One of the great things about the Premier Field Engineering group at Microsoft is that we have a fairly aggressive hardware refresh cycle for our engineers in the US. To keep us with a solid experience as road warriors, our laptops are refreshed approximately every 2-years. When luck is on our side, we can even manage to get a refresh a couple of months early.
This was the situation for me this time around, my previous laptop hits its 2-year mark in December of this year, but I was pleasantly surprised when in early October I get an e-mail letting me know that I was due for a refresh and to please reply back to the e-mail and let them know which of the 5 models to choose from that I had decided on. My first reaction was, “But my current laptop is working out fine for me, well OK, the battery is past its shelf-life and can’t hold a charge as long as it used to, but other than that, it is still rock solid.” For about 2 weeks I held off on replying because I was still happy with my current machine. But then I realized that Microsoft is little different than any other corporation and that if I didn’t utilize the allocated budget for my laptop within the quarter it was budgeted for, I’d likely be using my current laptop for quite awhile. So I chose the HP EliteBook 8530w from the list of choices that are available to my team. It arrived on Friday afternoon.
My first task after unpacking it was to burn a Windows 7 x64 ISO file to a DVD so that I could do the install. My current machine is running the x86 installation of Windows 7 and I had decided that the next time I installed the OS on my laptop, I’d give x64 a shot. Much to my surprise, the early refresh allowed me a chance to do this. Last week I had finally gotten around to updating my Hyper-V host with Windows Server 2008 R2 and had been pleasantly surprised to find that fully functional color print drivers for my HP Color LaserJet 2840 were included in-box, so I knew that going with x64 for my laptop would still allow me to print in color while at home. That printer was a big splurge for me a couple of years ago and the lack of x64 drivers had been holding me at x86 for quite awhile to avoid turning it from a nice networked Printer/FAX/Scanner into a giant paperweight. While onsite with customers, I find many of them making the same x86 decision on their print servers for the same reasons; lack of x64 drivers for some printer models.
So as evening approaches, my son & I are watching Star Wars – Episode I and as he drifts towards sleep I head upstairs to grab the laptop and the DVD I burned. I boot to the DVD and begin the install while the cast is still on Coruscant, by the time they’re back on Naboo, the install is finished. Enough of the major hardware devices had in-box drivers, and by the end of my visit to Microsoft Update, I had nearly all of the rest. The only 2 devices that didn’t have drivers after that were the media card reader and the hard drive shock protection device. But both of those were easy to get. I was happy that the wireless drivers were in-box because the docking station was on back-order and I was doing the install without a wired connection. Even the SmartCard reader worked fine. We have the option of logging into our workstations with the SmartCard on the back of our badges, and I’ve gotten in the habit over the past year of doing that instead of using my username/password.
Once the OS was installed, I downloaded Forefront Client Security and the VPN software so that I could connect to work and join the domain. I installed the Office 2010 Technical Preview, Streets & Trips 2010, and a few other applications that I use for work. I configured BitLocker and set it to leverage the TPM chip + a PIN. Nearly everything is working as well or better than it did on my old x86 Windows 7 laptop. While I didn’t install it that first night, I’ve also installed Windows XP Mode so that I could install the software to allow for network scanning using my LaserJet 2840. The Vista version of the software did not consistently function as expected on the x86 installation of Windows 7 and I had previously resorted to this method for being able to scan receipts when I get back from customer visits. And they do not yet have x64 drivers, so XP Mode provides me with the ability to continue to benefit from running x64 Windows 7 while still utilizing applications that work best under older versions of Windows. I leverage Microsoft Office 2007 and the Microsoft Document Imaging application from Office to do my scanning from within XP Mode.
With the exception of XP Mode, I had finished the installation of the software on Friday night before going to bed. On Saturday evening after my son went to bed I was able to give the new installation its first real test of practical use…Writing the ADRAP report from my visit earlier in the week. While I had heard from other engineers that they had experienced no issues running the tools for this under x64, I didn’t want to get too comfortable with the installation if I was going to then have to re-format and re-install with x86. I was thrilled to see that with the x64 OS and the x64 installation of Office 2010, I was able to complete my reports for the customer without any issues. It was because of that success that I took the time this morning to complete the move-in process by installing XP Mode and configuring that VM.
As I said at the beginning, I’m still happy with my previous laptop. That Lenovo T61P w/4GB of RAM has served me well. I’m now debating on if I will keep it as x86 Windows 7 or if I will install Windows Server 2008 R2 and use it as a mobile Hyper-V host. I may utilize Boot From VHD and have it do both. But I see another 2-years of good experiences ahead of me with this HP 8530w. It looks like I’m 3 for 4 on work-issued laptops that have gotten a thumbs-up by me; my original Toshiba M1 that I was issued in March ‘04 ran great and I almost didn’t want to replace it (but its video card has no Vista drivers), another model which I was less thrilled with, the T61P which couldn’t come fast enough to replace its predecessor, and now my 8530w.