In a perfect world every new upgrade of Mac OS X or Windows would work just fine on ancient hardware. Wait. In a perfect world there would only be Mac OS X. In reality, what’s new does not always work on what’s old. For example, Mac OS X Snow Leopard will not run on older PowerPC Macs. However, PC World’s Michael Scalisi points out that upcoming Windows 7 will run on PCs manufactured in 2001. That’s impressive until you realize what Scalisi did to make it happen.
Microsoft Has Your Back
Perhaps. Though Microsoft may have a knife in your back at the same time.
Scalisi wanted to test the claim that Microsoft’s newest Windows could really run on very old PC hardware, therefore, making OS X’s Snow Leopard look bad because it will only run on newer Intel hardware.
If you have a PC and you want the upcoming Microsoft OS, but don’t want to buy a new computer, Microsoft has your back. The minimum specifications listed on the Windows 7 RC download page are a 1 GHz Processor, 1 GB RAM, and 16GB of free hard disk space.
Sounds reasonable enough, right?
The Test Lab
He chose an old PC, an Intel P3 933 MHz CPU, 768 MB of RAM, an 80 gigabyte hard drive—hardware that was manufactured in 2001. By comparison, the latest version of OS X won’t run easily on Mac hardware from 2001.
How’d it go, dude?
Installation was not all breezy. My first attempt stalled when the installer could not find a driver for my DVD drive. I resolved the situation by borrowing a DVD drive from a newer computer. Once Windows installed, I realized that I was stuck using the “Standard VGA Graphics Adapter” driver since Windows did not recognize my Nvidia GEForce 2 MX 200 graphics card.
Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason. You can see where this road leads, right?
After a few Blue Screens o’ Death, I reverted back to the built in Standard VGA driver. Thankfully, yet oddly, Windows continued to offer a 1600 x 1200 mode. Obviously using Aero was out of the question, which was to be expected. The last issue I had was that Windows 7 didn’t recognize my 3COM 3C905TX network adaptor (really, Microsoft?!). Rather than hunt down a driver that might work, I threw in an Intel NIC that happened to be within arm’s reach.
Just so you know, I’m keeping score. So far, the circa 2001 PC hardware will not run Windows
Vista 7 without hardware modification, which sort of defeats the whole premise of how Windows 7 beats OS X on old hardware.
Fries With That?
No test is true without some real world software thrown in. After all the hardware and software modifications to get Windows 7 installed on an underpowered PC from 2001, what’s next?
Within five seconds, I launched Chrome, my go-to browser, and started surfing the Web. Watching videos on YouTube was as choppy as you’d expect, but the rest of my Web browsing experience was decent.
Browsing 1, YouTube 0. Highlights at 11:00.
To test things further, I opened up five tabs in Chrome and one in Internet Explorer 8. I launched Windows Media Player and played a song. I switched between applications and found that, although switching from one window to the next took a couple seconds, it didn’t leave me gnashing me teeth.
How’s that virus scan coming along. As everyone knows, a browser doesn’t use much CPU; neither does playing music. How about a movie?
All in all, the performance I was getting was better than the experiences I had using computers at internet cafés in developing counties. It was perfectly usable as long as your expectations are appropriately low.
If you have a PC or a Mac from 2001 then your expectations are low to begin. In other words, Windows 7 doesn’t really run well on old hardware, and it doesn’t run at all unless you hack it up here and there.
Snow, as in Pure White
True, Mac OS X Snow Leopard will not run on non-Intel-based Macs. If Apple skates to where the puck will be, not where it is, there must be something else going on with Apple’s attempt to move Mac users forward.
Mac users on older PowerPC hardware can continue to run OS X Leopard just fine. Macs that started life on Jaguar back in 2002 ran Panther a few years later, and Tiger a few years later, and still run Leopard now.
Apple has plans for Intel-based Mac users. Snow Leopard will be a monumental performance improvement over Leopard, which is already a better OS than Windows 7.
I expect Apple to extend and enhance the iTunes App Store—where 50,000 applications reside for immediate purchase and download for over 40-million iPhone and iPod touch users.
How? The Mac App Store—where tens of thousands of Leopard-only Mac applications will reside for immediate purchase and download for nearly 40-million Mac users.
Stay on old hardware if you must. I understand the economics. The future is the puck. Apple is skating to where the puck will be, not to where it is, or where it has been.