Here's what the message turned out to be about. The Zotac was running XP SP2. Windows 8 requires SP3 to install. Now, here's where I get to the point where I want to fling someone into the ocean.
Do you think the Windows 8 installer could have detected it was running on a pre-SP3 XP? Sure. Do you think Microsoft could have added one more string that says something nice like, "You're running SP2. Click here to download the upgrade to XP SP3 before upgrading to Windows 8"?
Could they have done that? Sure. Would any reasonable company writing an installer have done that? Sure. Is Microsoft desperate to move their customers off of XP? Sure. So WTF?
Okay, so here's the point of this tip. Upgrade your XP machine to SP3 before you try installing Windows 8. Otherwise you'll get a stupid, unhelpful, customer-hostile error message for no good reason.
Tip #5: You must upgrade like bitness
I know that headline doesn't make much sense, so let me clarify. If you're running a 32-bit version of XP, you must upgrade to a 32-bit version of Windows 8.
It's been at least three years since I installed a 32-bit OS on any of my PCs. I generally equip each machine with the maximum RAM I can get (the least amount is usually 8GB), so I just default to installing Windows 8 64-bit. So, that's what I tried to install on the Zotac.
Uh, uh. Nope. No way.
You'd think it would be possible because Microsoft is pretty much zorching everything already running on your computer to upgrade to Windows 8 anyway. But no. 32 to 32. You might think 64 to 64, but reports are that since there were so few 64-bit installs of XP (which Ed tells me was really a variant of Server 2003), Windows 8 flat out won't upgrade from 64-bit XP to Windows 8 in any way.
So, bottom line: if you have 32-bit XP, you're going to 32-bit Windows 8. Period.
This initially led me to quite a degree of distress. When I bought Windows 8, I remember only downloading the 64-bit installer. I looked all over the Microsoft site, trying to find a 32-bit installer, with no success. I even tried calling Microsoft support for Windows 8...
... here's a tip within a tip: don't ever call Microsoft support for Windows 8. There's not enough aspirin in the world for that exercise in futility.
Fortunately, my wife is much smarter than I am. When we bought our Windows 8 upgrade licenses, she decided to download both versions because, "we might need them someday." She was right. I pulled that version off the file server and started the install, this time without Windows 8 displaying indecipherable messages.
If you don't have a 32-bit download of the Windows 8 installer, I'm not sure how you can get one. Maybe one of our commenters below will have some hints for you.
Tip #6: Try using a hard-wired network connection when installing
I was going to initially talk about how to find drivers in this tip, but it turns out that you should pay attention to your network connection first.
The Zotac supports both hardwired and wireless network connections. The thing is, drivers for wireless networks don't always come out of the box for an OS install, where hardwired network drivers generally work.
This was certainly the case for me. WiFi didn't work after I installed Windows 8, but the basic Ethernet cable connection did. This made it much easier to track down the other drivers I needed and run Windows updates.
So, first plug in your machine via a hard-wired Internet connection, even if it will eventually be wireless.
Tips #7 and #8 are coming up, along with my final thoughts...