Friday, December 02, 2005

TweakHound - The Right Way To Install Windows XP

The Right Way To Install Windows XP

By Eric Vaughan

September, 2005

There is often more than one way to do things "the right way". Installing and setting up an operating system is no exception to this. This guide is based on my experience working with XP since RC1, doing more custom installations than I can count, and interaction/discussion with other geeks. I have found this method to offer the best results for performance, stability, and error free installation. I make no guarantees. If you have a problem it is more than likely your hardware and/or its drivers, or you didn't follow the drivers installation instructions. I don't have or claim to have all the answers. If you have a suggestion for this guide, or think you have a better method of doing something, contact me.

If you just want to see the order I use to install XP and its apps, click HERE.

Wanna know exactly how I do it? See: How I Install Windows XP

* Please read through this entire guide before doing anything.

**If you are on a broadband connection. Make sure you are behind a firewall router before installing XP.

Can I Use XP?

Check with Microsoft to make sure your system meets the requirements ( more on that follows). Check here for XP Pro and here XP Home. The Microsoft Hardware Compatibility List is also a good starting point. Some inexperienced folks think it's a myth that XP needs high end hardware to run. doesn't exactly take high-end hardware but Microsoft's specs are, quite frankly, a joke. "Run" is the optional term here, I've seen it "run" on a lot of stuff. On anything less than 800 MHz, with 256 of RAM, sure it "runs"... like a 3-legged turtle in quicksand. My recommended minimum specs: 1 GHz with 512 MB of RAM.

Which Version?

Since XP was released there has been considerable argument and misinformation over which version is best. The vast majority of people will find XP Home more than adequate. For a view of the differences and recommendations from Microsoft go here: Five editions of Windows XP compared.

Backup Everything!

Save all your docs, picture, music, email settings, and files to another computer and/or removable media such as an external drive or CD/DVD.

A very useful FREE tool for this is Microsoft's SyncToy v1.0 for Windows XP.

It is a good idea to fully update your anti-virus software and do a full computer scan before doing this.

If you use an imaging program like Acronis True Image I highly suggest making a final image of you entire drive before continuing in case something goes horribly wrong. This should be written to a CD/DVD.

Download What You'll Need

Download Service Pack 2

If your XP CD does not have Service Pack 2 then download Service Pack 2. After you do this I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND you make a slipstreamed Service Pack 2 Installation Disk.
"Slipstreaming" refers to integrating something (in this case SP2) into the Windows XP disk. This makes for a faster, cleaner, safer installation.

For a simple slipstream only guide I like:
Paul Thurrott's Slipstreaming Windows XP with Service Pack 2

For an advanced slipstreaming and installation customizing guide see:

MSFN's Creating the ultimate Unattended Windows XP CD

For an advanced slipstreaming and installation customizing program check out nLite.

I've like all 3 and have used them without issue.

Download Drivers

Download and install a System Information Tool. The three I prefer are:

SIW, SANDRA Lite 2005.SR2, Everest .

Use the information from these tools to determine your hardware and download the latest drivers from the vendors. If your components are "built-in" (mounted on the motherboard) then see the Motherboard or System Manufacturer for drivers. If you have older hardware (+ 1 year) chances are XP w/SP2 already has sufficient drivers and Windows Update may have the drivers or updated drivers. If your hardware is newer than Service Pack 2 then it should have come with a CD containing those drivers. Still, it doesn't hurt to go to your manufacturers download site and check to see if you have the latest version of everything. Video cards seem to have new driver updates more than most hardware and you will absolutely want the latest drivers for them. FWIW - There are often different versions of drivers (WHQL, beta, alpha, etc.). Personally, unless I'm doing testing, I usually only use WHQL drivers and usually after they have been out a week or more. Let someone else discover if they have issues or not. The important drivers are:

-Motherboard - these are most often referred to as "Chipset Drivers".

(yes fellow geeks I know, but that is a good enough description for those using this guide)



-Storage controllers - things like SCSI, SATA, ATA, or RAID cards/components.

NIC & Modem drivers - NIC = Ethernet card

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