Exploiting Modern Laptop Hardware

I’ve been in the pleasant position of developing strategy of how best to set up new hardware. Well, new to me, in any case. Through the generosity of Burt Humburg, I have a Razer Blade Pro laptop, which I think is a 2014 vintage model.

My previous personal laptop is a 2007-vintage Gateway MT6458, a dual-core machine that I upgraded to 4 GB of RAM and a 300GB PATA hard disk. It has been a pretty good platform, but getting cramped and crufty now. The optical drive packed it in earlier this year. It also has a progressive problem with overheating, requiring a laptop cooler in order to function when stressed. Some time previous, I had upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 on it.

Our file server uses a dedicated Linux installation. I have a 2007-vintage Macbook Pro that, amazingly enough, I was able to upgrade earlier this year to OS X Yosemite. My personal computing has long been mostly Windows applications, including CorelDraw, so I have interests in continuing to use various applications that don’t run well under Wine, legacy applications to handle data going back to the dawn of MS-DOS, and trying out some of the latest technologies, like apps for Windows 8 and 10.

The Razer Blade Pro is quite a machine. It is a quad-core Intel I7-based machine, with 16 GB of RAM, and dual disks, a 500GB SSD and a 1TB SATA hard disk. It came with Windows 8.1 installed on the SSD. I hadn’t realized the dual disk nature of the machine and had started with an Ubuntu 14.04 LTS overwrite of the entire 1TB hard disk. I was surprised to find that Windows could still boot. Upon discovering that, I figured out doing the “reset to factory defaults” on the Windows installation. I then upgraded it to Windows 10, selecting the “copy nothing” setting to make sure it carried over nothing from the past.

I shrank the Windows partition from 500 GB to 400 GB, used 20 GB of the free space for swap, and installed Ubuntu 14.04 LTS again, this time on the 80 GB free space on the SSD. I re-partitioned the 1TB drive as an NTFS volume. My strategy is that I can dual-boot the system into either Windows 10 or Ubuntu 14.04 as seems appropriate to the task, then mount the 1TB drive from either OS that is running. Between these two, this takes care of hosting any modern application I want from either Windows or Linux. That leaves the legacy applications.

I have a lot of code I wrote for marine mammal research that is in Delphi versions 1 to 5. While I am moving to doing analyses in Python now, it is still useful to be able to examine, edit, and even run code in the Delphi 5 IDE. However, Delphi 5 does not want to install in Windows 10. I was able to get a partial installation going by telling the installer to ignore all database functionality. That isn’t really helpful, though, so I looked for a different approach.

Under Windows 7, there was the “Windows XP Mode”, a virtual machine running Windows XP. That did not carry over to Windows 10, though it is possible to go through a sequence of steps to extract the virtual hard drive and run it under Hyper-V. That only works in editions of Windows 10 beyond “Home”, and Home appears to be what I was saddled with following upgrading. With even more manual intervention, it is possible to get the virtual hard drive from “Windows XP Mode” running under VirtualBox, which I got going. A bit of fiddling with shared drives and a USB DVD drive let me get Delphi 5, C++ Builder 3, and MATLAB 7 installed on the XP VM. One gotcha is that the XP VM is only good for thirty days, and then must be activated with a product key for XP. So I ended up creating a new VM and installing a full Windows XP Pro disk I had on hand, because that way I had a code to go with the install. And then re-installing the various things I wanted for legacy applications. I can set the 1TB drive as a shared folder, so I can get to things on it from the VM directly. I’ll be stashing a backup of the pristine VM for safekeeping. Going one step further, to make a VM for a Windows 98 setup, would allow me to load CorelDraw 3, which I think would permit me to open CD 1 drawings, such as my illustrations for Dan Levine’s “Introduction Neural and Cognitive Modeling” and for my MS thesis. Getting that going looks to be far more involved, though.

On Windows 10, I’ve installed programming, database, video, audio, graphics, desktop publishing, and office software. I’ll be looking into podcast and video production with this setup, besides the usual coding and writing projects.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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