As we approach the official release date of Windows 7, I have been considering how I can extend the life of and improve the performance of my Thinkpad T61p (Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7800 @ 2.60 Ghz) which I purchased in Nov-2007 (pre-crash). I have been considering using Windows 7 64 bit as my host OS and executing practically everything else in Windows Virtual PCs. I have been a heavy user of Virtual PC (VPC) 2007 and its predecessor VPC 2004 product, however up to now I have limited my VPC use to development tools only. My development VPCs include the following:
- Vista/ VS.NET 2008 development environment
- Windows XP/ VS.NET 2005 development environment
- Windows XP/ VS.NET 2003 development environment
- SQL Server 2005 - Enterprise test environment
- Windows Server 2003 test environment
- Windows Server 2008 test environment
- Windows XP DotNetNuke test environment
- Windows XP IE6 and Firefox 1.5 legacy test environment
- Windows XP IE7 legacy test environment
I also use what I refer to as my Day-to-Day applications heavily on the same Thinkpad (word processing, online banking, email, iTunes, archive, everything except development). I also want to consider pushing these Day-to-Day applications down into a dedicated VPC. One primary reason for this is security; when the Thinkpad needs to be serviced, which involves sending the unit off to IBM Memphis for depot maintenance. Having Day-to-Day applications as well as development tools in VPCs makes it easy to send a skinny hard drive to IBM Memphis; eliminating the worry of whether my data will be compromised. I have owned six or seven Thinkpads since 1992, and I usually have to send a unit to IBM Memphis at least once during a three year warranty period.
As a result of the inherit benefits of using a 64 bit OS versus 32 bit, a performance gain will no doubt be realized. I also want to upgrade the hard drives to units which support a Serial ATA 3.0gb interface versus the current 1.5gb interface. I considered some of the new solid state drives, however capacity is not what I need (usually caps out at around 128gb) and costs is prohibited at around $750 per 128gb drive. On the other hand, the performance of traditional SATA hard drives have improved significantly. Hitachi drives are available with a capacity of 320gb for less than $100 (a raw 2.5 SATA drive; no chassis; click on hard drive image).
My T61p currently has 4gb of memory (two 2gb memory cards). Because of the 64 bit host OS, I want to consider getting two 4gb memory cards; thus providing total memory of 8gb for heavy VPC usage. As a result of 64 bit CPU operations, I expect a performance improvement with the 64 bit OS alone, however the real benefit I am looking for from a 64 bit OS is the broader range of memory available. With 32 bit, memory access is limited to 4gb total. With 64 bit, I expect the 8gb memory to provide quite noticeable multiple VPC performance improvements. Click the Thinkpad image to see memory I am considering.
Before I embark on installing my Windows 7 64 bit host OS onto my new Hitachi drive, I first want to obtain performance measurements of my current Vista 32 bit environment. I go to Control Panel/ Performance Information and Tools, where one can request a performance rating. One should note from this 32 bit performance rating that 1) Processor calculations per second is rated @ 5.4.......2) Memory operations per second is rated @ 5.1.....and 3) Primary hard drive transfer data rate is rated @ 5.1.
The installation of Windows 7 64 bit proceeded without incident, with the exception of the need for a nVidia 64 bit graphics interface driver, which I located on the Internet. Virtual PC support within Windows 7 has changed names to Windows Virtual PC (WVP). WVP is available via a separate download, in release candidate form as of this writing.
Before switching over to a Windows 7 64 bit host OS, I fully prepare my VPCs for the switchover. I create the Day-to-Day VPC containing all of my non-development related applications and I use Windows 7 32 bit as the guest OS for this Day-to-Day VPC. Immediately before the switchover I plan to start with two primary VPCs; my Vista 32 bit VS.Net 2008 Development VPC and my new Windows 7 32 bit Day-to-Day VPC. Both are executing great with a Vista 32 bit host OS and Virtual PC 2007. BTW...I did notice that VPC 2007 now has a Hardware Virtualization option; thus providing improved performance when one enables BIOS level Hardware Virtualization. I am not sure when this Hardware Virtualization option surfaced in the VPC 2007 product. As I move forward to a Windows 7 64 bit host OS and WVP, I am surprised that Microsoft requires BIOS level Hardware Virtualization if one plans on executing virtual machines un Windows 7. I have read on the Internet that if one does not have a CPU with the Hardware Virtualization feature that VPC 2007 can be installed on Windows 7, however it is NOT a supported environment. Considering the completeness of Windows 7, this restriction is surprising.
Everything is set to go; Windows 7 64 bit host OS is installed on faster Hitachi hard drive, however I have not yet purchased the 8gb of memory. The 8gb of memory is primarily beneficial for multiple VPC performance, so I want to make sure everything works well first before making this investment. I conduct a performance rating of the Windows 7 64 bit host OS and see these results. Note the improved performance of 1) Processor, 2) Memory ...and 3) Primary Hard Drive, providing an overall performance rating of 5.8.
My general observations from copying quite large data files (VPCs) back and forth from backup USB devices is that that the Hitachi 3gb interface SATA drive appears to be about 40% faster than the 1.5gb SATA drives.
Regrettably, as I move forward to implementing the VPCs within Windows 7 WVP, I first install the new WVP Integration Components (the equivalent of VPC 2007 Virtual Machine Additions) and my WVPs work well for awhile, however after a short while the WVPs start consuming 100% CPU time for no obvious reason. I actually spent four days working on this and I always encounter the same problem of the WVPs consuming 100% CPU time. As a result, I can only conclude that the WVP release candidate is not ready for prime time. For now, I am moving forward to replacing my drives with the faster Hitachi 3.0gb SATA drives (I have a primary and a secondary - VPCs on secondary drive), however regrettably my host OS will continue to be Vista 32 bit for now. My VPCs are prepped and ready for the move to a Windows 7 64 bit host OS whenever I can find the time to work with MSFT to get the WVP problem resolved. So, Windows 7 looks great and I am ready to purchase the 8gb of memory, however Windows Virtual PC (WVP) support does not look so good.... at least for now.
I have also noted that Norton Ghost version 14.0 is not supported in Windows 7. I am not sure I want to move forward with a Windows 7 64 bit host OS if I have no means to take image copies of my drives. I will have to assess who owns Norton Ghost at this point (Symantec I think) and see if a new version is forthcoming.
So, at this point the show stoppers for moving forward to a Windows 7 64 bit host OS is questionable Windows Virtual PC (WVP) support and Windows 7 compatible Norton Ghost support.