Breathe New Life into Your Old PC — with Windows 7
Resurrecting a 7-Year-Old Desktop
What: Circa-2002 'white-box' desktop bought off Craigslist for $25
Specs: 2.4GHz 'Northwood' Pentium 4 CPU, 1GB PC2100 DRAM, 120GB IDE hard drive (7,200 rpm), ATI Radeon All-in-Wonder 7500 graphics card
Windows Experience Index: 1.0
Performance: Don't be fooled by the CPU's respectable-looking clock speed: This computer is pokier than it looks. There's no hyperthreading to help with running multiple apps, and the secondary memory cache is puny. Its PassMark benchmark score is just 329, barely higher than the Intel Atom N270 CPU (309) used in most netbooks. Also, Windows 7 refused to recognize any of the drivers I tried for my ATI graphics card (I'm using a standard VGA driver instead).
Despite everything going against this machine, high-def YouTube and Hulu videos -- even DVDs -- all played with only a hint of a stutter. Compatibility with XP apps was no problem: My 9-year-old copy of Photoshop 6 and 12-year-old copy of Office 97 both ran great.
Comparison to other OSes: I ran Windows XP Pro on the other partition. Windows 7's performance was nearly as good, even though XP had the big advantage of a working graphics driver. The biggest plus for XP Pro was in startup times: It booted in 1 minute, 25 seconds (1:25), versus 1:52 for Windows 7. But both shut down in about 30 seconds.
Recommend Windows 7? Windows XP Pro still responds more crisply when doing things like navigating menus and opening apps. Windows 7's languid pace reminded me of Mac OS X. But like OS X, Windows 7 is also a lot prettier, excels at automatically handling device drivers (except for ATI's, it seems) and includes Vista features like Media Center, BitLocker encryption and disk utilities such as format and partitioning, without the sluggishness. So I do recommend it.
Spring for an add-on graphics card if your computer lacks one (as many older business desktops do). You might have better luck with Nvidia drivers than I did with ATI.
Turn off most Visual Effects, Search Indexing and System Restore (especially if you are already backing up your PC to an external drive or Web service). All are in Control Panel --> System --> Advanced. Windows 7 will be nimbler, and still plenty pretty.
Max out your RAM.
Rejuvenating a Low-End Consumer Notebook
What: "I've installed Windows 7 on about 50 PCs. My friend's 4-year-old Compaq Presario 2200 was the lowest."
Specs (Compaq): 1.4GHz Celeron M CPU, 512MB RAM, 60GB drive (4,200 rpm), Intel Extreme on-board graphics
Windows Experience Index: Not available (Rea returned the notebook to its owner without recording the score)
Performance: "In absolute terms, this is running smoother and more stably than the XP Home it shipped with. I installed it in less than 24 minutes. Boot-up takes 1:14. There are no driver issues. I couldn't run Aero, but YouTube videos ran fine. Windows Media Center was a big test [that strained the system], but it ran fine, too."
Comparison to other OSes: "I've taken 20 PCs from Vista to Windows 7. The difference is night and day. It feels so much lighter."
Recommend Windows 7? "Yes. Everyone I talk to loves it."
Tip: "Don't try to run five apps at a time."