[xplorer²] — Live and learn
home » blog » 24 May 2009

"Γηράσκω αεί διδασκόμενος" — Socrates

The other day I bought a small netbook for the womenfolk in the family, and curious about the new windows 7 and how xplorer² would work on it I grabbed the free download from microsoft. The plan for the rest of the afternoon was simple: make a dual-boot XP/W7 netbook. Why not just install virtual PC on the netbook? Well I thought that the 1.6GHz atom processor would be quite challenged for the virtualization approach.

There are plenty of guides on dual booting Windows 7 with either XP or Vista. The idea is to have at least 2 partitions on your hard disk, one for each operating system, then select what to use at the time of booting the computer through a menu. The netbook came with just one partition for XP so the first step was to downsize C:\ by a few GB to make room for the W7 partition. I had done this before but never on a computer without a DVD drive. After a lot of searching the correct answer was to make a linux-bootable USB version of gparted live and use it to create a 30GB D:\ partition.

Could the same trick work for installing W7? Some googling revealed various claims of a bootable USB stick with windows 7 setup ISO on it but they were thin on details (perhaps Vista can make a bootable USB drive but XP doesn't). The new netbook's missing CD drive was proving a major pain. Some head scratching later I decided to write the windows 7 installation ISO to an external USB hard disk and use virtual clone drive to mount it as a virtual DVD drive. Then starting the W7 setup was easy. I picked custom install option so that W7 would go to the new D:\ partition and that was about it. Amazingly the virtual DVD drive remained intact after quite a few warm reboots until the end of W7 installation. I don't know if this trick was down to virtual clone drive or the microsoft setup people, but hats off anyway!

Add a DVD drive to your netbook?
Everyone's loves a challenge, and mine was to find a solution for the small netbook missing DVD drive. Not that I needed it as the successful W7 installation above has shown, but what has logic got to do with a good wager? <g> An obvious solution would be to buy an external USB DVD drive, but how banal would that be? Especially with a drive just sitting there on the old desktop PC? Yes, the plan was to setup a small home network to bridge the driveless netbook to the desktop PC and access its DVD drive — MacGyver style.

Once you have a network, you can access all shared resources between the 2 computers, including hard and optical disks and transfer files. Network paths come handy or just browse the computers from My Network places > Entire network > Microsoft Windows Network. To share the DVD first you have to enable sharing it from the drive's properties dialog. Alternatively you can brute-force access it using the default hidden administrative share \\remote_PC\D$ (assuming D is the DVD drive letter) providing login details.

Windows firewall can get in the way blocking access to files and resources among the connected computers so use the network setup wizard from conrol panel to enable sharing. Your antivirus tool can also get in the way but disabling it is way more tricky. This is left as an exercise. Finally how do you connect the two computers?

  • Wirelessly through your router. If you get your internet wirelessly your ADSL router can act as a network hub. This is the easiest option but I have found it to be a bit slow in file transfer speed.
  • Wired through a router. The same ADSL router can be used to connect computers with RJ45 (standard network) cable. That should improve the connection speed.
  • Direct cable connection. If the 2 computers are right next to each other you can use a single crossover RJ45 cable to connect their network ports.

If you are in McGyver mood only direct cable connection would cut it, albeit the fussier one to setup. Firstly without a DHCP router to assign IP addresses you have to manually setup the network connection's TCP/IP properties giving each computer a unique address in the range 192.168.0.XX. If you still get no connection, check your cable. I know all network cables look alike but I have learnt the hard way that they come in straight and crossover flavors, and if you use the straight variety as you always do with your hub you'll be swearing a lot like I did.

And that's how you can can access a CD/DVD drive from your netbook ultra-portable computer if you are prepared to go into extraordinary lengths. But you will learn a lot along the way!

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