Didn’t Expect That to Work

Once the ThinkPad T43p with a bad fan was in working shape again, I restored the preloaded software on it. Which meant Windows XP (this is a system from 2005).

It didn’t take long for me to establish that XP is really hard to use these days. Even Firefox doesn’t support it. Getting any kind of halfway modern software running on XP is simply a no go. After reading about fairly good experience with installing Windows 7 on T43/T43p, I decided to go the same route.

I happened to have a burned DVD with Windows 7 Ultimate lying around, so I tried that. After installation, there was no WiFi, but there was wired Ethernet—good enough. Windows Update successfully installed drivers for WiFi, graphics, and a number of other devices. The rest (power management, fingerprint software, hotkey OSD) I grabbed from Lenovo.

Once I was done, I had a reasonably functioning laptop (surprisingly well functioning for a 13-year old machine) with just one small problem—no Windows 7 license. The T43p obviously came with an XP Pro license. And I would probably be able to scrounge a Windows 7 Pro license, but I installed Windows 7 Ultimate without thinking much about the problem. Is it even possible to buy a Windows 7 license these days?

As it turns out, it is. All “better” Windows 10 licenses generally come with downgrade rights. For example Windows 10 Pro, even OEM versions, can be downgraded to Windows 7 Pro. Commercially purchased licenses even give downgrade rights for Windows Vista, XP, and all the way down to Windows 9x/NT!

Well, that still didn’t help me because there’s no license that can be downgraded to Windows 7 Ultimate. After a bit of searching I found a Windows 7 Ultimate offered for mere 28.99 Euro on lizengo. After reading a few horror stories about that and similar sites, I had serious doubts that it would work, but thought I’d give it a try.

To my great surprise, a license key arrived via e-mail within a few business hours and Microsoft actually accepted it, successfully activating my Windows 7 Ultimate install.

Windows 7 Ultimate, activated

Good times.

Posted from a ThinkPad T43p

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22 Responses to Didn’t Expect That to Work

  1. Nils says:

    The problem with these* keys is, that key may come from a volume license pool.
    These pools only allow a limited number of activations. Maybe one day this key will be refused.
    The price of almost 30€ is far higher than a lot of ebay sellers, where one could get a key for 3€-5€. I think this is real one, not a VLK.

    * maybe this particular one is not one of these, one can say for sure by asking MS, but this would reveal semi-legal or illegal practices and risk the license

    Just a few weeks ago a friend wanted to get a new computer and asked me if I would build one from cheap parts. I did so and when he asked about OS, I recommended Windows 7 for his purpose and we got a key for 3€. It’s a bit of gambling, but in case it does not work anymore some day, it takes another 3€.

    As long as W7 is still supported >12 months I don’t see much point in annoying Windows 10 for an audio-recording-workstation in a frequently used hobby-studio. It has to work and there is no one having a clue how to fix stuff, if it breaks. With Win7 i have a better feeling about NOT having to go there and fix stuff.

    I wonder, if this would work:
    I have imaged the disk, once it was completly installed
    In 2 years it has to be reinstalled, due to virus
    The windows in the image is still activated – no hardware change.
    The key pool is over, a fresh installation wouldnt activate anymore

    Will the imaged – still activated – Windows work or will it complain and 30days start?

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    I think it will work because the Windows install will still be activated.

    As far as I know not only are the VL keys different but a VL-capable version of Windows 7 must be used. I could be wrong but I don’t think Windows 7 Ultimate ever allowed volume licensing. Professional and Enterprise did.

    What Windows variant was the 3 Euro key for? Windows 7 Pro?

    And yes, I can see that for a lot of uses Windows 7 makes perfect sense, because the last thing people want is for the OS to reinstall itself and break things.

  3. Yuhong Bao says:

    Though at least this used a separate GPU instead of using the 915GM IGP, and the Pentium M also supports SSE2 which means no issue with current Windows 7 security updates. (I remember when Jet 4.0 updates since late 2017 used SSE2 instructions)

  4. Michal Necasek says:

    The final Pentium M is really not a bad CPU. Of course it can’t compare with modern stuff when it runs off DDR2, but for a ~2GHz CPU from 2005 it’s surprisingly snappy. It feels nicer than Pentium 4s from that era.

  5. Vlad Gnatov says:

    I can confirm, you can buy Win7 Pro license for 3.99€. Was forced to get one some time ago because existing Win7 Home didn’t support more than 16G.

  6. Nils says:

    Yes, it was Win 7 Pro.

  7. Secret says:

    Let’s say that, err, a friend of mine, err, has used a volume licence key for XP for quite a while. At least once one of those machines were first refused in the windows update thing after the machine had been out of use for a really long period. Then after a while it started working.

    Not sure if it was due to some other thing like for example incorrect system time making SSL handshake to fail (without any meaningful information) but probably not as that would had prevented Windows Update to load at all in the “browser component”.

    My suspicion is that after a long time of not being in use, machines installed with a volume licence key is deactivated in the licence server and their licence is put back in the pool of free licences to use for future installations. If they starts to be used again then a licence is aquired from the pool if it isn’t empty.

    Again this is just speculation but it seems rather likely.

  8. Chris W. says:

    Michael, if you need to do any further modern work on XP in the future, there’s a fork of Pale Moon 28 and its successor browser, Basilisk that have XP/Vista support restored – they work fairly well. The latest binaries at present time are here: https://msfn.org/board/topic/177125-my-build-of-new-moon-temp-name-aka-pale-moon-for-xp/?do=findComment&comment=1155673

    As for Windows Updates, there have been only two real issues that have popped up with the post 2014 EOL XPEmbedded hotfixes. The first is with oleat32.dl – a rather maddening UI bug. Despite multiple successive iterations of the patch, Microsoft has been unable (unwilling?) to fix it and it exists in “official” POSReady2009 as well. For now avoid oleat32.dll newer than 5.1.2600.7248 (KBKB4018556-V2). The second issue is with SSE2. As with Windows 7 (and probably coming to Windows Server 2008 any day now), some (but not all) updates from Patch Tuesday August 2018 and later fail on non SSE2 systems. This breaking bug was introduced without any warning and AFAIK unlike with 7 it isn’t even documented on the KB articles.

  9. Yuhong Bao says:

    Worth mentioning that my mention of “Jet 4.0 updates since late 2017 used SSE2 instructions” applies to all versions of Windows too.

  10. Michal Necasek says:

    I expect I’ll continue using XP for a while, but not for any “real” work, i.e. anything that needs an internet connection.

    Interesting about the SSE breakage, I have not really tried updating any Windows XP/7 on CPUs older than Pentium M. Basically Pentium III and older would have trouble I guess.

  11. Yuhong Bao says:

    All the Jet 4.0 updates since late 2017 has the same or similar DLLs inside.

  12. Yuhong Bao says:

    You can see the SSE2 instructions clearly if you disassemble the DLLs like MSEXCL40.DLL and MSJET40.DLL.

  13. Yuhong Bao says:

    Another thing I noticed is that the newer SDKs map the Interlocked* functions to intrinsics, but this is not a problem on Windows XP and later as it requires CMPXCHG8B to boot.

  14. ender says:

    I suggest you backup this Windows 7 install and the try upgrading to Windows 10 – it sometimes works better than 7 on low-end hardware (and despite the free upgrade period ending years ago, it still works).

  15. Michal Necasek says:

    Does Windows 10 really work better even on a single-core CPU? I’m a bit skeptical about that.

    What does work much better in Windows 10 is drivers.

  16. ender says:

    It worked slightly better than 7 in my experience on a Via VB8002 board (1,6GHz Nano CPU, single-core), at least as long as I could make the graphic driver work (Win7 driver always produced garbage on screen, while the Vista driver worked until 1607, then it also started producing garbage; I was running 32-bit version, because that board was never stable with 64-bit systems).

  17. Chris W. says:

    I’ve never really seen any evidence Windows 10 actually works better on low end hardware than 7. Given all the random little incompatibilities Microsoft introduces over time and the constant update rollercoaster I can’t imagine it’d be a better option on old PCs.

    @Michal -> As an aside, I have read your site for years and just realized your name is Michal not Michael. I apologize for butchering the spelling until now! 😉

  18. Michal Necasek says:

    My experience (purely anecdotal) is that Windows 10 really likes to have at least 2 cores. Windows 7 still works okay with just one. The constant churn is definitely a problem. I wonder when Windows 10 1809 will show up again…

    Don’t worry about the spelling 🙂

  19. Nils says:

    I still remember a friend’s P4/2.8GHz/2GB RAM that ran Windows 7 without problems. Installing everything she needed and updates wouldn’t take more than an evening.
    Firefox, JDownloader, Openoffice, Photoshop and Paint.NET she used heavily. All the stuff that now is known to slow down the PC.

    This was very short after the release of Windows 7.

    Today impossible. I tried Windows 7 on a P4, it is so annoying, to wait minutes for login…

  20. Michal Necasek says:

    They might well have embedded customers and such, people who would not be running the latest Windows.

  21. Yuhong Bao says:

    I wonder how they would manage to test it though

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