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Clean Windows Install Procedure

A repair installation, a re-installation, and a clean installation all, with the exception of a few details early in the process, are identical. You must follow the steps, provide the relevant

A few beginning tasks are in order when doing a clean installation of Windows XP. If you do not know if the system is compatible with Windows XP, contact the system maker's web site first.


Most computers are compatible with Windows XP. Windows XP has the best compatibility of any version of Windows produced. The main compatibility issues with be with very old, or unusual legacy hardware; applications that are very old and make assumptions about the environment may be problematic also.


Check your important applications ensure they are compatible with Windows XP. If necessary, obtain upgrades to these applications so that they will work properly under Windows XP.


If you can burn CD-R disks, create a single CD-R disk with all the important files, applications, and drivers for your computer:

Drivers (network, video, chipset, storage, etc.)

The latest Service Pack.

An anti-virus program (AVG, http://www.grisoft.com/doc/1 is a good choice, and is free to single users.)

Motherboard utilities.

Hardware utilities (such as an emergency low-level formatter).

Anti-ad-ware, and spy-ware software (such as Ad aware and Spybot.)

Mark this CD-R with the computer's name, and the date that the disk was created. Also label with the version of Windows that these items are for.


Assemble Required Software

Prior to beginning your installation, it is best to have everything that will be needed for the installation at hand. As a minimum, you will need your Windows installation CD. If you are installing Windows 98/SE retail versions, or if your computer will not boot from the CD drive, it will be necessary to create a boot diskette to start the system with.


A Windows XP installation disk is not the same as a system restore disk from an OEM maker. System restore disks are a backup of the disk as it was from the OEM. Most system restore disks will delete all content from the drive!

Before using a system restore disk, you must backup your data or it will be lost.


If installing Windows XP versions, check to see which Service Pack your installation disk has. The Service Pack level should be marked on the disk. If you have a Service Pack CD (SP-2 is the latest as of this writing), that helps.

As new Service Packs are made, Microsoft updates the Windows XP installation CD to incorporate them. If your Windows XP disk is an older one it may not have SP-2 or even SP-1. In this event, obtain the latest Service Pack files. A CD may be purchased from Microsoft-- if you do not have a high speed Internet connection, this may be the easiest method to get a Service Pack disk.

Service Packs are cumulative so you will only need the most recent version.


Assemble all Service Packs, third party drivers, special applications (such as anti-virus software), along with any essential applications, and burn a CD-R with these items.

It is vital that before you start to install Windows XP that you have the latest Service Pack (SP-2) on hand before you start. You will want to install this Service Pack before you connect to the Internet.

Call this CD-R disk your "update disk". 


Boot Diskettes

Some computers do not have the ability to boot from a CD. For those machines, the only alternative is to boot from a diskette. Windows XP does not come with boot diskettes; rather you must download a program from Microsoft that will create the boot diskettes.


As mentioned above for Windows 98/SE/Me, an alternative to creating your own boot diskette, is the Internet site http://www.bootdisk.com/bootdisk.htm.

Windows XP may be installed from any boot disk or disk set that allows reading the CD ROM drive. You do not have to use the Microsoft six disk set, even a Windows 98/SE/Me ERD diskette may be used to install Windows XP.


Windows XP installation CDs are always bootable. However, if you are installing Windows 98/SE/Me, not all versions came on bootable CDs. This can be problematic if you have not retained the boot diskettes.

Installing Windows XP

Microsoft provides, as a download, a small program that will make Windows XP boot installation diskettes. For computers that will not boot a CD drive, these diskettes are the best way to install Windows XP.

The boot diskette maker is unique to each version of Windows you are installing. There is a different set for Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional Edition, and even the Service Pack versions have their own boot diskettes. Be sure you create the right set of diskettes!

Start with your browser, and go to http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=310994. This article has the URLs for programs that are able to create boot diskettes. There are different boot diskettes for each version of Windows XP (Home and Professional) and for each Service Pack (original, SP-1, and SP-2).

Near the bottom of this page are six links to download files. Click on the appropriate link for the version of Windows XP being installed.

Windows 98/SE/Me

Windows 98/SE/Me installations may require a boot diskette. One solution is to format a diskette with the system option, then install the necessary CD ROM drivers.

No matter what method you use to create your boot diskette, it should include the disk tools FDISK and FORMAT.

The best source for a Windows 98 boot diskette is actually another installation of Windows 98/SE/Me. If you have access to another installation, simply create an ERD diskette. This may be done from the Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs, Startup Disk tab.

If you have access to another computer with Windows XP it is possible to create a bootable diskette. In Windows XP, open My Computer, and right click on a floppy drive. Select format from the context menu, and check "Create an MS-DOS startup disk". Insert a diskette, and click Start. Unfortunately, the diskette created by Windows XP will not have drivers for your CD drive. It will be necessary to add the CD drivers to your startup disk.

A bootable diskette would have to have a minimum of these files:

OAKCDROM.SYS - This is the generic CD ROM driver. It will work for most ATAPI CD ROM drives in use today.

MSCDEX.sys - The Microsoft CD ROM drive extensions.

Himem.sys - The DOS extended memory driver.

Config.sys - The DOS boot configuration file, as shown in listing 2.1.

Autoexex.bat - The DOS boot initialization file, as shown in listing 2.2.

Listing 2.1 - config.sys

Device=himem.sys /testmem:off

Device=oakcdrom.sys /D:mscd001



Listing 2.2 - autoexec.bat

LH MSCDEX.exe /D:mscd001 /L:R

Echo The CD drive is R:

A viable alternative to creating your own boot diskette is the Internet site http://www.bootdisk.com/bootdisk.htm. This page has links to allow the user to download boot disk generators in a number of different flavors, including DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, and others.

Service Packs

Service Packs are collections of fixes and minor improvements that Microsoft makes to Windows. Some fixes correct security issues; others are intended to solve bugs in Windows or supporting software.

When Microsoft finds a problem with Windows, and resolves the problem, that fix is released as a Hotfix. Each Hotfix is designed to resolve one specific problem, and each Hotfix will have a Knowledge Base (KB) article reference as well. When a sufficient number of Hotfixes have been released, Microsoft will often gather them into a single package, called a Service Pack.

The term Service Release and Service Pack are often used interchangeably.

Windows XP is at Service Pack 2 today. Recent versions from Microsoft will have SP 2 already incorporated. If not, it may be necessary to download SP 2 to install at a later time.

There is always a possibility of downloading Service Packs. However be aware that the size of Windows XP's Service Pack 2 (WindowsXP-KB835935-SP2-ENU.exe) is a 273 MB download--this is not possible for dialup users! Even fast DSL/broadband users will find this a big D/L, taking considerable time, at least 30 minutes on a T-1 speed connection.

The SP-2 file is an executable program; you can run it after completing your installation of Windows XP. If you are doing a clean installation of Windows XP, and re-partitioning the drive, then either download and make a CD with Service Pack 2 on it, or buy the disk from Microsoft. (The only cost is a shipping and handling charge.)

Are there more updates after Service Pack 2? Yes, Service Pack 2 was created on 8/4/2004, so it is over a year old. There will be more updates (called hot-fixes) to install later, at the end of your installation.

Windows XP offers the ability to have Service Packs pre-installed on the installation media. This process is called slip-streaming. The web site http://www.tacktech.com/display.cfm?ttid=295 describes in detail the process used to create an updated Windows XP installation CD. (This technique applies to Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional Edition, and Windows Server 2003.) Slip-streaming is only useful when you are installing Windows XP on a number of systems. For a single installation, slip-streaming is not significantly faster or easier than installing Windows and then doing the update.

Important Drivers

To properly prepare for an installation, a good idea is to have all the drivers that you will need. Windows XP supports a wide variety of hardware, but it does not support everything. There are two categories of hardware to consider:

The first category is the hardware in our computer that came with the computer. These include video systems, sound, modem, chipset, and notebooks include touchpads or other built-in pointing devices, IrDA, WiFi. Virtually all Network Interface Cards (NIC) are already supported by Windows XP.

Start by checking the disks that came with the computer, if you can find them. This is the best starting point if the computer came with a comparable version of Windows. If your computer's original Windows was Windows 98/SE/Me, then the driver disk probably won't have drivers that are compatible with Windows XP.

Next stop in finding drivers is the computer maker's support web site. If you know the URL, good, go there. If you don't know the URL, try the Control Panel's System applet. The General tab may have the manufacturer's contact information.

If neither of the two above get you to the manufacturer's web site, the resort to one of the search engines. Some no-name computers may not have a name on them that tells who actually made the computer. I have a notebook computer that has no name on it at all, just the word "notebook". The tool that tells the most about what is in a computer is the Windows' System Information (msinfo32.exe) utility. This program was introduced in Windows 98 and is present in all later versions.

Prior to visiting manufacturer's support pages on the Internet, make sure you have the model, serial number, and any other identifying information at hand. When connected is not the time to have to pull the computer out and search for this information label on the back of the computer. (And, why do manufacturers put this label on the back?)

At the manufacturer's support web site, play it safe. Download every possible driver for your system. Driver files are small; to download six or eight will only take a few minutes. Each driver file will be either a self-extracting compressed archive (a self-extracting zip file) or some other archive format. Make folders for each driver, copy (or save from the download) the archive for that driver to folder you create folder. (Don't mix driver files: different drivers will have files that have the same names, but different content.)


Copy the manufacturer's drivers to either a diskette or a CD-R. This way, when doing a clean installation the drivers are available, even if the drive needed to be reformatted.


The second type of hardware drivers are needed for is hardware that was added to our computer after it was made. Usually this hardware will come with a driver disk (if one is needed), and any recent hardware would have drivers for Windows XP on that driver disk. Many printers and other external devices fall in this category.

If you cannot locate the driver disk that came with the hardware, again, go to the manufacturer's support web site, and download the appropriate drivers. As recommended above, save these drivers to your diskette or CD-R, using folders to isolate each driver set.


Often, after installing Windows XP we find we didn't need the drivers we downloaded. Special hardware usually falls into one of these categories.

Some hardware has a driver included with Windows XP. The driver name may not match your hardware, but Windows XP will have detected that it is compatible.

There is hardware that Windows XP supports, but only in a limited manner. Examples include touch pads (Windows XP sees them as standard mice). Another example is high performance video cards. Again, Windows XP might recognize it as a generic device, and not support all the feature and functionalities.

The final category is hardware that Windows XP doesn't recognize at all. In this case, the hardware is completely unavailable until a driver is installed. After installing Windows XP, open System in the Control Panel. Click Device Manager in the Hardware tab, and look for hardware that is flagged as unsupported.

For each hardware item that you have drivers for, install the drivers. For unsupported hardware that you do not have drivers for, you will need to search online for a driver.


Windows Components/OS Accessories

The optional parts of Windows XP such as Fax, Internet Information Server, message queuing, games, etc., may be installed at the same time as Windows XP, or at a later time. I prefer to install (and occasionally remove) these components after Windows XP is finished with the basic installation.

Windows components are divided into functional groups:

Accessories and Utilities

Fax Services

Indexing Service

Internet Explorer

Internet Information Services (IIS, part of Windows XP Professional Edition only)

Management and Monitoring Tools

Message Queuing

MSN Explorer

Networking Services

Other Network File and Print Services

Outlook Express

Update Root Certificates

Windows Media Player

Windows Messenger

In most groups are sub-groups and items that may be individually selected or excluded. If this installation is replacing another Windows installation (such as a re-install after installing a new hard drive), then list what components are installed on the old Windows installation, and simply include these with your new installation.

A good way to see what you already have is to open Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel.

[lb] For Windows 98/SE/Me, click the Windows Setup tab, and there will be a list of installed components.

[lb] When using a member of the Windows XP family, click Add/Remove Windows Components in the toolbar on the left side of Add or Remove Programs.

Make a list of what you have installed (some components are actually collections of related components, for these click the Details button.) With this list the same components that are installed on the existing copy of Windows may be selected or installed on your new installation. Of course, there are a few components in one version of Windows that do not appear in other versions.

Essential Applications

Collect all of your important applications together. Make sure you have the disk, and any license information you may need. For applications that were distributed online, write the distribution file(s) to a CD-R disk.


Installing a new version of Windows is an ideal opportunity to also upgrade your applications. Some applications may be updated for either free or a nominal sum. Other applications may have patches or fixes available that are required to use the program with the new version of Windows. Game software is often the pickiest with regard to the version of Windows supported.