Microsoft really needs Windows 7 to be the netbook OS of choice. But how does it work on a netbook? And how does that performance compare with Windows XP?

Netbooks are the one segment of the PC market that's actually growing, even in the current economy. For now, Microsoft is offering Windows XP on netbooks because Windows Vista simply won't run on a netbook's limited hardware, but it's going to need to move them to Windows 7 once that operating system hits the market.

Which brings up the question: is there anything wrong with running a full version of Windows 7 on a netbook? To test this out, I decided to install the Windows 7 Ultimate beta (because of frequent updates, I worked with builds 7000 to 7077) on a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook. How well would it run?

While Microsoft claims any version of Windows 7 will run on current netbooks, Intel is not making such claims. In fact, Anand Chandrasekher, Intel's head of Ultra Mobility, recently said that Intel will be releasing new Atom processors in the second half of 2009 that will support Windows 7 Starter and Basic editions.

What Windows 7 needs

Microsoft states that Windows 7 requires a 1GHz processor, 1GB of main memory and support for DirectX 9 graphics with 128MB of memory (for the Aero interface). The company recommends that you have at least 16GB of available disk space for the installation; Windows 7 actually takes up about 5GB.

The Dell Mini 9 is powered by an Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6GHz. The test machine had 1GB of RAM and an 8GB SSD. The 8.9in display is powered by the processor's built-in 945GSE graphics. The default resolution, which is typical for a netbook, is 1024 by 600. The Mini 9 also has three USB ports, an Ethernet port, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and an SD card reader.

What it doesn't have, as is the case with almost all netbooks, is an optical drive for the installation disk. To get around this, I used a Sony DRX-710UL external DVD drive.

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