You might have heard recently that Windows 7 has issues being installed on to newer hardware like Intel’s Skylake platform. This is mainly to do with the way the USB protocols have been reorganised, with motherboard vendors and software developers like Microsoft and Apple moving to the xHCI protocol. xHCI supersedes the old USB protocols and makes a number of welcome changes, like being able to support newer USB speeds and changes to how signaling works without having to design an entire protocol to support it.
But the problem is that Windows 7 doesn’t understand how xHCI is implemented in Intel’s Skylake platform, and so it never gets beyond the point where the installer starts to look for the operating system files to continue the installation, which is especially problematic if you’re installing it from a USB drive. Thankfully, there are three ways around that.
So at this point, perhaps even while you’re reading this article, you’re just about ready to do this:
But do not despair! The silicon gods look down at us with pity, and have provided ways and means of making hardware talk to Windows 7 during the installation process.
Option One: Use a PS/2 keyboard and a DVD
The simplest solution to a problem is sometimes the best one, and in this case if you have a PS/2 keyboard and mouse hooked up while you’re installing Windows 7 on Skylake from a DVD drive, there are no issues. The installer should just hop through all of the usual windows to configure your settings and once you’re in the desktop, you can install the correct chipset drivers for your motherboard from the disc and things should work smoothly from there.
This is the old-school way of doing it and it’s by far the slowest because the transfer speed for a 24x DVD drive is only 33MB/s, but it works around the issues with not having USB devices available.
Option Two: Slipstream the xHCI driver into the install files
Gigabyte has this nifty little program that creates a USB installer for you on the drive of your choice, and works either with an ISO that you’ve previously downloaded, or a Windows 7 DVD disc that you might have lying around somewhere (if you have any of the HP OEM discs, do keep them, they are incredibly useful). The program will then copy over the installation files and make the drive bootable, and it’ll also include the necessary drivers to allow the use of USB devices during the installation on hardware that only supports the xHCI protocol.
If you’re running a clean install on a NVMe SSD, the tool will also download the drivers for that, and I haven’t fiddled with the packages option, but I assume that this lets you pre-install some of Gigabyte’s applications that you normally get on the included disc. This little app might also include drivers for USB 3.1 controllers, although using USB 2.0 is recommended for compatibility purposes. Very handy!
Option Three: Automate the entire installation and do something else useful
You may have heard that the computer enthusiast’s favourite tool, NLite for Windows XP, has recently received a shot in the arm and returned as NTLite, a program that allows you to customise nearly every part of the Windows installation process. It’s available for free for personal use and you can do almost everything that you could normally do with Sysprep. You can use it to slipstream all the drivers, all of the available Windows updates that you’re missing (use the WSUS Offline tool for that), and make it so that all you have to do is set your PC to boot from the DVD. Once that process starts, you can go do something else with your time, and return twenty minutes later to find a fully functional Windows 7 install on Intel’s new Skylake hardware.
And yes, I can hear the people running new AMD motherboards snickering in the background. You guys don’t have to jump through any hoops until socket AM4 arrives. You can just install Windows however you want and you don’t have to dilly-dally with these restrictions in trying to make old software run on bleeding-edge hardware. But you won’t have the last laugh for long…