Warning: Do not try installing Windows 7 on older PCs without parental supervision

[Warning:  Do not try installing Windows 7 on older PCs without parental supervision]

We have a policy in the office to change out a batch of computers every so many years.  And this year there were three computers in the office that needed a refresh.  Because I had done an earlier trial run with someone in the office, I knew that about 99.99999% of our business apps could handle 64bit just fine and of the few that couldn’t, we could virtualize an XP or set up a computer in the corner to be the designated XP that people could remote desktop into and share the application.  So I deployed three new Windows 7 64bit to people in the office.

But now here’s where the fun starts.  Now we have people in the “food chain”.  Those computers that I’m replacing are middle aged.  Not elderly.  They might need a bit of face lifts (better video card) and perhaps a tummy tuck (I max out the RAM by going to www.crucial.com to see how expensive it is to upgrade them to more memory).  Now because I’m the master patcher/go to person at the office, the more versions I have to update and deal with, the less efficient I am.  Thus I try to keep the number and type of different versions of operating systems and Office to a minimum.  Office 2007 is much nicer to patch than 2003 as it doesn’t require that you feed it a cdrom during service pack updating and what not.  So I looked at those middle aged computers and did something that I honestly don’t recommend.  I installed Windows 7 64bit on them and they worked.  Now why am I being two faced here and telling you not to do what I just did?  Because I’ll be the first to admit it’s not the most pleasant technology experience in the world.  While Windows 7 installations is one of the easiest and fastest to do (with about 15 to 20 minutes between boot from DVD to a working operating system), the fun begins AFTER the operating system is installed and you see if it likes two major things:

Video cards

We have everyone in our office using at least two monitors.  Yes, even the receptionist at the front.  It allows her to look at the calendars of all of the partners inside of Outlook and see who’s expected to arrive at the office as well as doing her normal tasks.   But we have a few folks that have three monitors.  And that one particular upgraded workstation was my problem child.  Brand spanking new HP workstations come with several PCI Express slots (the ones where the video cards get plugged into) so that you can get a machine with one dual monitor card as well as TWO dual monitor cards.  My middle aged machines come with ONE PCI Express slots and multiple PCI slots.  If that’s greek to you, just call them one of the long ones and three of those white ones inside the computer.  In this one computer, the existing PCI express card didn’t like to play nice with a salvaged PCI card from another machine.  And that’s when I found out that trying to find a PCI card online with a Windows 7 driver is about as successful as the search for the fountain of youth.  I finally did get it working with a different PCI express card, but the moral of this story is two fold:

First – your best bet is STILL to buy Windows 7 on a brand new machine.  You won’t be surfing www.newegg.com trying to find PCI video cards that support Windows 7.  You will ensure that the drivers were tested and built to work.  Second – two montors is relatively easy to do with a dual head card, getting three and four works the best with matching cards.  Of course, you can more easily get two matching dual head cards in a brand new computer.


The second major sticking point is printers (and other devices).  I knew already from my testing that I had 64 bit printer drivers for my HP Laserjet 8000 and our two multi function Ricoh scanner/copier/printers.  I forgot to check if the locally attached printer (a Laserjet 1012) had a 64 bit printer.  So when I attached the printer, it didn’t quite find it’s own printer.  So the first trick you can try is to see if there is a printer number close to the one you are attaching.  There was a Laserjet 1015 which worked a little bit.  But then we hit the issue of “unsupported personality”.  The topic is discussed here: http://forums.pcworld.com/index.php?/topic/60170-hp-laserjet-1012-and-windows-7/page__st__20   If you merely do basic printing you probably won’t see this issue.  But if you do printing from applications like Quickbooks and other accounting apps you’ll see it.  So the solution?  Turn off the machine and turn it on again every time it happens.  Yeah.. I know not a good solution.  So you have a couple of options here.  The first option is to follow the rule of “the kids on the playground”.  The more inexpensive the printer, the more it will work best with the era of the operating system it was sold with.  The Laserjet 1012 was an inexpensive printer discontinued back in 2006.  The Ebay going price is $30.  HP is currently offering a trade in program for any brand of printer to replace it with a new one — http://hp.tradeups.com/Customers/19/GetQuote.aspx.  So your first decision will be is whether or not it’s better to donate the printer to a charity or trade in your printer for a new one.  In my case there was another printer in the office we could trade out and it would work.  But it’s a lesson to watch what kind of printer we buy in the future.  Cheap may not pay for itself in the long run.

That said I have at home an HP Laserjet 4L that is as old as the hills and still using it on Windows 7 and it’s still running just fine.

So the other moral of this story is, if at first the printer doesn’t work, don’t beat your head against the wall.  Go donate that printer or trade it in for a new one.  When buying printers in the future, remember that cheaper may not be better.  See what sort of printer driver it has.  If  you can’t tell, ask on a forum. 

2 Thoughts on “Warning: Do not try installing Windows 7 on older PCs without parental supervision

  1. Why didn’t you try a Vista video driver ? Do you have a rule that only drivers that are supposed to be for a particular operating system will go on that operating system ? Now I’m not saying that that is not a good rule, and I try to follow it myself, but the manufacturers don’t always provide a specific operating system version driver. Even if they say that they have a Windows 7 driver and it’s certified etc that doesn’t always mean ( probably most of the time ) that they had someone sit down and write the driver from scratch just for Windows 7. Sometimes they will just modify the Vista driver or not even change it at all. They will install the Vista driver on Windows 7, test it a little, and if it seems to work they ship it. If people start complaining then they change it to fix the problems. Eventually the previous operating system driver changes into a real new operating system driver but that takes about two years. If you go to the drivers download page for a product and compare the drivers they have for Vista and the ones they have for Windows 7 you will see that a lot of the time they are the same exact driver only with a different dowload page. So just because a manufacturer says that they have Windows 7 certified drivers does not always mean that the driver was written just for Windows 7.

    One time I bought an eSATA card for a Windows 2003 server. I got it from Lacie. Their web page swore that it had a driver for Windows Server 2003. I called up to verify. Yup, it has a certified driver for Server 2003 they said. So I get the card and I can’t find the Server 2003 driver. There is a Server 2000 driver, an XP driver and a Vista Driver. I called Lacie up and asked what the deal was. They looked and also could not find a Server 2003 driver. They said I should use the XP driver. I was not going to use an XP driver on Server 2003 so I said I think I would be better with the 2000 driver. The guy on the other end got upset and said no I would be better off with the XP driver. Well I was determined not to use the XP driver so I dug deep into the drivers on the CD. I found a text file with the 2000 driver that explained that the 2000 driver also included the 2003 driver in it. It was certified for 2003. So I installed the 2000 driver and it worked perfectly. So thier web site was right after all but the manufacturer did not make things very clear for the person installing the product. So sometimes you have to dig to find what you are looking for.

  2. Jeff Noe on February 3, 2010 at 9:41 am said:

    Had same issue w/ an HP 1012 printer and a new Dell Win7 64-bit PC. Here’s a workaround I found that worked like a champ!


    On that page, scroll down to #17 posting by a ‘newbie’ called “WorkingOnIt”, you’ll be glad you did 🙂

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