21 Jan 2019
Windows 10 on the Dell E6410
Just a quick technical note, for the benefit of future Googlers… A few weeks ago, after reading some surprisingly positive comments about Windows 10 from people I trust, I decided I’d give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and give it a shot on a spare laptop I had sitting around.
The laptop in question was a Dell Latitude E6410, a business-oriented machine from a decade ago. For its day, this thing was a bit of a beast: dual graphics (chipset and discrete), 8GB RAM, 500GB SSD, Gigabit, decent WiFi, all the good stuff. Oh, and it had a TrackPoint-ish pointer in addition to a trackpad, which is still hard to find today. By modern standards it has absolutely rubbish battery life, even on a brand-new set of cells, but whatever, it spends most of its life locked into a docking station anyway.
To be honest, it’s still a pretty good machine. The specs treadmill started to slow down just after that machine was made, and it’s still well within the minimum system requirements published by Microsoft for Windows 10. And its Windows 7 license key (helpfully printed on the sticker under the battery) was, allegedly, still good for a Windows 10 activation.
But I had a bastard of a time getting Windows installed on it, and Dell is unhelpful because the machine is technically not supported to run Win10 (naturally, they want you to buy a new machine, even if it wouldn’t be much of an upgrade).
I’ll spare you the entire tale of woe, except that I got variety of boot failures after trying to install Win10 from a USB stick. At first, I couldn’t even get the machine to boot from the USB stick with Microsoft’s installer. Once I got that working, and it appeared to install Win10, I couldn’t get the machine to boot off of the HDD.
There were two big takeaways:
- You need a Windows machine to successfully create the install media.
There are lots of tutorials around, allegedly telling you how to
burn the Windows install ISO to a USB device, using Mac OS or Linux.
None of them worked for me; all of them produced unbootable
media. Didn’t matter if I used
dd, if I wiped the MBR, if I used special-purpose bootable-USB tools… the machine wouldn’t boot from them. But after borrowing a friend’s Windows machine for an hour, I was able to make one that worked using Rufus 3.4.
- The installer senses how you boot from the install media, in terms of BIOS/MBR or EFI/GPT, and uses that during the install process as it writes to the hard drive. This took me a long time to notice. The USB installer, once burned correctly, is bootable either with “legacy” BIOS from the device’s MBR, or “modern” EFI boot, with GPT.
For reasons that aren’t clear to me even still, the E6410 wanted to boot from the USB installer using BIOS/MBR, but needed the OS on the internal hard drive to be configured for EFI, or else it wouldn’t boot. But you can’t actually do this using the installer.
Instead, I had to use the F10 boot order menu to force the machine to do an EFI boot from the USB stick, then install Windows. This combination worked.
So, the process I used was:
Download the Win10 ISO from Microsoft (I used
Burn the ISO to an appropriately-sized USB drive with Rufus, on a Windows box.
Power down the E6410, plug in the USB drive, and power it up. Hit F10 quickly to reach the boot-device menu (not the full BIOS menu, just the boot selector is fine).
Choose EFI boot, and then from under the EFI options, choose the USB stick. Don’t choose the tempting option of the USB stick that’s just on the root level of the boot device tree. If you choose that one, the computer will boot using BIOS/MBR, resulting in a MBR install that won’t boot correctly.
Allow the machine to boot into the Windows installer. At the partitioning screen, delete all partitions (I had several, because my machine was being abused as a server for a while) and install to the HDD device. The Installer will create a single new partition spanning the whole device. I suppose at this point you could also select a pre-created partition if you were going to dual boot, but I didn’t bother.
Let the installer do its job, reboot, and pull the USB stick out promptly so it will boot from the HDD. Now enjoy the dulcet tones of Cortana, talking you through the rest of the install process.
I’m reserving judgement on Windows 10 until I have a chance to really try it out, but so far I can’t say I hate it. I don’t love it, and the hard sell on the Edge browser (“please use it! It’s really nice! Really!”) is a bit annoying, and some of the telemetry privacy options are ominious as hell, but it seems to run fine without slipstreaming drivers or any of the other crap I’ve learned to hate about Windows.