Upgrading Windows Computers

Like many IT professionals, I have friends and family who ask me various computer help questions, and also get me to do system upgrades. This is usually for Windows XP based systems. Recently my inlaws were hinting that they wanted to upgrade.

For a few years now they’ve had an old Athlon 1800, 384MB of DDR ram, two 250GB 7200rpm drives. It runs Windows XP. It has always run like a dog. I think I upgraded it from some older spec a few years ago, and it ran terrible then too. Sure its been reinstalled with XP once or twice in the past few years. And sure it runs OK after a reinstall for a while, but the inlaws just seem to have a knack for installing lots of stupid programs designed to turn their computer into a slothful piece of pooh.

And then of course, they ask me to ‘fix it’.

Knowing that my T42 spec isĀ  vaguely similar and runs XP really well, I have been delaying upgrading their computer because at the back of my mind I just knew it would not make that much difference.

Anyway, I caved in, and bought the following;

– Intel D945-GCNL motherboard
– Intel E2160 core 2 duo CPU
– 2 x 1GB DDR2-667 memory for a dual channel setup

The D945-GCNL motherboard is quite old now, but I had an ulterior motive in getting that board. I had read that quite a few people had made rather decent Hackintosh’s out of that board. So I though perhaps I could convince them to ‘go Mac’ in a sort of cheap semi-illegal way … or at least see how hard it is to get a cheap Leopard box up and running.

So per usual with any kind of Windows fixit job … I reserved a whole Saturday. My original plan was to use linux to dd their 20GB C: partition to a small 40GB drive I had. Boot the 40GB drive, get Windows going off it to check if there were any snags that might kill their data before doing it for real.

That plan never worked. I kept on getting some disk error after the initial BIOS screen (yes, I thought I set up the MBR and boot sector stuff correctly). I think it was related to a differing number of heads that the source and destination drive had. So I thought I’d use my time to install Leopard. I found some iATKOS 4i disk and tried that. Amazingly it all just installed and ran seemingly perfectly (ie. video worked, sound worked, LAN worked). I didn’t try much else. Basically it seemed like a decent little Mac.

But then I thought I better put them on Windows. I threw out my test plan and tried to boot off their original C: drive. That didn’t work because the old system had some AMD AGP device driver that kept making the machine reboot. I found a web reference that suggested booting off the original XP install CD, instead of choosing ‘Repair’ at the first screen, you choose ‘Setup Windows’ (I think), and then you get to the next screen where it lets you Repair the existing Windows installation. I did that and it chugged along for quite a while looking like it was installing Windows from scratch. Eventually it finished, rebooted and started up OK. I put in the driver CD that came with the motherboard and it had some ‘install all drivers’ option. It went through and did all the drivers, but said it failed on the network one (but I think that may have been because I had no network cable plugged in).

Eventually it all came good. Windows kept on complaining that it needed to be activated again. Now, the XP on the system was installed from a retail XP Home CD. I ended up choosing the ‘activate over the internet’ option once the network was sorted and it successfully activated. So no need to telephone MS$

So it was all complete and seemed to run OK. But the big thing is that speed wise it still does not seem that snappy. To me, the spec I’ve installed is pretty high for an XP system. 2GB of RAM you would think would make an enormous difference, but I think its just bogged down loading so much crap from disk that it doesn’t feel that much faster. I guess it’s a good example how you’re only as quick as your slowest part (the disk).

So I still hate Windows. I don’t think OS X or linux are fantastically great either. It’s just that Windows seems to go out of it’s way to make things look bad.