March 2006


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How to upgrade to Windows XP

Ok, I would have hoped that there would be less of a need for this particular article, considering what year it is, but a discussion with da Roomie this weekend has proved that this is not all self-evident. I will write this in hopes that others will not be forced into the same problems he has faced today.

So, if you’re sitting there looking at your Win98 or Win2K machine and thinking, “Ok, none of the new games I want or even my new copy of Norton antivirus will work on 98, it’s time to bite the bullet.” Here’s what you will need:

Processor: At least an Athlon XP1700+ or Pentium 4 at 1.7GHz. Yes, you can run it on the later model PIII’s, but it will never be fast. If your computer is that old, you really will be happier building a new box from scratch.

RAM: Forget what Bill says, you want at least 512MB of RAM. If you buy more, remember that single-sided RAM and double-sided sticks do not play together. You’re better off just replacing whatever you have instead of trying to get something compatable with the old.

Hard Drive: Unless the one you have is less than 2 years old, get a new one. Before you buy anything over 120GB, make sure your motherboard will let you use all of it. Some will require a BIOS update before it will see over that 120GB mark.

Power Supply: Again, unless you have replaced it recently, get a new one, of at least 350W. Electronic parts have a finite lifespan, and power bricks can take other things with them when they die. Make sure the new one has the proper connector for your motherboard; this will most likely be a 20-pin molex.

A copy of XP: Here’s the tricky part. If you still have your Win98, ME or Win2K disk, you can save some money and buy the Upgrade Edition. If not, when you buy all the other stuff you need, ask for an OEM copy of Windows XP. This is the version they sell to system builders. It’s the same as a retail box, only there is no box, it’s cheaper, and they have to sell you at least some sort of hardware at the same time. A new hard drive counts.

A Live CD of some sort: There are a bunch of Live CD’s out there that can be downloaded, or that come with techie mags at the bookstore. These will usually be Linux-based (I recommend Knoppix) and will have some diagnostic tools for you to use if something goes wrong.

Drivers for all your hardware: A hard copy, not just a file on your old hard drive. Take the time at the beginning to download the XP versions of any peripheral drivers you can. At the very least, make sure you have XP drivers for your modem or network card. Some older modems DO NOT have WinXP drivers – check for these first! **Special Note**: Roxio EZ CD Creator v3.5 will not work with XP, and will damage your system if you install it. Take a minute to check software compatability for all your stuff.

Now, here’s what you do with all this…

Back up any data on your old computer that you will want to keep. This means your My Documents folder, your email settings, your email address books, etc. This can actually be done pretty simply with the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard on the XP CD.

Clear off some space somewhere to hold the data, however much you think you’ll need. You can use a CD-R/RW, external USB drive, or even your old hard drive. Toss the XP CD in the drive, and choose Other Tasks from the main menu.

On the next menu, choose the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard, and follow the prompts. It’s fairly straightforward, and the default options will get all the things I mentioned above, plus per-application settings for all the standard things. You will still need to know all of the passwords you currently use in your computer – the wizard will not save them!

If you want it to get more, check the box for Additional Folders and Settings. This will let you add more folders to the grab list, one folder at a time. When you have ’em all, finish the wizard and go grab a meal or something – this can take up to an hour, depending on how much crap you’re telling it to grab. If you want it to go faster, it may be easier to burn all the folders to CD or DVD if you have one, then only have this part grab the settings.

Now that you have that part done, turn everything off, pull the power cord out and grab a screwdriver.

Eviscerate the computer by removing your old hard drive, RAM and power supply. If the case is dirty, take it outside and blow it out with some compressed air. (If you use canned air, use short bursts – long bursts will spray moisture all over the boards.)

Now you can install the new hard drive and RAM. Make sure you are properly grounded by AT LEAST holding onto the case with one hand while you install the RAM! Static kills! Use an anti-static wrist strap if at all possible. When you have that done, install the power supply and route all the wiring as best you can to maximize airflow in your computer. Keep as much of the unused power connectors out of the way at the top of the case, since your hard drive(s) and processor will get the most work and therefore need the most air.

Ok, time for a test-fire. Drop that Live CD in the CD drive and boot ‘er up. This isn’t absolutley necessary, but I like to make sure things are basically working before I go for the install. (Note that Live CD’s have issues with USB keyboards sometimes.)

If all goes well, proceed with the install. (Don’t worry, only four hours to go!)

(What, you think I’m joking?)

Windows XP Upgrade Edition: If you bought this one, you do not need to actually upgrade an existing install of Windows – you only need to show it your valid copy of Win98, ME or 2K. Boot from the XP CD, and follow the on-screen instructions. When it tells you to, simply remove the XP CD, drop in your old CD, and then put the XP CD back in when it tells you. This will save you TONS of grief later on, as I have yet to see an actual upgrade that worked properly. This also lets you use the NTFS file system from the start, instead of trying to convert a FAT32 install later on.

Whatever route you took, once you have XP installed, go through the Device Mangler and make sure you have all the drivers you need installed. Once you have that clear, check your internet settings and install your software. Start with antivirus, then Windows Updates, then anything else you used to use.

When all of that is ready, you can run the F&S Xfer Wizard again, depending on where you stored the data. If the data is on the old hard drive, you will need to shut down the computer and install the old drive as a slave to the new drive before you can go further.

The Wizard should have left an icon in the Start menu, but it can also be found in Start–>Programs–>Accessories–>System Tools. Tell the wizard where you stored the old data, and the rest should take care of itself at this point. Again, this will take as long to rebuild your settings as it did to copy them the first time. Once it completes, fire up all your programs one at a time and make sure everything is kosher.

If it all checks out, you’re done! Yay!

If you are savvy enough to have a copy of Norton Ghost, now would be an ideal time to use it to build a set of restore CD’s as a safety net. Otherwise, have fun!

One reply to “How to upgrade to Windows XP”

  1. GreyDuck Says:

    I suppose in a few days I’ll find out if that XP Home Upgrade CD is bootable… Whee.