Back in January I posted a few articles about Windows 7 Beta and what it did to my laptop. It’s not Microsoft’s fault, it’s a combination of Dell and nVidia’s faults. It was the perfect storm: a known design flaw in the video card that affected a boatload of Dell, HP, Sony and Macintosh notebooks. On top of that was a poor design choice by Dell to not actually have contact between the overheating GPU chip and the copper heat pipe that’s supposed to cool it. On top of that was running a Beta OS. On top of that, using a pre-beta alpha-release of a driver for said beta os on a flawed laptop with a flawed GPU. A perfect storm.
While watching a video full-screen in Windows Media Player, the GPU overheated and blew up. Not only did it crash and blue screen and completely wipe out the running OS, but somehow it managed to overwrite the GPU BIOS! That shouldn’t be POSSIBLE, but it happened. The computer would boot up, just no screen. If I watched and waited for the hard drive to stop spinning away during bootup, typed my password and hit enter, it would log me in! I could HEAR the windows startup sound, but no video. No video on the external monitor or HDMI ports, either. Ultimately, because it was under warranty, Dell sent out a technician who replaced the whole motherboard, GPU included (although they replaced it with the same broke-ass GPU chip) so the story ended happily.
One of the things I noticed in the beta was the feedback system, which I used extensively (duh, that’s what betas are for) until I couldn’t. The big huge crash dump from the video card was never sent because after the motherboard was replaced, I was too scared to put the Windows 7 hard drive back in again. I figured I would wait until another beta (or RC) came out and hopefully there’d be a newer driver from nVidia available then, too.
On another note, there’s a way to use a clean, shiny penny to sandwich between the GPU and the heat pipe which drastically improves the transfer of heat to the heat pipe and can avoid just such an occurrence. (you can google nVidia GeForce 8400M GS Copper Mod to see for yourself). On the down side, doing so invalidates your warranty. I’ve refrained from doing it because of that, but when the warranty runs out, that’s on my to-do list for the very next day. Instead of doing a recall and replacing the bum chips (and the heat pipe while they were at it) Dell instead extended everyone’s warranty by 12 months, so if your laptop blows up (like mine did) you’re covered for an extra year.. but if it happens AGAIN after that period, you’ve got a dead laptop. No one else did anything better (HP, Sony, even Apple) so I don’t want to be TOO unfair and shit all over Dell only because they and their tech support have been very good to me over the years. No, really! :)
The Windows 7 RC is out today and will work (for free) until June 10th, 2010 or about 13 months. In the fine print is that starting 2 months before that, your computer will shut down every 2 hours as a warning sign that the expiration is imminent and that it’s time to get a properly licensed copy. Hopefully there’s an upgrade path so you can punch in a new product code and activate Windows without having to re-install with the release version. I can’t see myself NOT re-installing with 100% gold code, but I’m sure there will be people out there who have tweaked and modded their user profile and software set-up JUST SO and won’t relish the thought of starting over.