WindowsXP Upgrade Guide

See also the Windows 98 Installation Guide for some very helpful hints.

In many instances, you will have no choice when you get your new computer as many of the major manufacturers only sell you Windows XP for the home based systems, and Windows XP Professional for workstations destined for an office connected to a file server based network. So from that, and from having lived with all of these for a year or more now, that should be your choice for your new computer. The problem is that there are extenuating circumstances you have to watch out for. On a new computer, I would not worry too much about having WindowsXP installed. You will have all new components, all new drivers, and can make the rash assumption that all the components installed on the computer have been tested for WindowsXP. The same can be said if you are getting a brand new computer with Windows installed as well. The only things you have to consider here is the hardware that you will be adding after the fact. Things like a scanner, network cards, digital camera, and so on. For these devices, you need to do some research as to whether they include WindowsXP drivers or not so you won't run into problems when you go to install the devices.

Now what about software. Are you still hanging on to some old DOS based programs that you need to run on your new computer? Do you have an application that runs under Windows that is critical to your well being (or your job) that must run on your new computer? Again, you need to do some research. While WindowsXP in both versions are further removed from DOS more than ever, you will still find a DOS prompt available on both systems. But will it work? I still have heard from a number of people that are suffering that problem because in order to get those programs to work under Windows95 and Windows98, they had to do a lot of tweaking with the DOS settings in order to get the programs to run. Under WindowsXP, it is even more difficult to do that kind of tweaking despite the fact that there are more options for running those kinds of programs. Though from most of those programs I have tested, they seem to work just fine under XP.

Now what about you upgraders? Not only do you have to worry about the hardware and software issues I raised for buying a new computer, but it gets worse because you can't make the assumption that all of your internal hardware will work. Here it becomes much more difficult because sometimes, it is very difficult to really tell what is inside your computer. Too often the invoice or receipt that you got with the computer just lists generic devices like an 8MB Video card. Unfortunately, there are gazillions of them out there. Well maybe not a gazillion video cards but you can bet there were a gazillion modems made. So the first thing to do is to see if Windows can help you.

If you have the WindowsXP Update CD already in hand, there is a very good utility built into it to do an assesment of what is on your comptuer and to tell you if it is compatible with Windows XP. It is called the XP Update Advisor. Run it before you start installing the program and it does a great job of telling you what it thinks needs to be updated so run it and check out the report. If you are lucky, you won't have to do a thing! However, if not so lucky, and don't feel bad, most people will be in your boat with you, you will then need to know what it doesn't like.

So, go check your inventory. The first place to look though is the invoice or receipt you got. If you are lucky, it will list in detail the manufacturer and model of some of the internal cards and components. If it doesn't, we have two ways of finding out. The second way is to actually disconnect your computer, open the case, remove the cards and hope that there is some identifying marks on it somewhere. I will get back to that in a moment but lets see if Windows can tell us something about our computer.

We will begin by assuming you have Windows95 or Windows98 installed on your computer. Start by opening up Device Manager. Right click (once) on My Computer, and click (left once) on properties. Before you go further, take a look at what is listed there. It will tell you how much memory you have on your computer, what kind of processor it thinks it has, and which version of Windows you are running. Note those down. Now, hit the Device Manager Tab at the top and it will open the window that tells you all about the hardware inside your computer. What will be listed there will be the basic categories of equipment like CD ROM, Display Adapters, Monitors, and the like. You can click once on the little plus symbols next to each category to see the actual devices inside. Depending on which version of Windows you have, it is possible that any of your external devices like scanners, digital cameras, UPS, printers, and the like will not be listed. The major devices you need to find are in the categories:

Display Adapters
Imaging Devices
etwork Adapters
Sound, Video, and Game Controllers
Tape Drives

Most of the other device categories listed will only list generic names and controllers and you should not have to worry about them. Before we dig further, I will also have to tell you that sometimes, what is shown is not really what is in your computer. Quite often, if the correct driver for a device like a modem or video card for example, is not installed, Windows will just set up the generic so you might still be at a dead end. Another situation is that sometimes the manufacturer corrects a driver and gives you an update and you discover that what is listed is not what you have. For example, I have an ATI All In Wonder video card installed in my computer. Because of driver problems and crashes, I updated the driver per ATI's instructions and now my device manager shows that I have installed a "Rage Pro Turbo AGP 2X" in my computer. So you can see that the odds of finding what you actually have are pretty limited.

At this point, click on the plus symbol for each of these categories and you will see the actual device or driver loaded. If it refers to a specific manufacturer and adapter card, note it down. Even if it lists a generic one like my “Rage Pro Turbo” above, note it down as well as the manufacturer might have a WindowsME or Windows2000 device driver that matches that one and we will make the rash assumption that since the current driver is working in your computer ok, the new replacement should as well even though it might not match the physical device you have in the computer.

If you still can’t tell what the device is, as I said, the other option will be to open the case and pull the card. If you have done this sort of thing before, great, if not, then get the book that came with the computer and hope that it tells you how to do it and all the things you have to watch out for including power, static electricity, sharp edges, and all the other things that can happen when you open your computer. If you are lucky, the card will have a printed label that tells you what it is. If it doesn’t, all is not quite lost but use this as a last resort. There should be an FCC number on the card. Every card has one or it shouldn’t have been sold legally in the US. Right. Anyways, there is a web site that you can check to see the manufacturer and model based on the FCC number and it does work (most of the time). Go to the FCC Equipment Authorization Data Base and find out who submitted the application for that card. If you are lucky, you will find a picture of the card, the manufacturer, and the product name. From there, you can go to The Driver Zone and look for drivers.

Now that you have the list of all the critical components of your computer, you can then start searching the web for the WindowsXP drivers. The good news is that for many new cards you have purchased in 2002 or later, they will already have a driver built in for that device. The problem is that you won’t know that until you get there and if you will need your modem to surf the web to get the drivers, it won’t do you a bit of good to find out that you can’t get online because you don’t have a driver for the darned thing. The tip here is to create a folder on your computer called “Drivers Downloaded” and then stash all of them there organized by their own folders. That way, when it comes time to say “Search for Better Driver”, you can point to the folder you created. One other tip is that often when you download a driver file, it is a single file that when executed, will expand itself because what you are really looking for when you tell it to find a new driver is an .INF file for your device. That is why downloading them into a separate folder is the best thing to do.

We really didn’t much cover as to which operating system you should choose because I make the rash assumption that you will be installing a version of Windows XP. For things like Linux and its hundreds of flavors, I will leave that to someone else on the web.

Happy upgrading.

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Copyright 2004 Sanborn Software Systems LLC
This Page Last Updated: December 5, 2004.