Windows 7 on the Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC

Two years ago I decided to upgrade my tablet PC to Windows Vista, a process that I detailed here. I don’t use my tablet very much, but I do like to get the pen out from time to time to do some scribbling. The improvements in Windows Vista made the tablet much more usable, and though it wasn’t without problems, I wouldn’t have gone back to Windows XP. Slowly but surely I’ve replaced or upgraded the rest of my computers to Windows 7, and I love it. It’s a great operating system that just works. I decided to see if Seven could breathe new life into my tablet too.

Windows 7 on Toshiba Portege M200

The first hurdle was the same as last time – the lack of a DVD drive in the tablet. Fortunately it was much easier to deal with this time! I took the installation DVD and put it on a USB key, something that appears to be quite common given all the tutorials available online. Here’s the TechNet guide and here’s a useful guide from Ars Technica.

The install proceeded normally, and as quickly as I had come to expect from Windows 7. All was going well until the first boot up after installation, when the machine froze. I restarted it, but the same thing happened. I decided to try to boot into safe mode, which didn’t work because the machine had not yet been setup. I searched around online and found many people talking about removing unnecessary hardware. The only extra thing I had was the D-Link Wireless card I had added (you can see it sticking out in the picture). I removed it, restarted, and everything worked fine! Success!

After all the Windows updates were finished, I installed a couple more things. First was the Toshiba Value Added Package for Windows 7 (click on Downloads), which is meant for the M400 but works fine on the M200. Second was the NVIDIA ForceWare driver. The 96.85 version worked reliably for me, enabling Aero without transparency. After that it was pretty much good to go!

I ran the Windows Experience test, which resulted in an overall drop from what I had under Vista:

Oddly enough, the gaming graphics score went up slightly! A score of 1.0 is a far cry from the 5.9 my desktop computer gets (and that’s just because of the hard drive score, everything else is 6.9 or higher), but considering how old the tablet is, I guess I can’t complain.

Under Windows Vista, everything worked as it did in Windows XP except for the external display. I haven’t tried that under Windows 7 yet, but a few other things no longer work, such as the buttons on the side of the screen, and more importantly, screen rotation. I’ve looked into a few threads where some people have successfully made it work, but I haven’t tried any of their solutions just yet. I’m not sure I want to mess with the video drivers too much now that I have something stable. I never take my tablet with me anymore anyway (I have a netbook for that), it’s strictly a home PC, so I’m not too worried about it.

There are some nice improvements to the tablet functionality in Windows 7, and combined with how much better the OS is than Vista in general, I’m happy with the upgrade! I’m not sure how much life the hardware has left though – I suspect Windows 7 will be the last OS it runs, but you never know.

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.

Format-shifting: HD DVD to Blu-ray

high def formats By now you’ve probably heard that Toshiba has thrown in the towel and will stop making HD DVDs. That means Sony has finally won a format war! Good for them, I guess. Not so good for the consumers who invested in HD DVD, however. What are you supposed to do with the player and all those discs that you bought?

One option would be to convert your HD DVDs to Blu-ray. Wired has created a “how to” specifically for that purpose:

By converting your movies to a more enduring format, you can ensure your movie collection survives the death of the machine that plays them.

The process is simple in principle but excruciating in practice, thanks to the complexity of the technology, the myriad of applications needed and the predations of an industry that doesn’t want you format-shifting at all.

The three basic steps are ripping, transcoding/authoring, and burning. Converting your discs will take time, and it will definitely cost money. Lots of money.

I’m not sure it’s worth it. You haven’t bought that many HD DVDs yet have you? And if you have, you’re probably better off trying to track down a dual-format player. It’ll save you a bunch of stress, that’s for sure.

Your HD DVDs may be salvaged, but your player is almost certainly a glorified paper weight now.

Read: Convert Your HD DVDs to Blu-ray

Blast from the past: hard drives

The computer industry changes so rapidly that it’s easy to forget about the hardware and devices we had just a few years ago. I’ve been cleaning up the office, getting rid of some junk that we’ve had lying around for years, and I’m amazed at some of the hardware I’ve found. Hard drives best demonstrate the difference between then and now – they’ve had the same form factor for years, but the capacities are vastly different.

For instance, the hard drive from an old Toshiba T4900CT laptop is only 810 MB! Technically that’s 770 MB I believe, yes megabytes. I don’t know why I’ve kept this laptop for so long, it hasn’t worked for years. I guess I’m a bit of a digital pack rat. It was the first laptop I ever used. My family used it at the pet store back in Inuvik when I was a kid, and it worked great. I even took it on a field trip back in high school (Dickson reminded me that we played Grand Theft Auto on the bus).

I found this description on the Toshiba Europe site:

The T4900CT and its 75 MHz Pentium processor will give you such speed and power when you’re out on the road that you’ll really move along the data super-highway. Back in the office, there’s hardly a desktop that can keep up with it.

How times have changed! Not only does it weigh about 15 pounds, but it’s a good four inches thick! The last thing that processor makes me think of is speed and power.

Here are a few photos I took tonight: the 810 MB hard drive, a 9.1 GB SCSI hard drive, and a 20.5 GB IDE hard drive.

810 MB hard drive 9.1 GB hard drive 20.5 GB hard drive

I wouldn’t consider buying anything smaller than a 300 GB SATA II hard drive now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that seems tiny in a couple years. Hard to imagine that a hard drive with only 770 MB was ever actually usable!

Fuel cell powered MP3 player

Post ImageI like to think that my Zen Touch has a pretty damn good battery life, at least when compared to other audio players like the iPod. Not as good as the new fuel cell powered MP3 player that Toshiba has developed though:

Toshiba, who wears the belt for world’s smallest methanol fuel cell, has now developed two fuel-cell powered MP3 player prototypes. A flash-based player measuring 1.4 x 4.3 x 0.8-inches is said to run for 35 hours on a single 3.5ml charge of highly concentrated methanol while a hard drive based player swells to 2.6 x 4.9 x 1.1-inches and runs for about 60 hours on a single 10ml charge. Those dimensions are pretty sweet (the 60GB ipod is 2.4 x 4.1 x .75 inches by comparison) and will certainly get smaller once optimized for production.

That’s pretty crazy, no?! Though I am not sure if storing methanol would be that much better than just plugging the player into the wall every now and then,

Read: Engadget