Geek Adventures: Installing Windows 8 on a Netbook - Does it Work?

I have a Toshiba NB505 10.1 inch netbook which has served me well, but I’d be the first to say that it’s awfully slow. I’m not sure whether this is due to my installing Windows 7 Professional on it, in place of its Windows 7 Starter Edition, or whether it’s just woefully underpowered to begin with, or both, or something else.

In any case, since Windows 8 is designed to run on more underpowered hardware, I thought I would experiment with a Windows 8 installation to see how that would work. Follow me as I take this adventure in geekery.

NOTE: If you would like to learn about the hardware configuration of my netbook and how underpowered it is, go through its specifications, here

First of all: Will it actually run?

According to Digital Trends, "Netbooks are officially dead and Windows 8 pulled the trigger." While they definitely have a point (notebooks are less expensive now, tablets are more widely available and less expensive than they used to be, netbook screen resolution is way too low and so forth) I wasn’t about to throw my netbook away based on some tech site’s opinion. I wanted to try installing Windows 8 myself to see what would happen.

So, would it run? The answer from Microsoft’s Windows 8 Upgrade Advisor was a resounding "Sort of." Some of my installed apps would not work, including my Microsoft Office 2003, but I was OK with that because I’ve been using either Scrivener or Google Docs and had planned to uninstall Microsoft Office anyway.

The Toshiba recovery media creator (a special program stored on a hidden partition on the hard drive, used to restore the computer to factory settings) also would not run, but I figured I could make a disk image and create Toshiba recovery media on disks before I started. However, the fact that the screen resolution was not compatible with modern Windows 8 apps, was a definite roadblock.

If it was true that the screen resolution would not allow me to run Windows 8 apps from the Store, I was resigned to doing without them. I only use the netbook for light writing and internet connections anyway, so not being able to run apps wouldn’t be too terrible a loss. The desktop applications, which are the ones I’d be using most often, should run with no problems.

However, I spotted this article on the How-To Geek web site that gave me hope that maybe my video driver could be tricked into allowing a Windows 8 compatible resolution.

The Registry Editor tool holds no terrors for me after all these years, so I immediately ran it and did the recommended search, and waited, and waited and waited... and oh rats, no, I can’t do that. This netbook’s screen resolution can’t be changed. Since this is entirely dependent on the video driver, some netbooks will allow the change and some won’t.

Still, the possibility that Windows 8 would get me a little more speed out of the netbook was appealing, so I decided to go ahead and give it a try.

Begin before the beginning

I can’t stress strongly enough that if you are going to be doing something with your computer that might mess it up in any way, you need to do a complete backup first. In fact, let me put that in boldface letters: you need to do a complete backup first. Not just your files, but a backup of everything that’s on that disk. And you’ll need to be sure you have your current operating system disks and your computer’s recovery disks on hand as well. The time you spend making sure all this is done is essential, no matter how long it might take.

And if you plan to uninstall anything, do that before you do the backup. No sense backing up stuff you’re not going to want to reinstall. If you need a brief refresher on how to do that, we’ve got an article that will help you out: Six Ways to Remove or Uninstall Windows Programs and Apps.

I also ran the very useful utility CCleaner to make sure there was no debris left from the uninstallations. We are fans of CCleaner here at 7 Tutorials, and rightly so. After I did that, I restarted the computer just to make sure it was off to a clean start.

I first made a rescue disk with the free edition of Macrium Reflect. I didn’t think it would actually be necessary, but better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it! And then for the actual backup I made an image of the hard drive, also with Macrium Reflect, including all the partitions. I was given the option of saving the image on a hard drive, a network drive, or optical disks. I chose to put mine on DVDs even though I knew that would take longer, because I had no idea if I’d be able to connect to the network if the installation went flooie. And yes, it did take quite a while and a total of ten DVDs. Like I said, though, time well spent. The Windows 8 Upgrade Advisor said that Macrium Reflect Free was not compatible with Windows 8, but the Macrium web site says that it is, so I figured if worst came to worst I would redownload and reinstall it so I could restore from my image as necessary.

NOTE: You will want to disable AutoPlay temporarily or it will pop up and ask you what to do with every single disk you insert. This gets REAL old after more than one disk. Here’s how: How to Customize the AutoPlay Settings.

And it may seem obvious, but be sure your portable computer is plugged into an outlet before you start. Yes, I have run down a battery installing software before. :) If you forget to do this, the installer will remind you before it lets you start.

After the Macrium Reflect disk image was done, I used Toshiba Recovery Media Creator to create another set of disks. Since Toshiba’s recovery relies on data stored in a hidden partition on the drive, and I was not sure what was going to happen to that partition when I installed Windows 8, I figured better safe than sorry.

NOTE from Ciprian: making another set of images with Toshiba Recovery Media Creator was overkill. If the Macrium Reflect disk images were created without errors, you should not have to make another set of images with another tool. But, if you do want to be 100% that you will recover everything, Marte’s approach is as safe as it gets.

Onward and upward

So here is my valiant little netbook and its external DVD burner and its stack of 13 backup disks (10 for the image, 3 for the Toshiba utility) ready for me to start the great Windows 8 adventure. In case anyone is wondering, that’s not my desk that it’s sitting on, but an extra desk that we use to hold the switch, the printers, the phone and other office essentials. It’s also good for setting laptops on when we want a wired network connection. The wallpaper is a NASA image of the day.

First, I re-enabled AutoPlay, and then I put my Windows 8 DVD in the external drive, crossed my fingers, took a big sip of coffee and closed the drawer. The DVD began to play.

NOTE: From here on out, I had to document most of the process with my cell phone camera, so please excuse the mediocre illustrations.

Everything seemed to be going well. I planned on doing an upgrade, rather than a clean install, because I had every indication that the upgrade would work.

The splash screen loaded and then the setup copied its required temporary files. Then, I was asked to go online to get any available updates.

Then, I was asked to choose between a 64 bit or 32 bit installation. I chose 32 bit.

Next, I was asked whether to upgrade and keep everything, or clean install? I wanted an upgrade. At least at first. :)

And then... uh oh. I can’t install Windows 8 Pro with Media Center over Windows 7 Professional and keep my data? It has to be a clean install. I wasn’t happy but I had no choice.

At this point, I consulted our own tutorial on doing a clean installation of Windows 8: How to Install Windows 8 RTM on Your Computer. And this time it worked.

Aha! This is what I wanted to see!

After the Windows 8 splash screen I got a screen with three choices, Windows 8, Windows Setup and Windows 7 Rollback, if I remember right. It faded out without my ever making a choice and too quickly for me to take a photo.

The installer does say that your computer will restart several times, but what it doesn’t say is that some of those restarts give you a totally black screen and a heart attack. :)

After that, there were screens to enter the product key, set assorted Microsoft information (error reporting, region and language and keyboard, and so forth) and then I was asked to sign in. Since I already have a Microsoft account, I typed in my email address and password.

And the process moved very quickly after that.

Ta-Daaaaa! Success!

So, here is my valiant little netbook running Windows 8. I’m going to personalize the lock screen eventually; this is the default that showed up, and for a simple graphic of the Space Needle in Seattle it’s not too bad.

I will need to experiment to see if it really does run faster than with Windows 7, how well the applications work and so forth and so on. I’ll write about all that when I’ve got it figured out.

Conclusions

Given that this netbook was never designed to run Windows 8 and that Toshiba explicitly does not support Windows 8 on the NB-505 model, I was not expecting things to go as smoothly or as successfully as they did. I used to do online tech support for Toshiba in their CompuServe Forum, and one thing we knew for certain was that if Toshiba said "not supported" it meant exactly that--no drivers, no instructions and no help from the manufacturer for doing something your computer was not designed to do.

I will need to spend more time working with the netbook to see what issues remain, if any. All in all, though, I would say that the experiment was a success, and I’ve put those 13 backup disks safely away in my disk storage cabinet with the assumption that I will not need to use them.