n the vast majority of cases, the Windows XP installation process should run smoothly and with no problems. But if you do run into trouble, don't panic; instead, read on for some useful advice.
Why can't my Windows XP installation disc recognise my hard drive?
There are two types of internal hard drive: IDE and SATA. SATA is a newer standard that post-dates the initial release of Windows XP, which means the required drivers for it aren't found on the installation disc. Many PC manufacturers configure SATA drives to operate in a compatibility mode that Windows XP can recognise, but this comes at a cost of performance. If your PC is set to use the full gamut of SATA features, Windows XP won't be able to recognise it without some additional help. The step-by-step guide below reveals what to do if you have a floppy disk drive installed in your PC.
Install Windows XP to a SATA drive
1. CREATE SATA FLOPPY
Visit your PC or motherboard manufacturer's web site and look in the downloads section for a utility to create a SATA boot floppy. Download this, insert a blank, formatted floppy disk and double-click the file to create the disk.
2. SPECIFY ADDITIONAL DEVICES
Start the installation process - if your drive isn't recognised by Windows XP you'll see a screen telling you so. You'll be invited to "specify" an additional device, so insert your floppy disk and press the [S] key to do so.
3. LOAD DRIVERS FROM FLOPPY DISK
All available drivers on the floppy will be displayed - select your model from the list using the arrow keys, and press [Enter] to confirm your selection. Setup will load the files into memory, and then move on to the next screen.
4. CONTINUE INSTALLATION
You'll return to the previous screen, but this time your chosen adapter will have been selected. Unless you need to install additional drivers - press [S] to do so - press [Enter] to continue installing Windows XP.
What hardware tests can I run prior to installing Windows XP?
There are two key components that can cause major problems during the installation process, particularly if those problems are seemingly random. Download the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool from here - use it to create a bootable floppy or CD, and then test for errors. If you find any, one or more sticks of RAM will need replacing (test multiple sticks individually to see which are damaged).
A failing hard drive is also something to be wary of, for obvious reasons. Test the integrity of your drive prior to reinstalling using the free version of Hard Disk Sentinel - download it from here.
Windows XP claims my hard drive is 130GB in size, but it's bigger than that. What's happening?
Early versions of the Windows XP installation CD can't recognise more than 130GB of any hard drive during the setup process. Create your partition within the 130GB available, then after installation is complete install Service Pack 3 (or click here to create a Windows XP installation disc with SP3 integrated into it). Once done, click Start, right-click My Computer and select Manage. Choose Disk Management under Storage and you'll see the rest of your hard disk is now visible, enabling you to partition and format it if it's not already set up.
If you want to extend the size of your C drive to take up the entire drive (not something we recommend), click here for a guide to non-destructive partitioning.
If you're upgrading to Windows XP for the first time, it's tempting to install it over the top of your previous version of Windows. That's because it ensures that all of your settings and preferences are left intact, along with your files and programs. But there are many reasons why you should consider following the wipe-clean procedure outlined in this feature.
The first reason is compatibility - not all of your old programs will be compatible with Windows XP, so at the very least you should insert your Windows XP installation disc and click Check System Compatibility before you think about installing. You're bound to find potential problems, so check with your program or hardware manufacturer's web site for updates that are compatible with Windows XP. In some cases you may have to switch to a new package because your old one isn't supported. Although some old applications will run in Compatibility Mode, key system software like your security program won't. If you can't find Windows XP drivers for your hardware, try Windows 2000 ones instead, but note they won't be signed and may cause problems.
You may also find yourself running Windows XP on the FAT32 filing system, which is compatible with older versions of Windows, but inferior, compared to Windows XP's native filing system (NTFS). A final consideration is bloat: upgrading to Windows XP over the top of your old system will result in a slower, less stable system than one that's installed completely from scratch. See here for more details.
Try as I might, I can't get my PC to boot from CD. What can I do?
It's possible to start the Windows XP install process from within Windows itself, but only if your Windows XP installation disc has Service Pack 2 or 3 already built into it (look for a reference to SP2 or SP3 on the CD case or box).
If it does include either, pop your disc into the drive and wait for the menu to appear (if autoplay is switched off, open the drive in My Computer and double-click the setup icon). Choose Install Windows XP. At the first screen, pick New Installation (Advanced) from the Installation Type menu. Click Next, accept the licence agreement and click Next again.
Enter your product key when prompted, then click Next again. Make sure you click Advanced Options and tick I want to choose the install drive letter and partition during Setup. Click OK, pick accessibility options and change the language option to English (United Kingdom) and click Next again. Allow Setup to download updated installation files and click Next (your firewall may throw up a prompt, so give the setup program access). Your PC will then restart and the installation process will continue. You can follow the guide here, although some of the steps will be skipped as you've already covered them during the initial part of the setup process.
If I can't get Windows XP to install, what can I do to get my system up and running again?
If you followed our advice and took a drive image of your system prior to reinstalling Windows XP, you can restore that to enable you to get online to try and find a fix for your problem. Boot from your Macrium Reflect Free recovery disc and then follow the instructions to restore your image. Once you're back in Windows XP, use the web links in the box below to troubleshoot your problem further.
I've partitioned my hard drive and moved My Documents to that drive, but I can't make that folder private. What can I do?
The option to make personal folders private only exists when they're stored inside your personal Documents and Settings folder. Don't despair though, because you can make any folder private with a little jiggery pokery.
If you're running Windows XP Professional, open My Computer and select Tools > Folder Options > View tab. Scroll down to the bottom of the list and untick Use Simple File Sharing (Recommended) before clicking OK.
If you're using Windows XP Home you'll see the option doesn't exist, but there is a workaround: boot into Safe mode, where Simple File Sharing is disabled by default. To do so, restart your PC and tap [F8] after the initial setup messages appear. Select Safe mode from the boot menu and press [Enter]. When prompted, log on as your user account.
Now, right-click your My Documents folder - or better still your personal folder into which all your other folders are stored - and choose Properties. You'll see a Security tab appear, so switch to it and click Advanced. You'll see that a load of users have permission to access the folder. To rectify this, just untick the Inherit from parent the permission entries... box and click Apply. Everyone except your username should vanish. Click OK twice and only your user profile will have access to that folder.
I can't find a SATA floppy disk utility.
Check the CDs or DVDs that came with your PC or motherboard for a drivers section - you should find the utility there. Failing that, look for a folder called SATA, DRIVES or RAID. Copy its contents or the contents of any DRIVERDISK you find on to a blank, formatted floppy. Make sure the driver files are on the root directory of the floppy - in other words, not inside any other folders.
Also check the PC or motherboard manufacturer's web site for a packaged zip file you can download - again, extract its contents to your floppy disk.
Five helpful web articles
If you can't access a folder on another partition after reinstalling because you don't have the correct permissions, visit here to find out how to take ownership of it
If you're unable to get your product key recognised, click here for a list of troubleshooting suggestions
Click here if you have problems with activating and validating Windows using the Windows Genuine Advantage tool
The Microsoft Knowledge Base is packed full of fixes for individual set-up problems - a convenient list of these articles can be found here.