I recently took the step of installing Windows 7 64-bit onto my 3-year old Precision 690 workstation and, as I hit some snags, thought I would share them and the workarounds in case they affect anyone else.
My system has 4GB RAM, 2 quad-core Intel Xeon E5345 2.33GHz processors, an ATI FireGL V7200 graphics card, multi-format card reader, a Seagate Barracuda 500GB SATA drive and 2 Seagate Barracuda 750GB drives. The main use of the computer is for video editing so, for performance processes, the 2 750GB drives had been configured as a RAID 0 array.
When I originally set up the computer, I had two Vista boot partitions – a 64-bit Vista install for the video editing work and a 32-bit Vista install for general usage. I decided to replace them with a single boot partition of 64-bit Windows 7.
I have a number of external drives that I use for backups so I decided to connect them all up before installing Windows 7. My thinking here was that Windows would allocate them sequential drive letters, ahead of the card reader drives. However, this decision turned out to cause me some problems – and a bit of a scare! When I booted off the Windows 7 media and got to the stage where you set up the partition you want to use, I selected and deleted the two Vista partitions. I then created a new partition. However, attempts to format the partition failed. This is where I got a bit worried as I now didn’t have a bootable system. For some reason, it occurred to me to unplug all of the external drives and try again … at which point the format worked and I was able to install Windows 7.
Prior to starting this whole process, I ran Microsoft’s compatibility checker and looked on Dell’s web site for Windows 7 drivers for the Precision 690. The compatibility checker didn’t raise any significant issues. The Dell web site doesn’t list any Windows 7 drivers but states that the Precision 690 is compatible with Windows 7.
So how did I find things after installing Windows 7? The good news is that all of the built-in hardware got a driver from Windows 7.
The bad news is that those drivers weren’t necessarily the optimal ones. The Dell SAS 5/iR integrated controller, for example, had a Microsoft driver dating back to around 2007. Right-clicking on that and choosing Update Driver Software… got Windows to find a 2009 driver from LSI.
Running DriverMax revealed that Windows 7 wasn’t using the latest driver for the Intel components. Unfortunately, Intel’s web site didn’t seem to want to give up a newer driver but fortunately DriverMax does allow you to download 2 drivers a day free, and most of the Intel bits and pieces were covered by a single driver so I was able to get the system pretty much up to date. The only drivers that are “old” still are the dual channel PCI IDE controller and the AHCI Serial ATA Controller, both of which aren’t used much or at all on my system as far as I can figure out.
I am concerned about the write performance of the system and, searching the Internet, I don’t seem to be the only one. However, I don’t seem to find a configuration change to make that would help. I’ve found and installed the Dell SAS RAID Storage Manager and it is showing that the disc cache policy is being enabled. I’ve upgraded the controller to the latest firmware version. I suspect that this may just be a bottleneck issue with the system. It is the slowest part of the system, rating 5.3, while the V7200 rates 5.9 for desktop graphics and 3D/gaming graphics performance. The processor and memory, on the other hand, rate 7.5 which is a nice high number!
It is somewhat disappointing that for a system that is 3 years old:
- Dell aren’t specifically providing any Windows 7 drivers or tools.
- Windows 7 doesn’t come with all of the latest drivers or even find them all automatically as part of the installation process.
- That manufacturers are making hardware obsolescent far too quickly. ATI, for example, do not provide a driver for the V7200 now. I have to rely on Microsoft to provide it.
I know that technology moves at a fast pace but this system still has plenty of life in it! It is frustrating that the manufacturers don’t seem to think so as well.