Despite what Dell's website states, the Inspiron 8600 will work fine on Windows 7 given it has enough hard drive space and RAM. This documentation was written for an Inspiron 8600 with Nvidia GeForce FX Go5200 graphics, 1.5 GB RAM, and Pentium M 1.7 GHz, installing Windows 7 Professional x86 to an empty, unformatted hard drive. Your mileage might vary depending on your system configuration. All processors available for the Inspiron 8600 support Windows 7, but some are faster than others; I recommend a Pentium M at 1.4 GHz or higher. Upgrades are discussed in more detail in the "Upgrades" section towards the end of this tutorial. Information here may also be applicable to Windows Vista, as the environment is similar.
Let me preface this by saying that after installation, the computer may be in a high-load state for several hours -- you won't be able to use the computer at its full potential until it finishes what it is doing. This is related to Windows Update, as far as I can tell; let the laptop run in a cool environment, connected to the Internet, and leave it overnight to do its thing. Ventilation is important; ensure the heatsinks (there is a small one to the left of the VGA port; don't forget about it) and vents are free of dust (canned/compressed air can blast out dust with ease; I highly suggest doing this with all computers every few months) and are not physically obstructed when you let it run.
But what about Windows 10?
Along with Windows 8, Windows 10 is not compatible with the Inspiron 8600, and it never will be. The processor does not support instructions required by Windows 8 and later, and thus cannot be upgraded past Windows 7.
After you have backed up your data and verified that you meet the following base requirements for a usable Windows 7 installation, you're ready to begin installation.
- 32-bit Windows 7 (64-bit operating systems and programs are not compatible with the Pentium M)
- 40 GB free hard drive space
- 1 GB physical memory
- Working optical drive supporting DVD-ROM, if installing from DVD
When you arrive at the desktop, you will notice that many drivers are missing. Windows Update will not find drivers for most of these devices.
The audio device is a Realtek AC'97 chip, and the driver can be found on Realtek's website here. Download the file titled "Vista/Win7 (32/64 bits) Driver only (ZIP file)". Extract the files to a temporary directory (they can be deleted after installation), and run setup.exe as Administrator. Follow the on-screen instructions, and audio will be enabled after installation completes.
The Inspiron 8600 has integrated Broadcom 440x ethernet and the option of Wi-Fi connectivity. Windows 7 includes drivers for the Broadcom ethernet; it will work as soon as Windows is installed, and the remainder of the drivers can be downloaded on the same computer because of this. There are a few different stock wireless cards that can be found in an Inspiron 8600: Intel 2915ABG, Intel PRO/2200BG, or Dell Wireless 1400 or 1300.
For Intel 2915ABG and PRO/2200BG: Intel provides a Windows Vista driver for these cards, and these will install properly in Windows 7.
For Dell Wireless 1400/1300: Users report that this driver works when run in Compatibility Mode for Windows XP (right-click R143355.exe, select Properties, go to the Compatibility tab, check the box for "Run in compatibility mode for...", select Windows XP with the highest available SP number). Windows can manage the network card in order to use the built-in wireless network management; open the Dell Wireless utility, and uncheck the checkbox for "Let this tool manage my wireless connection". Furthermore, use MSCONFIG to disable the Dell Wireless programs from the Startup tab, to further reduce the memory footprint of unnecessary background programs.
This is where things can get a bit tricky, as there are several different variations of the graphics card with different driver availabilities.
For the ATI Mobility Radeon 9600, use this Dell driver for Windows Vista 32-bit, and install in compatibility mode for Windows Vista.
For the Nvidia GeForce Go5200, there are two options: install the Windows XP driver in compatibility mode for Windows XP, or install the GeForce 5200 driver for Windows Vista and follow the following steps:
- Run the installer. The driver will not install, as your computer does not actually contain a GeForce FX 5200.
- Go to Control Panel, then Device Manager. Under Display Adapters, find either the Standard VGA Graphics Adapter or any installed display driver. Double-click it, go to the Driver tab, and select "Update Driver...". Select "Browse my computer manually for drivers". Windows will only suggest the Standard VGA Graphics Adapter, so you must click "Have Disk", and press "Browse" to manually load an INF file. Assuming you used the default installation directory, this INF file can be found at C:\NVIDIA\WinVista\96.85\nv_disp.inf. Select this file as the INF file to use, and you will be presented with a large list of graphics adapters. About two-thirds down the list, find the "GeForce FX 5200" driver (NOT a variation of this card), and press "Next". Windows will warn you that the driver may not be compatible with your computer; ignore this warning and press "Yes". The driver will install, and Windows will ask to restart your computer; do so.
- Go to Start --> right-click Computer --> select Properties --> in the sidebar, go to "Advanced system settings" --> under Performance, click Settings --> uncheck "Enable transparent glass"
I do not know much about the Nvidia GeForce Go5650 or GeForce4 4200 Go options, but the general-case solution for these is to install the Windows XP drivers in compatibility mode. The GeForce Go5650 might work with the GeForce 5600 drivers using the above method, but I have not tested it and do not have the means to do so.
As mentioned above, you'll want the latest BIOS version before upgrading anything, as newer BIOSes have broader parts support.
The Dell Inspiron 8600 supports Intel Pentium M and Celeron M CPUs with a 400 MT/s front-side bus. For an enjoyable experience in Windows 7, I strongly recommend the Pentium M with a clock speed of 1.5 GHz or higher. These have model numbers 715, 725, 735, 745, 755, and 765 for speeds of 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 2.0, and 2.1 GHz, respectively. The Celeron M has significantly reduced processor cache, decreasing the instruction execution efficiency and resulting in slower performance.
The latest BIOS versions support PC-2700 DDR memory with capacities up to 2 GB. For Windows 7 to perform well with programs, 1 GB memory is needed. A 2 GB kit can be found on Amazon for about $27. The Inspiron 8600 will not recognize capacities above 2 GB, so don't waste your money.