Prepare your Hardware

On 1:36 PM

Windows XP is a cat's cradle of all the Windows versions that precede it. Some of its features and functions mimic Windows 95/98 and Millennium Edition; some act like Windows 2000; others are all new. As a rule, however, this OS does everything on a big scale. It demands higher system requirements than we've seen before for a consumer or business desktop OS. Any newer PC--one less than two years old--should certainly meet or exceed the minimums. In fact, if you're currently running Windows Me, you can probably squeak by with a slower-than-recommended CPU, but Windows XP setup will not proceed without the required minimum processor, memory, disk space, or video capability (640x480 is not an option). Not sure if you have what it takes? Read on.

Meet XP's minimum requirements

Windows XP:
233MHz CPU (300MHz or higher recommended)
64MB of RAM
1.5GB of free disk space
Super-VGA (800x600 resolution) video adapter and monitor
CD-ROM or DVD drive
Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device

Obviously, more is better; exceeding these recommendations will only improve your system's performance. Your CPU's speed and the amount of RAM you have is usually shown on the screen when you turn on your PC. Based on our experience, your disk drive should support Ultra-ATA66 or ATA100 IDE and have a fast average seek time of 10 milliseconds or less with 256-512KB of on-drive cache buffering.

Your video card should be a PCI version with 4MB or more of video RAM; AGP is even better. Your CD-ROM drive should be a late-model ATAPI device providing 8X, 12X or 16X performance. Your sound card should also be a late-model, name-brand PCI version.

The specifications for your CD-ROM or hard drive are usually printed on the label on the drive itself. The drives included with most systems built since 1999 should meet these specs just fine. You can look up the specs for your devices by their model numbers on the equipment manufacturer's Web site. Don't know the make or model of the hard drive, CD-ROM drive, or video or sound card you have? You can look these up through Start > Settings > Control Panel > System; select the Device Manager tab, then double-click the devices in the list.

Older I/O cards that use the ISA I/O slots (usually the longer black connectors on your system board) will perform slower than cards that use PCI (typically white connectors) or AGP (typically green connectors) I/O slots on your system board, and could make it harder for Plug and Play and Windows to configure your system. System boards with built-in video and sound features already use the PCI bus, so they're as fast as they are going to get.

Like Windows Millennium Edition, NT, and 2000, XP does not load DOS or real-mode drivers and programs before Windows start-up. If XP recognizes your hardware, it will try to use its own new drivers, but if you have a very old (say pre-1995 or 1996) CD-ROM drive or an ISA-bus sound card that required drivers to be loaded in your C:\config.sys and C:\autoexec.bat files, XP may not support those devices. For performance reasons, you probably want newer hardware anyway.

Hint: We've found that, in many cases, if your hardware or peripherals lack XP driver support, you can download and install Windows 2000 drivers for the devices, and they will work just fine, although you may get a pop-up message from XP telling you that the drivers you are installing are unsigned (not registered with Microsoft) and therefore not proven to work. Fortunately, you can use XP's System Restore feature to keep track of things before and after you try them and back out if you need to.

Additional hardware requirements

Now that you have the baseline requirements, here are a few items you'll need to fully take advantage of Windows XP.

Windows XP:
For using the Internet in general and Microsoft's .Net Internet-based services and features (including Passport credentials, e-mail, Microsoft Messenger, voice and videoconferencing, Remote Assistance, Remote Desktop, and application sharing): 28.8Kbps modem for dial-up or cable, DSL, or wireless Internet connection through an ISP; Microsoft Passport account
For voice and videoconferencing over the Internet, both parties also need: Videoconferencing camera; microphone and sound card with speakers or headset
For Remote Assistance: Windows XP on the helper's PC and a connection between the two (local network or Internet)
For sound: Sound card and speakers or headphones
For DVD video playback: DVD drive and DVD decoder card or DVD decoder software; 8MB of video RAM
For Windows Movie Maker: Video-capture feature requires appropriate digital or analog video-capture device and 400MHz or higher processor for digital video camera capture

Check with hardware companies

Windows XP should recognize and run on any hardware that supports Windows 98 or Me (again, excepting any device that requires a DOS-level driver). This includes your PC's motherboard, BIOS, and chipsets. Since XP is based on Windows 2000, most, if not all, Windows 2000 hardware drivers should work with XP.

If in doubt, or if a Windows 2000 driver doesn't work, check your system's and device manufacturers' Web sites or Microsoft's list for information about compatibility. Microsoft's XP Web pages also list dozens of XP-ready PCs, and the company will soon publish a downloadable copy of Upgrade Advisor, a tool that tests system and software compatibility. The Windows XP CD also contains several vendor-specific text and HTML files in the i386compdata folder that indicate precautions and exceptions for many vendors' devices that may or may not work under XP. Be prepared for some disappointment: it's up to manufacturers to decide whether they can or want to create new drivers for their older products. Some manufacturers did not update their drivers for older (1994-1999) hardware to work with Me or 2000; they may not create new drivers for XP, either. This could apply to products just a year or two old, leaving your relatively new toys to become doorstops or flea-market stock.

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Vishnu vardhan Reddy Boda is Tech Blogger and Software Engineer.

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