Windows 7: Designed for Netbooks?

If you haven’t read it already, I have reviewed my new Toshiba mini nb205 netbook – a very stable device which to date is in my possession. And I don’t think it’ll be leaving my sight any time soon – the netbook has made me fall in love again with small computers, and… the good ol Grandpa XP. Or Grandma XP? That termonology, then, depends on if you gravitate twoards male or female genders.
The nb205 came with Windows 7 starter. No doubt, I purchased a 2 gig ram stick – to expand the ram in the device and improve performance. Netbooks can only hold up to 2 gb of ram, because they have one slot of DDr2 memory.

Windows 7 starter sucked. Although such limitations like no ability to change desktop backgrounds didn’t bother me too much, others like the lack of Windows Mobility center did. I was used to hitting Windows X to get into the mobility center and change some of my preferences.

Well, I reformatted the entire harddrive just a day after the computer purchase ; and installed Windows 7 home premium, hoping that maybe the crapware which Toshiba installed was the thing to slow down stability so much. When browsing the internet, my prefered JAWS screen readr would crackle in speech and took up to 3 seconds to respond to page requests. Even the free NVDA performed horribly – and System Access had a nice keyboard lag when typing. (when running task maneger, JAWS showed anywhere from 6 to 20% CPU usage, NVDA anywhere from 3 to 9, and System access from 2 to 8.)

So home premium didn’t solve my problem. Even with 2 gigs of ram, my netbook performed poorly. No, it loaded in under 30 seconds – but something in the screen readers just didn’t click when it came to responsiveness.

This brings up a very interesting issue.

Many people have been reporting a decreased battery life when using Windows 7 on a netbook. While at first I could squeeze at least 8 hours of my battery, I noticed with usage that 90% of times I couldn’t go beyond 7. I noted this with interest – because the nb205 is of course advertised with 9 hours of battery life.

While Windows 7 is a great operating system, it’s performance on these ultra-mobile PCs surprises me. I could run windows 7 on a pentium 4 machine with 512 MB of ram and it went fine! That desktop had a 1.4 CPU – 266 MHz short of my intel atom n280 1.66 GHz one here in the netbook.

Seeing that I wasn’t the only person reporting performance drains, I decided to move back to Windows XP sp3. Afterall, before the 7 craze, all netbooks came with sp3 – and roomers tell that there were minor tweaks done to improve netbook performance in the service pack release.

I was able to integrate my SATA drivers into the Windows XP setup and also slipstreamed a few kb fixes in. Installation thus went very smoothly. Out of the box, I had no audio driver – so I copied the downloaded driver file to my flash disk, inserted it, typed in d:audiosetup.exe, and was off to go with a few enters.

Looking at the device manager with JAWS, there were 7 drivers missing – 2 of which were ethernet/wireless adapters, a display driver, and the serial ATA controler also seemed to magically have disappeared.

I of course installed each driver, and even with everything loaded, XP performs at least 10 times faster than Windows 7. I’m noticing a decrease of fan activity as the CPU doesn’t have to overwork itself just to run services and applications. JAWS still uses at least 20% of CPU, and for a netbook, 20% is a lot.

In conclusion, I’m certain that for the sighted, Windows 7 would run flawlessly on their netbook machines. Yet screen readers for the visually impaired seem to “drain” and highten processor resources – making Windows 7 a crawling bear compared to XP. AT vendors should focus specifically on trying to reduce used resources in their products – the rising popularity of Netbook computers will no doubt continue. Of course, in a few years we’ll also see an exponential growth of capibilities which they offer – but at the same rate, the intuitiveness of screen readers will also make their resource usage greater. For now, if you want to buy a netbook, grab a sighted friend (if you don’t know the XP setup routine), and install Windows XP. Chances are,Windows 7 will be a slow beast – and I’m not expecting this to change until the release of sp1 and more advanced hardware in future low-end computers.

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