The frustration and joy of installing Longhorn

2 minutes read

To expect that the newest hardware works with a pre-Alpha version of the newest Microsoft operating system may be expecting a bit much. My Alienware Area51-m just wouldn't boot past the logo screen just 3 seconds after booting from the install disk. It just hung. Bummer.

To expect that a hardware vendor, especially one that's comparatively small and which is specialized in gaming machines and therefore very consumer focused, would even consider providing support on that issue is hopeless.

Is it? Well, usually it probably would be, but not with Alienware. Their tech support simply rocks. And with their help and help from the Longhorn Evangelism team in Redmond, Longhorn is now finally running on my new notebook.

The problem of the Area51-m not booting Longhorn is an unfortunate combination of a more BIOS-sensitive bootloader in Longhorn compared to XP/Win03 and a bug in current production AMIBIOS (AMIBIOS8, 1.09) that Alienware puts on their machines. Once we had that identified and I got the same fix that the Longhorn Evangelism team got for their Alienware machines (they have them too), flashed the BIOS and Longhorn booted.

Done? Unfortunately not. What I found was that this particular "special fix" BIOS version (1.08.01) would work stably with Longhorn and Win03 only when the machine is on AC power. Once you unplug and run on batteries, both OSses bluescreen after about 10-15 seconds.

Because this is my primary machine, I must have the machine running on batteries and therefore I re-flashed the BIOS back to the production version (1.09) so that at least Win03 would work and for Longhorn demos I'd just re-flash down to the other BIOS. Once done, I rebooted the machine and it happened to boot into Longhorn. And worked. Why would the installer hang so early on this BIOS version but the OS just boots fine once installed?  Puzzling.

So after all this had been sorted out, I figured that Longhorn isn't a good idea to have on the D: drive, after all. It does work, but I'd have to adjust a lot of demos and that's just too much work. So I am installing Win03 and Longhorn once more right now in the following sequence: BIOS 1.09 > Win03 to D: > "special fix" BIOS 1.08.1 > Longhorn to C: > BIOS 1.09. Now that we've got this sorted out, Alienware will hopefully have a permanent fix for the production BIOS soon so that this step becomes unnecessary and so that others can get Longhorn installed on their Area51s as well.

On the Longhorn tour, we'll have two of these boxes as our demo machines. Although they are absolutely swamped right now, Alienware made it possible to provide a system for Microsoft on very short notice, so that we don't have to carry a rather massive desktop PC around on "this 13 cities in 13 consecutive work days" tour as was initially planned.

Now I need to work on my backlog.

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