Monday, October 13, 2008

Upgrading a Motherboard on Windows XP

Although my wife is not a gamer she is into video and photography both of which put strains on her desktop PC. The machine has a plethora of hardware hanging off it (scanners, video capture, additional hard disks etc) and has literally dozens of specialised pieces of software installed. It is amazing that the 2002 vintage machine was able to function as well as it did but for some time now I have had the guilty realisation that it is long overdue an upgrade.

With hardware prices at an all time low (in euro-zone anyway) the sensible course of action might have been to just replace the whole lot with a brand new machine. Quite apart from the cost however there was the unpleasant prospect of having to reinstall all that additional harware and software. Instead I opted for a motherboard upgrade.

Out of pocket cost was minimal - a remaindered socket 939 motherboard (€15) and 2GB DDR ram (€55). I already had a spare Power supply, 7600gt graphics and Athlon 64 processor, relics of a previous upgrades of my own gaming machine. Certainly not state of the art but a substantial upgrades none the less, sufficient to bring the machine up to 2006 performance levels.

While the cash costs were minimal the time investment was not. Overall the upgrade took me me about six hours broken down as follows:

1hour: Gathering all the stuff and downloading required drivers. Motherboard and graphics card drivers were easy enough to get from the manufacturers' websites. I copied them to the hard disk of the machine to be upgraded before starting just in case I had difficulties getting an internet connection up and running. It is also very important to ensure you have the original product key for windows XP before proceeding as the repair install asks for it.

1 hour: Slipstreaming a Windows XP Home SP3 disk. My original Windows XP home disk is the plain vanilla version prior to any service packs. I have previously had difficulties trying to repair a patched version of XP with the original disks so I decided to get the latest version first. Given that Windows has "phone home" copy protection you might think that Microsoft would be happy to distribute the disks free of charge but no. The only way legitimately get an upgraded install disk is to go through a complex process called "Slip Streaming" which effectively upgrades the install disk you already have. The process is completely counterintuitive so follow a guide if ever you want to do it. I followed Christopher Heng's guide from here and it worked.

1 hour: Installing the new hardware. I have done this many times by now but I still prefer the slow cautious approach to hardware installation. A mistake here can cause irreparable damage. I start with the bare minimum - processor, memory, motherboard, graphics card and keyboard and then add other bits once I am sure everything works.

1 hour: Doing a repair install of Windows XP with my newly made SP3 disk. Changing the motherboard upset XP and it refused to boot. The repair install fixes windows but does not delete any files folders or installed programs. There are a few pitfalls involved in doing a repair install. At the first menu it asks you to hit R in order to repair XP using the recovery console. Do not select this instead hit enter to proceed to Setup. At the second menu do hit R to commencce a reapair install. DO NOT HIT ESCAPE or it will begin a clean install wiping all your files and programs. The process is described here with pictures.

2 hours: Installing drivers for new hardware (motherboard, lan, graphics, sound) and generally checking everything out. I needed to re-activate XP but that worked fine once I had a working internet connection.

Bingo - one fully upgraded machine with all existing hardware and software working as expected. ( I did forget one small thing. Microsoft office took umbridge at the harware upgrade and complained when my wife tried to use it. It simply needed to be re-activated but for some reason the on line activation didn't work).

You might complain that I could have bought a brand new computer with six hours worth of professional earnings. I would still have had to re-install all of my wife's special hardware and software though (I am the in house computer maintenance guy). In any case It was an enjoyable outing for the hacker inside.

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