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Windows 7 with Boot Camp 3.1: All-around great, except for battery life

Boot Camp 3.1 betters the functionality of a MacBook Pro running Windows 7, but it doesn't improve the battery life.

With Boot Camp 3.1, you now can use the Tap to Click feature of the MacBook Pro's multitouch trackpad. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

If you are waiting to install Windows 7 on your MacBook Pro, the wait is over. Apple recently released Boot Camp 3.1, a set of software drivers that provides official support for running Windows 7 on a Mac. I have used Windows on a MacBook Pro ever since Boot Camp 2.1, and here are my impressions of running Windows 7 64-bit with Boot Camp 3.1.

First of all, you will still need Mac OS X, at least at first, to install Windows 7. For Boot Camp 3.1 to work properly on certain Macs, it's necessary to upgrade the firmware of some hardware components. The only way to do this is by running "Software Update" from within Mac OS X. It seems that Apple only wants you to use Windows on a Mac in a dual-boot setup rather than using it exclusively just as a Windows machine. In reality, apart from having to split the hard drive into two partitions, one for OS X and one for Windows, there's no other reason why you shouldn't have both operating systems on the computer.

You can upgrade to Boot Camp 3.1 by running Apple Software Update in Windows. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Note: It's very easy to install Windows on an Intel Mac. Run Boot Camp assistant from within OS X, follow the instructions to split the hard drive, then boot from a Windows DVD or CD, and install Windows just like you would on a PC. After that, install Boot Camp in Windows. Boot Camp supports Windows XP, Vista, and 7 on Intel Macs. Starting with version 3.0, Boot Camp makes it easy for Windows to access the Mac OS partition.)

Secondly, you'll still need Boot Camp 3.0, which is only available on the Snow Leopard DVD. After reinstalling Windows 7 from scratch, I downloaded Boot Camp 3.1 from Apple's Web site but was able to install only the video driver from it. Boot Camp 3.1 will only install on MacBook Pro that already has Boot Camp 3.0. Then, and only then, can you download and install version 3.1 manually or update Boot Camp by running the Apple Software Update utility from within Windows.

It took me just 15 minutes to upgrade Boot Camp to version 3.1. The first change I noticed was that the multitouch trackpad worked much better. With Boot Camp 3.0 or earlier, the trackpad was too sensitive--to the point that I couldn't use "Tap to Click" without constantly making accidental clicks. Now, the trackpad works the same as it does in OS X, and I love how I can just click the pad with two fingers to do a right-click. Still, I wish there was an option to adjust the sensitivity of the device.

It's important to note that this improvement is across the board with all versions of Windows including XP, Vista, and 7, both 32-bit and 64-bit.

The second improvement is the overall performance of the machine in Windows, thanks to the components now using more recent drivers. Applications such as 3D games seem to run better as a result. I've yet to do any formal games testing though.

Unlike with PCs, where you manually update the drivers of the video card whenever there's a new version from the vendor, drivers for component used in Mac computers are only available from Apple. So, you'll need to wait for Apple to release them.

Unfortunately, my biggest wish for this version of Boot Camp didn't come true: battery life improvements. My 2008 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro still has about the same battery life as it did with Boot Camp 3.0, which is just about two-thirds of what I get when running the machine with Mac OS X 10.6.

However, even with this shortcoming--which affects only laptop users--this release of Boot Camp makes the Mac a great choice for savvy users who want the best of both worlds. This is the closest Boot Camp has to come to facilitating Windows performance that's nearly as good as OS-X, when running on a Mac.