This weekend, I had the chance to rebuild and repair an extremely finicky Windows PC on loan to a friend. It is an HP Dragon (model number HDX9203) that HP released in 2008 prior to the release of Windows 7 (October 2009) as a Windows Vista-based “killer media machine.” It includes an AVerTV cable interface for TV access, a Blu-ray player, a hefty-for-the-time T9500 Core 2 Duo processor, and a huge 20.1″ LCD display.
When I say the machine is big, I’m not kidding. It’s dimensions are 18.7″ (47.5cm) x 13.36″ (33.95cm) x 2.3″ (5.85cm), and it weighs over 15 pounds (6.8 kg). It’s packaged as a laptop, with a special hinge between the keyboard base and the screen, that enables the screen angle to be altered independently of the angle of the hinge with respect to the base. Don’t get it? It lets you pull the screen closer so that you can position it right past the top edge of function keys on the keyboard (as shown in the preceding photo), even though the edge of the lower deck itself is about 2.5″ further back. The screen also has a 1980 x 1200 native resolution, and offers very good brightness and color output. I’ve watched plenty of movies and Blu-rays on it, and it’s a great personal media station for sure.
The problems with this machine were its cost (these units cost $3,200-4,000 when sold in 2008, depending on configuration and components), size (enormous), and weight (no way you could hold this on your lap for any length of time). Battery life is less than 2 hours (less than 90 minutes when watching videos on DVD or Blu-ray), and thus, it more or less requires a wall socket nearby at all times. By the time Windows 7 got released in October of 2009, HP had apparently decided to orphan and abandon this capable but monstrous media PC. They never updated the drivers for Windows 7, and they never really kept up with Vista on that machine terribly seriously, either.
I went ahead and upgraded the machine to Windows 7 anyway, and was ultimately able to get everything working except for the Authentec AES2501 fingerprint scanner, and the AVerTV miniHDTV TV tuner card. I did have to fiddle about with graphics, media card, and network drivers, because I couldn’t count on getting the latest and greatest Windows 7 drivers to work on this machine. Most of HP’s Vista drivers for this machine peter out around 2008, though there are a couple of items with 2009 dates, and I found another HP driver for a different Vista PC with a 2011 date that actually worked on the Dragon as I re-installed Vista and found my way to a functional and reasonably current set of drivers this weekend — mostly by virtue of a painstaking process of trial and error. I bounced between the HP Support pages, various manufacturer download sites (Intel, Marvell, and nVidia), and the DriverAgent driver scanner utility that has become an important element in the top tray of my PC maintenance and upkeep toolbox.
In the end, I was able to get all but three of the drivers for the Dragon running Vista current as per DriverAgent’s scans. I had to stick with a 2010 version of the nVidia 8800M GTS driver, and go with the AES2501 driver that Windows Update supplied for me (later updates were available through DriverAgent and Authentec itself, but didn’t work). Same for the AVerTV tuner card as well: newer drivers were available, and would install on the machine, but rendered the tuner useless.
It ended up taking me the better part of two full days to get Vista installed (about 2 hours) and up-to-date (150 updates took almost ten hours to download, install, and in some cases re-install when first tries failed). Getting the drivers right took about another 7-8 hours, but mostly because I tried to get as current as possible, then backed off to what worked, through trial and error. This was a case where letting Windows pick the “iffy” drivers (video, TV, and fingerprint scanner) would have been my best strategy from the get-go. But I didn’t figure that out until the course of events rubbed my nose in this realization. Live and learn, I guess!
But now the machine is back in fine form, and running Media Center properly. I can return it to my buddy, knowing that he can put the machine to work as it was intended to be used. For some reason or another, I find this immensely satisfying. It is too, too bad that HP didn’t support an upgrade to Windows 7 for this machine, though. What I cobbled together for Windows 7 on my own — thanks in large part to the wealth of information available on the Notebook Review HP HDX 9000 DRAGON Owners Lounge (see Part 1 and Part 2 for thousands of posts, many informative, especially the instructions and links at the beginning of Part 2) — worked well enough for desktop and test use, though it did not work as a fully-functional media center. And in re-reading the Owners Lounge Part 2 stuff just now, I find myself oddly tempted to try a Win7 install again, as several users have indeed gotten everything to work under that OS, and it sounds pretty fast with an SSD as the boot drive. Hmmm….