, though it should be noted that some of these SKUs are simply models with slightly different configurations.

And a quick search on CNET Shopper turns up a number of consumer models with the T5270. The point? To state the obvious, consumers will have to verify which processor their laptop has.

In an Intel blog, Nick Knupffer asserts this won't be a big issue. "Having VT on these consumer laptops is not going to be an issue--because the consumer versions of Windows 7 (Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium) do not include Windows XP Mode," he writes.

And Intel, in a statement, had this to say. "Intel introduced its Virtualization Technology in 2005 and has shipped over 100 Million chips with the feature. Windows XP Mode is targeted for business customers. It is available on the mid to higher end versions of Windows 7 and is supported in hardware by many Intel processors."

Intel continued: "Intel vPro technology PCs are required to have an Intel VT capable CPU and Intel VT capable BIOS. They are the best platforms for testing and deploying Microsoft Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode."