Windows Vista Ultimate on the Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC

I’ve had my tablet for few years now and I just love it. I don’t know why these things haven’t taken off in the marketplace! They’re a bit more expensive than normal laptops, but it’s definitely worth the extra cost in my opinion. Mine is a Portege M200 from Toshiba (a “convertible” tablet). It came with the first release Windows XP Tablet PC edition. That worked okay, but SP2 definitely made it more usable. Technical specs include a 1.6 GHz Intel Centrino package (only 802.11b though), 512 MB of RAM, and a 60 GB hard drive.

As you can imagine, I filled that hard drive pretty quickly. And even though I had formatted and reinstalled Windows XP once already, it was pretty slow compared to the other computers I use on a regular basis. I started thinking about what I’d do with it. I really didn’t want to lose the tablet, but it was becoming less and less usable for me.

So I decided to upgrade it. I had purchased Windows Vista Ultimate back when it RTM’d, but I hadn’t installed it anywhere. I’ve literally had the DVD sitting on my desk for over a year, just waiting to be used. Why not on the tablet, I thought?

Windows Vista Ultimate on Toshiba Portege M200

As you can see, I got it working! Here’s how I did it:

The first step was to upgrade the hardware. The hard drive was old and small, and 512 MB of RAM was definitely not enough to run Vista. I also wanted to add a new wireless card that used 802.11g. I went to Memory Express and got the parts: 2 GB of Kingston PC2700 RAM, a new Seagate 160 GB hard drive, a D-Link AirPlus wireless card, and a Samsung external DVD-Writer. I also decided to get the extended warranty (which I don’t usually). Total cost: $450.

The reason I bought the external DVD drive was because the Portege M200 doesn’t have a built-in drive. So I plugged it in and started the Vista setup, only to find that it was really slow. I stuck the Windows XP disc in just to make sure, and yep, still really slow. I searched for something to fix the problem, but came up empty. The drive worked fine on my desktop, so it had to be the firmware on the tablet or something.

I looked for another solution, and eventually found this post by Ryan Adams. His solution is to use something called TFTP to install Windows Vista over a network connection. All you need is a computer with a working DVD drive that you can share, and a crossover cable. His instructions are excellent, so if you need to install Vista on a machine that doesn’t have a DVD drive, give it a shot. That’s how I got mine working.

The install was painless and pretty quick, and I breathed a sigh of relief when Vista booted up successfully. I was almost there! The next step was drivers. I found this page on the Mobile PC Wiki really useful. You can use some of the original M200 drivers. Additionally, you can install the M400 software updates that Toshiba has released for Windows Vista: one is the “Value Added Package for Windows Vista” and the other is the “Tablet PC Extension for Windows Vista”.

driverI didn’t mess around with the video too much at this point, and instead downloaded Windows Vista SP1 from MSDN and got that installed.

Since then, I have been messing around with the video drivers. I was determined to get Aero Glass working! I read Scott Hanselman’s post and was a little worried – I’m not sure he’s ever gotten it to work. Anyway, I eventually got the NVIDIA 97.59 driver installed and working properly!

It took me a while to figure out, but I can’t use transparency. If I turn on transparency and then open three or four windows, the Desktop Window Manager service crashes and everything reverts back to Vista Basic. If I turn off transparency however, Aero Glass works just fine. Here’s the non-transparent look:

not transparent

And here’s what it looks like with transparency enabled:

transparent

Having the transparency is nice, but it’s not a deal-breaker. And I’d much rather have Aero Glass than Vista Basic (which is ugly and pale blue by default).

Today, I finally ran the Windows Experience test:

vista rating

That’s pretty much the same as I’ve seen around the web for other Portege M200 owners who have upgraded to Vista. If Toshiba and NVIDIA released better drivers, I’m sure the rating would be much higher. Ah well, they want you to buy new machines I guess.

Based solely on my perception of how well the tablet performs, I’d say it’s much faster and more responsive with Vista then it ever was with XP. Surely the 2 GB of RAM and new hard drive help, though. The one negative is that the battery lasted far longer under XP. I’m talking like an hour and half longer!

That said, I am really glad I decided to upgrade my tablet to Vista. It kicks ass! I’ll save that for another post, but if you’re an M200 owner wondering whether or not to move to Vista, my advice would be to do so. The Tablet PC functionality in Vista easily outshines XP, you won’t regret the upgrade.