Upgrading Dell Latitude ST Tablets To Windows 8

Greg HillSoftware Developer, Architect, Consultant
Currently, the Dell Latitude Tablets are very attractive to companies looking for inexpensive mobile options. For roughly $350-400 you get a 10.1 inch tablet running an Intel Atom processor, a built-in stylus, 2 GB of memory, a 64 GB Solid State Drive, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a Gobi 3G card you can use to connect to Verizon, AT&T and possibly others.

Unfortunately it comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, which means you can't connect to a business domain, and Dell charges $85 to upgrade to Windows 7 Pro and officially stating that it cannot be upgraded to Windows 8. Another disadvantage of Windows 7 is that it does not work particularly well on tablet platforms.

My company owned some of these Latitude ST Slates, as well as their newer sibling, the Latitude 10 (ST2) Slate which costs almost twice as much and comes with Windows 8. The two devices are very similar, although the ST has a less powerful processor, smaller non-swappable battery, and slightly lower screen resolution.

It was obvious that the ST would be a very useful and economical tablet if only it ran Windows 8 Pro.

I was able to upgrade the Latitude ST to be fully functional with Windows 8 Pro, but only after dozens of hours of old fashioned trial-and-error and using scientific methods to work around the problems.

Here, in a nutshell is the method I found for upgrading the Latitude ST to Windows 8 Pro:

1.      First, download or create an *.iso file of the Windows 8 Pro 32-bit installation disk. These are currently available from Microsoft and others for $49.99 or less.

2.      Next, install Windows 8 Pro 32 bit iso file on a 4 GB or larger jump drive using the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool, a free download from Microsoft.

3.      Go to the Dell site and download all of the most current drivers for the Latitude ST, including the latest BIOS.

4.      Change your boot sequence on the tablet turning it off and plugging a USB keyboard into the USB port on the ST. Then start it up and press F2 when the Dell boot screen appears. This will take you into a standard BIOS setup screen, where you can change the first boot device to USB and the second to the internal drive.

5.      Save and exit the BIOS screen. When windows boots, replace the keyboard with the USB drive and install the latest BIOS that you downloaded earlier. Then shut the tablet down.

6.      Start the tablet with the USB drive with Windows 8 Pro. The tablet will boot from the USB.

7.      Make sure you have a recent backup, and then do a clean install of Windows 8 Pro. I tried to do the upgrade installation several times, but it always erred out.

8.      Then, install all of the drivers from the USB.

9.      In my case all of the drivers installed but one: the Atheros driver for the 1535C Half MiniCard Wi-Fi/Bluetooth card. In order to get that driver to install:

o   Go to the Registry Editor (regedt32.exe) by typing it into the Windows 8 search and change the OS version from 6.2 to 6.1 at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Microsoft/Windows NT/CurrentVersion/CurrentVersion. (Windows 7 is 6.1 and Windows 8 is 6.2).

o   Then, try the installer again – it is currently ST_Network_Driver_GTTFD_WN_3.1.2.85-7.4.0_A06.EXE.

o   If that doesn’t work, run the installer again and take the option to “extract without installing”, and put it into a temporary folder. Make sure the registry entry above still reads “6.1” and run win732.exe from the temporary directory.
10.      If the driver installs correctly, it will prompt you to reboot. After windows 8 starts, go to the desktop and click on the wireless icon. Any local wireless router should be visible and connectable.

After installing Windows 8 on the Latitude ST, the only difference between it and the more expensive models are that it is slightly slower and does not support application “pop”, the Windows 8 facility for running two applications side-by-side, because the screen resolution is not high enough.

Of course you do need legitimate Win8 licenses and the upgrade cost is not much. There is even a special offer on at the moment : http://windowsupgradeoffer.com/en-BS/Home/ProgramInfo and then you will possibly need to maintain yourself.

It took a long time to figure out how to do it, but having Windows 8 instead of Windows 7 on a tablet is absolutely worth the effort.
Greg HillSoftware Developer, Architect, Consultant

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