Boot Camp, Windows 7, and my Mac Pro 2006

Never mind the reasons why I need to install Windows 7, and why just using something like VMWare is not a viable solution, the fact is I need to install Windows 7 via Boot Camp on my Mac Pro from 2006. Little did I know that it was going to be such a frustrating experience.

There is an awful lot of information out there on installing Windows 7 on a Mac via Boot Camp, but it is very difficult to find the signal through the noise, especially when experiences will vary depending on your hardware. So, I thought it might be helpful for others out there with a similar need and setup to mine, to document my findings and the process that ultimately worked for me.

First of all I have a Mac Pro 2006, and while it’s old by today’s standards, it’s still a fantastic machine. It is running Lion on 128GB SSD drive, and has been further modified from it’s original state with 12GB of memory, and has an ATI HD 4870 with 1GB of memory (which is actually a PC video card but has been re-flashed to work with the Mac).

Hurdle #1: Realizing the Mac Pro 2006 will not support 64bit Windows. I know the machine supports 64bit, and I know Lion is 64bit, but trying to install the 64bit version of Windows 7 is simply a no-go. The 64bit disc will not be recognized as being bootable, and while you can create a bootable disc by jumping through a bunch of hoops by following a guide like this one from Thomas Maurer, I had no success.

I eventually stumbled across this Apple Knowledge Base article on the topic, which specifically states that Windows 7 is only supported by Boot Camp on Mac Pro models from 2008 or later. So there you go, the dagger that put an end to the 64bit effort once and for all.

The primary limitation of installing 32bit vs 64bit is that Windows will only recognize 4GB of my 12GB of memory. For the intended use of the Windows 7 installation, 4GB should be sufficient.

Side note: There may still be a glimmer of hope for a 64bit installation, as I did not try the bootable disc I created after my findings from hurdle #3. Read on.

Hurdle #2: Reading the instructions helps, despite the fact that you have been conditioned since childhood to ignore them because, honestly, who needs instructions for a Transformer?

Boot Camp’s flow is pretty straight forward. Open up Boot Camp Assistant, copy drivers to install after Windows is installed to a USB drive or CD/DVD, insert your Windows disc and select the target destination. The drive I wanted to install Windows on was seated in Bay 3, important note for later. Your machine will then restart into Windows and begin installation.

Now if you read the setup instructions, there is a very important step here that it seems a lot of people miss. During the installation of Windows, you will be presented with a window where you select the drive on which you want Windows installed. You should notice that the drive you chose back in Boot Camp is now called “bootcamp”, and your inclination may be to simply select that drive and hit Next, however, it specifically states in the Boot Camp instructions that you need to toggle the advanced options and format the “bootcamp” drive/partition before hitting Next.

Ok, got it, format the drive and then hit Next. Done, now everything should be peachy keen… but wait, there’s more!

Hurdle #3: Realizing the drive bay matters, even though it doesn’t. With Lion installed on my main SSD drive in Bay 1, and SSD space being such a premium, there was no way I was going to partition the SSD to install Windows and the application(s) I need to run. Since the Mac Pro has 4 internal drive bays, I figured I would just install Windows on a separate internal HDD.

Even after following the instructions and formatting the drive/partition, Windows would still complain that it cannot be installed in the selected location. To the web! Again, lots of noise, some suggestions to remove all un-necessary drives (which is not a bad idea anyway to ensure you don’t accidentally bork one in the process), which prompted me to remove my un-necessary drives and move the drive on which I was installing Windows from Bay 3 to Bay 2. I let the computer restart again, picked up with the Windows installation again, selected the same drive which I already formatted from the previous step which just now exists in a different bay, and Windows had no more complaints and installation finally proceeded.


Now, I said in the opening line of this hurdle that “…it doesn’t” because, being the masochist that I am apparently, I tried the installation process again. I followed the instructions and formatted the drive/partition, clicked Next, and Windows complained again! What?! Why??!? On a whim I moved the drive back to Bay 3, leaving Bay 2 completely vacant, and yadda yadda yadda, Windows installation proceeded.

Mind boggling.

In closing: Don’t forget to install the drivers from the USB or CD/DVD that Boot Camp had you copy, as this will enable hardware features specific to your machine that Windows will not have baked in.

Now earlier I mentioned something about there being a glimmer of hope for 64bit. I gave up on the bootable 64bit disc I created before realizing the bit about the drive bays being wonky, so I am now wondering if the bootable disc would have worked if I swapped the location of the drive. I am so spent on this process that I haven’t had the energy to find out, but if I find the 32bit installation to be so limiting, I just may. I will of course update this post with those findings.

Anyway, I hope someone finds this post helpful, feel free to comment or share findings of your own, and especially, if you have been able to get 64bit Windows 7 working on your Mac Pro prior to the officially supported 2008 model, I want to know!