Thomas wants to avoid Windows 10’s update problems on small laptops with only 32GB of storage. He’s asking about installing Windows 7 instead, but there are better options
Thu 5 Apr 2018 06.27 EDT Last modified on Fri 6 Apr 2018 11.13 EDT
Is it possible to install Windows 7 on an Asus notebook with 32GB of storage? I don’t need the complexities of Windows 10 and its updating problems. I just need a light machine for travelling that gives me access to email and a word processor. Thomas
As a rule of thumb, you should never try to install an old operating system on new hardware, unless it has been tested to run it. Microsoft released Windows 7 in 2009, almost nine years ago. The hardware in Windows machines has changed since then, and you may not be able to find the drivers needed to make your Asus work with Windows 7.
You can, of course, still buy PCs that run Windows 7. These usually ship with a license to run Windows 10 Pro but with Windows 7 Pro installed. The Pro versions of Windows, unlike the Home versions, include “downgrade rights”. Obviously, these machines have compatible hardware and have been tested running Windows 7. Windows laptops sold running Windows 10 Home will not necessarily have compatible hardware, and will not have been tested running it.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, and you could try searching the web to see if anyone has tried it with the model you own. However, there are other reasons to abandon the idea. First, you will have to buy a copy of Windows 7. Second, Windows 7 reaches the end of its life on 14 January 2020. That’s just under two years away, so it’s not a long term solution.
As regular readers may recall, I’ve recommended against buying Windows 10 netbooks that only have 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage, because of potential problems updating Windows 10. During the update, you need space to download the new version, space for the current operating system, and space to store a rolled-up copy of the current operating system. This is important because if the upgrade fails, you need it to restore the old version.
If you start with 32GB, install a few programs, add temporary internet files, security updates, log files, swap files, hibernation files etc, you may not have enough space to install upgrades.
This should not be a problem, because Windows 10 can use external storage instead. For example, you can plug in an SD card or an external hard drive, and Windows 10 will use the free space to upgrade your machine. In 2015, I bought a Lenovo Miix 3 netbook with the same specification, and it updates correctly using an external hard drive. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same experience. Some netbooks can’t see the external storage.
Asus says your netbook can be upgraded using USB storage. However, if that doesn’t work, you may be able to free enough space by running Windows 10’s Disk Cleanup utility, and selecting the option to “Clean up system files”.
If that fails, you can use the Settings app to reset your netbook back to its original state. This will delete all your programs and data, which shouldn’t be a problem because you will have everything backed up to the external hard drive mentioned above, as well as stored online.
If all else fails, you can use another PC to download Windows 10, use the media creation tool to create a USB thumbrive, and install a fresh copy of Windows 10. It’s the last resort, because it will also delete any special programs and drivers installed by the original PC manufacturer. (Some people see this as an advantage, but it’s just as well to understand the drawbacks.)
I wrote a longer answer a year ago: What is the best way to deal with Windows 10 updates on a 32GB machine?
An option I missed, suggested in the comments, is to compact the operating system.
Microsoft is currently updating Windows 10 twice a year. The Spring Creators Update, version 1803, is expected next week, on 10 April, and the Fall version, code-named Redstone 5, has just been released for testing.
It’s important to note that versions soon go out of support. The launch version 1507 went out of support last year. Version 1511 goes out of support on 10 April, and 1607 on 9 October. Most users are now on 1709, the Fall Creators Update, which will be supported until 8 October 2019.
Microsoft usually supports software for 10 years, and that hasn’t changed. However, you have to keep upgrading to maintain Windows 10 support.
If you only need “access to email and a word processor” then almost any operating system will do the job, including Linux. I don’t think it’s practical to dual-boot Linux and Windows 10 from a 32GB eMMC chip – which is more like an SD card than an SSD – but you could certainly replace Windows 10 with a version of Linux.
There are countless websites that will take you through this process, so I’m not going to do it here. However, you will have to decide which of the hundreds of versions to install, as beautifully illustrated by the GNU/Linux Distributions Timeline family tree.
While I have tried some “small” versions of Linux, I generally recommend Mint. This is a version of Ubuntu, which I have found to be the most likely to install with everything working, including the trackpad and wifi. You might try Mint Xfce as the most suitable version for a low-powered laptop, though it will take up more storage space than Ubuntu or Ubuntu MATE, which runs on the Raspberry Pi.
Linux has a fairly steep learning curve, especially when it goes wrong, and the road back to Windows 10 can be painful. Try booting it from a USB thumbdrive first, to see how you get on.
If you only need “access to email and a word processor” then several different devices will do the job, including smartphones, tablets, and Chromebooks. In fact, I would suggest you think about a Chromebook if you hadn’t already bought the netbook.
Chromebooks are limited in comparison to Windows 10 laptops, but they can work offline, as long as you select the offline option while you are still online. Also, many Chromebooks can now run Android apps that work offline.
I note that most Chromebooks now seem to come with 4GB of memory and some have 64GB of storage instead of 32GB. I wouldn’t recommend buying a Chromebook with only 2GB, just as I wouldn’t recommend buying a Windows laptop with 2GB. You may need 4GB to run Google Chrome comfortably: it can easily consume 3GB if you have a lot of tabs loaded. (Indeed, my own laptop and desktop both have 8GB, and I wouldn’t buy less.)
Alternatively, you could use a tablet or a smartphone with a small portable keyboard. As mentioned previously, I use a Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard – now discontinued, but there are alternatives – which works with Windows, Android and Apple devices. Originally I used it with an 8in Windows tablet, before switching to an Android smartphone with a 6in screen.
What makes this a winner is Google’s voice dictation system, which is now almost perfect at decoding words. Instead of typing, I dictate things into the Microsoft Word app on Android, which stores texts online in OneDrive. (I also dictate into Facebook Messenger, SMS, email, Chrome and other apps.) I only have to fish out the keyboard to add punctuation, do some formatting or make corrections when necessary.
There are advantages to having a bigger screen, but with a fold-up keyboard, you can choose a device with the screen size you need.
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