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Reliving the hell of a Windows XP installation

Posted on 25 Jun 2012 at 10:45

Jon Honeyball installs Windows XP on a PC for the first time in years - and hates every minute of it

I've just endured a truly unpleasant experience that left me annoyed, even angry, and feeling slightly soiled. I thoroughly scrubbed my hands and even considered investing in a biohazard suit and decontamination shower. Yes, I’ll admit it, I just installed Windows XP onto a PC – and what an indescribably horrible experience it was.

This isn’t just an excuse for a rant, because I’ll confess that I quite like XP – assuming you’re talking about the Professional version, and that it’s fully updated and patched (and running in a virtual machine where possible).

This was the first time in years that I’d installed XP onto raw hardware, probably more than five of them if my memory can stretch back that far. Let me qualify that further: it was the first time I’d installed XP onto raw hardware using the standard installation routine.

We too readily forget how awful things used to be, and this was a real wake-up call

Those of my clients who still use Windows XP have all built installation media (Ghost images and so forth) that allows them to blow XP onto their ancient PCs in minutes with all the necessary drivers in place, leaving only the rather tedious update process to pull in the latest patches. It was a rude shock to be reminded of how nasty it was to install XP onto a bare computer using the original installation media. We’ve become so used to current versions of Windows having almost all the required drivers built in, that having to scrabble around searching for drivers now feels intolerable.

I hadn’t chosen a new computer, and the box I installed it on was the old Medion I bought six years ago from Tesco (it originally came with XP if I remember correctly). The driver CD was long-gone, but I’d remembered to stash away the driver set for the motherboard and network adapter on a file server share. That wasn’t enough to get the Intel RAID array working of course, and I ended up having to break the RAID and reset everything to raw disk mode. I could have loaded a RAID driver at the appropriate moment during the install cycle, but it wasn’t to hand – I was already irritated and the clock was ticking.

I gave up trying to get the sound card to work – a driver download from the chipset vendor’s website just didn’t want to install – and getting the graphics card going was equally annoying. I knew it was an Nvidia card of some description, but had no idea about which OEM had cobbled it together. I went to Nvidia’s site and found an analysis tool that could tell me which card I have, but it required the installation of Java. I felt my will to live slowly seep away. I don’t dislike Java that much, but its whining, nagging updater tool brings me out in a rash. Worse still, the link to install Java from Nvidia’s website took me to a link that didn’t work, so I had to manually go to Java.com and download the package.

After all that the Nvidia tool couldn’t recognise my chipset anyway: it wanted me to dismantle the PC to get some hints from the circuit board labels. This identified it as a card now relegated to the archive area of Nvidia’s site. I downloaded the driver and finally had a reasonable screen resolution, at which point I gave up trying to fix the remaining problems. I didn’t need sound; it could remain broken.

What a farrago of nonsense. If I were to put Windows 7 64-bit onto this computer, its installer would load up everything required in a fuss-free way. Sometimes, we too readily forget how awful things used to be, and this was a real wake-up call. Even so, all isn’t always sweetness and light on a brand-new PC.

I’ve been looking at a number of laptops and Ultrabooks recently, most of which have a hardware or OEM updater application in addition to the normal Windows Update. It’s really important that you dig out and run this updater to ensure you have the latest drivers and firmware, and don’t be too surprised to discover that your spanking-new, just-released shiny Ultrabook requires a new BIOS and a whole bunch of updated drivers. It’s just as vital that you keep these things as up to date as the operating system, although of course we reserve a special place in Hell for Adobe’s Flash updater and the aforementioned Java one.

Manufacturers need to make their updater applications considerably more shouty on the first installation, and then to have them regularly monitor their own delivery sites for new updates. I’d be impressed by any company that actually managed to integrate its driver and firmware delivery into the Microsoft-managed updater service beloved of small and large businesses alike. I’d certainly recommend a vendor that enabled your system administrator to deploy these patches to a group of laptops within your organisation as easily as sending out a new driver or OS patch.

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User comments

Welcome to my world

I re-install XP on a regular basis for my customers and I got so fed up with Windows Update taking hours to run that I finally got round to slipstreaming the updates into the installation media.

Also the company I find most frustrating for drivers is MSI. The model numbers printed on the mobos bear no relationship to the model numbers on their website. Every time I need to Google to get the cross reference info. It is especially bad with Packard Bell PCs who usually have OEM versions of MSI stuff. If it's an old PC I have to suffer the slowest FTP server on earth to get drivers from PB.

Still, it's what I get paid for and it's a darn site better than digging holes for a living or harvesting bull semen (I imagine).

By Pantagoon on 25 Jun 2012

To be fair

XP has been around for a very long time and most of the hardware people try to install it on, although old, isn't as old as XP. So XP can't really be expected to know what to do with it. As alluded to above, the best way of handling this situation is to slipstream newer drivers into the build, and keep doing so if regular installations are needed. Something like one of these products might do: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_remastering_s
oftware
Fanboi bait: try installing a 10 year old copy of *nux and see how many hardware devices can be made to work.

By 959ARN on 25 Jun 2012

Goes with the territory

I started doing a bit of voluntary work last year, and now I'm now lumbered with a host of various grossly underpowered, underspecified XP machines to fettle & maintain.
For the first time in ages I'm feeling big waves of sympathy for JH on this topic. "Hell", is simply not strong enough.


We IT Pros should thank MS for its continual chivvying of its so-called 'partners' to actually stick to rational common driver models & the like. These really only got implemented after the Vista debacle, when MS gave up and did most of the work for them.

We old gits can remember the anarchy of DOS drivers (as in different ones for different application \ printer combos). Let's not even consider CP/M....

As Pantagoon implies: if it were easy, everybody would be doing it, then we'd all, to a greater or lesser extent, be out of a job.....

By wittgenfrog on 25 Jun 2012

2003...

I got a new, legacy free computer in 2003 and tried to install XP on it.

It point blank refused to believe that there was a hard drive attached to the machine! It just didn't want to know anything about SATA.

It needed a floppy drive with the SATA drivers on, before the setup CD would recognise the drive. I borrowed a USB floppy drive and Windows Setup found the SATA drivers and proceeded to the next stage, then it came to the install, at which point, it reset the USB bus and couldn't find the needed drivers!

In the end, I managed to borrow an internal drive from my local PC shop and installed XP.

That was the last time I went through that palaver. I switched to using Linux as my main desktop, until Vista came along.

By big_D on 25 Jun 2012

Buy standard hardware

The moral of this story is to buy standard hardware, unless you really can't avoid it. The more mainstream your hardware, the easier it will be to find drivers.

By tirons1 on 25 Jun 2012

'New' is relative

Reference: "...don’t be too surprised to discover that your spanking-new, just-released shiny Ultrabook requires a new BIOS and a whole bunch of updated drivers."

Some years ago I was brought to task by the son of a friend who questioned the hours I had spent setting up her new laptop. "Most of the time updating..." he thought was unnecessary as it was all automatic and anyway, "...the computer was brand new!"

Ignoring the time cleaning the laptop of it 'free trials', removing the unnecessary proprietary 'gadget' programs, installing and updating her office software, loading up her backed-up work and catalogue image files, connecting her router and setting the system so the desktop worked as she was used to, I showed him the Windows Update history.

If the manufacturer, presumably in the Far East, had installed the latest version of Windows before the laptop left the factory packaged for sea container transport to Europe, then trucked to distribution depot then to store and eventual purchase, it was clear from the dated update history that 7 months had transpired.

I wouldn't think that 'assembly line to home use' time frame has improved that much since then.

This story offered from an XP Pro installation by the way. :-(

By cja4sun on 25 Jun 2012

'New' is relative

Reference: "...don’t be too surprised to discover that your spanking-new, just-released shiny Ultrabook requires a new BIOS and a whole bunch of updated drivers."

Some years ago I was brought to task by the son of a friend who questioned the hours I had spent setting up her new laptop. "Most of the time updating..." he thought was unnecessary as it was all automatic and anyway, "...the computer was brand new!"

Ignoring the time cleaning the laptop of it 'free trials', removing the unnecessary proprietary 'gadget' programs, installing and updating her office software, loading up her backed-up work and catalogue image files, connecting her router and setting the system so the desktop worked as she was used to, I showed him the Windows Update history.

If the manufacturer, presumably in the Far East, had installed the latest version of Windows before the laptop left the factory packaged for sea container transport to Europe, then trucked to distribution depot then to store and eventual purchase, it was clear from the dated update history that 7 months had transpired.

I wouldn't think that 'assembly line to home use' time frame has improved that much since then.

This story offered from an XP Pro installation by the way. :-(

By cja4sun on 25 Jun 2012

'New' is relative

Reference: "...don’t be too surprised to discover that your spanking-new, just-released shiny Ultrabook requires a new BIOS and a whole bunch of updated drivers."

Some years ago I was brought to task by the son of a friend who questioned the hours I had spent setting up her new laptop. "Most of the time updating..." he thought was unnecessary as it was all automatic and anyway, "...the computer was brand new!"

Ignoring the time cleaning the laptop of it 'free trials', removing the unnecessary proprietary 'gadget' programs, installing and updating her office software, loading up her backed-up work and catalogue image files, connecting her router and setting the system so the desktop worked as she was used to, I showed him the Windows Update history.

If the manufacturer, presumably in the Far East, had installed the latest version of Windows before the laptop left the factory packaged for sea container transport to Europe, then trucked to distribution depot then to store and eventual purchase, it was clear from the dated update history that 7 months had transpired.

I wouldn't think that 'assembly line to home use' time frame has improved that much since then.

This story offered from an XP Pro installation by the way. :-(

By cja4sun on 25 Jun 2012

'New' is relative

Reference: "...don’t be too surprised to discover that your spanking-new, just-released shiny Ultrabook requires a new BIOS and a whole bunch of updated drivers."

Some years ago I was brought to task by the son of a friend who questioned the hours I had spent setting up her new laptop. "Most of the time updating..." he thought was unnecessary as it was all automatic and anyway, "...the computer was brand new!"

Ignoring the time cleaning the laptop of it 'free trials', removing the unnecessary proprietary 'gadget' programs, installing and updating her office software, loading up her backed-up work and catalogue image files, connecting her router and setting the system so the desktop worked as she was used to, I showed him the Windows Update history.

If the manufacturer, presumably in the Far East, had installed the latest version of Windows before the laptop left the factory packaged for sea container transport to Europe, then trucked to distribution depot then to store and eventual purchase, it was clear from the dated update history that 7 months had transpired.

I wouldn't think that 'assembly line to home use' time frame has improved that much since then.

This story offered from an XP Pro installation by the way. :-(

By cja4sun on 25 Jun 2012

Humble apologies

Sorry gents,

Having submitted my comment ('New' is relative) I reloaded the page several times in Firefox to see if it had been posted.

Each time I was asked if I wanted to resubmit my data and agreed thinking it was the sign-on needed to post a comment. Obviously the comment itself was resubmitted. I don't comment often but have now learned from this.

Humble apologies.

By cja4sun on 25 Jun 2012

FUD again

So you are blaming your ignorance or lack of knowledge on how you can slipstream service packs and updates directly into XP setup on the OS? Just wait till Windows 7 gets old, you won't even be able to slipstream service packs. Install RTM, then SP1, then SP2 and dozens of updates. Kind of like how the nightmarish situation is today with Vista.

By Anonymuos on 26 Jun 2012

@tirons1

Where can you find a motherboard with IDE these days? ;-)

@Anonymuos - you don't always have the time and resources to slipstream a release, especially if it is a "1-off" install - that is assuming you know exactly which drivers you need before you start. Often, with unbranded OEM hardware in the case, you need to download and run a diagnostic utility from 2 or 3 different manufacturers, before you find the right manufacturer, let alone chipset...

By big_D on 26 Jun 2012

@big_D

Try an iBase MB899. Industrial motherboards typically have 7 years supply, and support older interfaces. You can still get motherboards with ISA slots!

By tirons1 on 26 Jun 2012

@tirons1

Yeah, we build industrial terminals, so we get industrial components for them, but they are hardly what you would use when putting together a new desktop. ;-)

I was being a little facetious to make my point, that XP gernally takes a dislike to most SATA chipsets, even old ones around at the time when XP was new.

But the rest of the comments stand, installing XP on any half way modern PC, even back in 2003 was a pain, unless you knew exactly what hard drive chipset was being used and you had a floppy with the drivers (or made a slipstream CD, if you were installing multiple machines).

Linux of the same vintage had no problems. Microsoft seem to have learnt from that experience and how Linux overtook them in this area, Windows 7 is much more agreeable.

By big_D on 27 Jun 2012

New Hardware vs XP

Thankfully, you can set up the SATA controller in bios as native IDE mode. Sure, NCQ and AHCI won't work, but if it's just a quick install, this is the way to do it. Also, there's an app called Autopatcher (http://autopatcher.com/) that allows you to grab Windows updates, from XP, including x64, and 7, both x86 and x64. This then gives you a list to select which updates that you want to install. Hit the go button and go grab a bite to eat or drink. May have to run it twice to update completely, but is a lot easier than using the horribleness that is Microsoft Update for XP

By Nchalada on 28 Jun 2012

You're looking at it backwards.

I'm amazed that people are so surprised that previous versions of Windows (or any software) are not as highly-developed as more recent versions.

When Windows XP came out, it was a massive advance on previous Windows versions - a lot more drivers included as standard, and a lot smoother upgrade process. Further versions of Windows have made similar advances.

A lot of this was down to the hardware industry becoming more standardised (partly due to pressure from Microsoft) but there were also direct improvements in Windows. To Windows 98 users, Windows XP was a breath of fresh-air, removing (for the most-part) the DLL hell that used to be the bane of everyone's existence.

Compare Windows XP to Windows 98, and marvel at what a step forward it was.
Compare Windows 7 to Windows XP, and marvel at what a step forward it is.

However, it seems a bit miserly to bemoan the advances that have been made by looking at them backwards like this.

By HappyDog on 16 Jul 2012

oh dear.... When a Lotus Symphony update removed Lotus Smart Suite, I resorted to running my legacy docs in Windows Virtual PC (aka Connectrix) on Window 7 64 Professional from a Smart Suite DV with a boot from DV option.

I use Parallels/W.XP3 on my Intel Apple. XP3 My mate who is a developer uses all sorts of things on VM Ware. Maybe he should advertise in PC Pro.

How reliable a they are for commercial and profession use I don't know.

By cping500 on 19 Jul 2012

You are a professional?

Every shop I have ever worked at tapes the driver discs inside the PC that they are for...

That way you never lose the discs without tossing the whole computer.

It's a REALLY easy way to remember where the discs are.

So you are saying you have become lazy in your old age and have not learned about Autopatcher and other ways of making a fresh install fly by?

Do you really babysit each computer you install an OS on?

You sound more like an author than a technician.

I maintain a roughly equal number of XP and Windows 7 machines for a broadcast company, and when hardware fails I replace it and often choose to do a fresh install simply to insure the best possible performance.

I can start an install and move on to another task, return later to continue another phase, it is not bothersome or fatiguing.

Bothersome was Vista.

Either slipstream drivers into your choice of OS for a particular platform, or at least keep the driver media INSIDE the computer it is needed for. I have yet to see normal PC's case design that does not leave ample room to do this.

I hope you learn from this post where to keep driver media, and from the above post about Autopatcher....

---

Guys: Should we tell him about LiveCD's and software like MicroXP that boot or install in a fraction of the time "normal" XP's install or load?

To anyone questioning MicroXP's security, it can be equally as protected as regular versions of XP (Home or Pro, 32 or 64 bit)...

How does a 200MB /Windows folder sound, and ~40MB of RAM at the desktop?

I will tell you how it sounds... FAST and RESPONSIVE!

Sure, software protection will slow it down, but less than a full blown install that contains completely un-needed software and services.... (~95+% of users)

Another post was correct, if you only use mainstream hardware, usually it's drivers will be included with older versions of Windows like XP, and there are easy solutions to installing XP on newer hardware with SATA and even SATA RAID controllers onboard.

If you actually worked with computers every day, besides pounding keys, you'd know about all these things.

You don't even have to try them to be aware...

I'll offer you an easy out: You are overworked and don't have time to read about current advances in such diverse areas of computing.

Don't take it personally, but your article sounds like an older engineer who can't see when it was time to pull the plug on old tech in favor of newer, better supported hardware or software.

Personally I recommend Autopatcher as the single most important technology you should learn about, because it can be installed on a thumbdrive and used on many computers with diverse hardware.

It will save you numerous reboots PER each machine used on.

---
Best regards,
Eric W

By EricWright on 7 Aug 2012

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Jon Honeyball

Jon Honeyball

Jon is one of the UK's most respected IT journalists and a contributing editor to PC Pro since it launched in 1994. He specialises in Microsoft technologies, including client/server and office automation applications.

Read more More by Jon Honeyball

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