Hands-on: Installing Windows 7 on an old laptop

So here we go installing Windows 7 beta version 7068 on a rather old laptop (one of the first sub-£1000 (AUS$2060) models circa 2004 which is rather scary thinking about prices now.) An 8050D with a 1.6GHz Pentium Mobile processor with 1GB of RAM.

OK maybe not this old. Original steampunk laptop picture credit: dailysteampunk.com

The install goes like a dream. Taking 40 minutes allowing for the slow 5400 RPM drive isn’t bad and there are no issues with the main hardware. However having left it unwired it can’t find the right WiFi driver or video and sound drivers and needs to be plugged into the router. At which point it rushes off downloads all the latest updates and grabs the correct drivers.

First problem the AMD/ATI driver for Windows 7 doesn’t recognise whatever chip lurks inside the generic 8050D laptop we think it was a Mobility Radeon xx00 something and remember having to use the unofficial Omega drivers for Windows XP recently on this machine but they are not up to Windows 7 level yet.

To find out what is in there we need to confirm the graphics chip type and there’s no obvious online help apart from a PDF for which we need to download Adobe Reader. This application may have a problem with Windows 7 according to a helpful pop-up but we’ll try anyway.


Try and fail as it happens trying to open the PDF in Internet Explorer 8 and all hell breaks loose. However the new browser has a neat line in recovering individual tabs so no harm done. Still clueless about the graphics chip though (there’s a whole mad story about this here).

So after some digging around in forums we find a few possible tips. Four driver downloads later and a bunch of tricks and dedicated fanbase support it lives! Specifically if you have one of these beast machines or any laptop with an older Mobility Radeon product you need the Mobility Modder tool and ATI’s 8.561 Catalyst drivers (see above link).

 Now we can increase the resolution enjoy non-juddery window movement but it still looks rather flat then it clicks – no glossy effects. So type “Glass” in the search bar and in the results is a wizard for just such a problem. This runs changes some settings automatically and enables all that lovely Vista-era loveliness.

But whereas in Vista it ran like treacle on the battered laptop in Windows 7 – it goes like stink rattle and roll. It scores a moderate 3.0 on the Performance Test more than enough for most uses and a little light gaming. So don’t go throwing out that aged laptop because you don’t think anything will run on it in reality it is happily powerful enough to handle Windows 7 just don’t expect ATI to help you out if it has got an old Mobility Radeon in it.

Have you tried Windows 7 on an old system how old was it what were the results and did you have any issues that other readers should be aware of? Let us know in the comments.