8 lessons learned from upgrading a dog-slow XP machine to Windows 8

8 lessons learned from upgrading a dog-slow XP machine to Windows 8

Summary: ZDNet's David Gewirtz decides to upgrade a "dog-slow" Atom-based PC from the nearly dearly departed Windows XP to Windows 8. In the process, he learns a lot and shares some of those lessons with you in this article.


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...

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Windows


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Drivers

    "So, here's your first tip: if you're running a more modern XP machine, you have a better chance of succeeding than if your machine came from way back in the day."

    Another factor is the vendor your working with, some do a better job than others supporting machines with updated drivers. In other cases its the components used in the device, you might find generic drivers for common components while it could be nearly impossible for some of the more offbeat components. i.e. if you picked up a cheap computer it may well have cheap off brand components that are hard to find drivers for. OR if your trying to find drivers for components in a MAC converted to windows... Good luck.
    • Dell does the best job I have ever seen at keeping drivers up to date

      Still, if your machine is over four years old, it can get tricky. Graphics and sound seem to be the areas most affected by missing drivers.
      M Wagner
      • That's true.

        I have a Dell GX620 running Windows XP (yes, laugh all you want. I plan to put 7 on it this weekend) and if you go to their website and enter your service tag and or express service code, not only can you find appropriate drivers, but they are also great for finding replacement hardware in case your CD-ROM ceases to operate.
        Richard Estes
  • Drivers

    When I'm looking for drivers i always copy Dev/Ven Id from device manager and then I go to this site:
    just paste your devid to the search and choose OS.
    • Forget Drivers and hassle completely.

      I upgraded my Atom Acer netbook with Linux Mint via USB drive. No cost, just sheer elegance and driver issues with Linux are completely taken care of in the install. I haven't needed to work with drivers at all since using Linux.... With one exception, Sometimes there are proprietary (non-free) drivers available for Mint for some video cards. It's already there, all you have to do is select and click if you want the Nvidia or ATI Linux driver, but in all cases, the default (open source) driver works fine.
      • Wow. I guess I should've bought a real netbook.

        It seems that the Samsung 500 Chromebook is horrible for putting alternative Linux distributions on, no matter how many different sets of instructions Google pops up for me.
        Richard Estes
      • Xp to 8

        I'm running XP on 5 of the desk-tops we have. They are all older machines that I keep running for myself and the kids. I run Mint 13 on my main machine even though it came with XP Media Edition. I switched to Mint 15 for a couple of weeks but it is still a touch buggy when running Chromium. I'm back to 13 LTS and everything is fine. I found that I didn't care for Ubuntu Unity for a desktop. Mint seems to work from the start, no problem.
  • 32bit to 64bit

    Actually upgrading from 32bit to 64bit is quite straight forward. Run the setup with a boot drive. Done. USB drives are cheap and I bet you have a ton of them.
    Dreyer Smit
  • what someone from ZD saying nice things about Win8

    but seriously this the cool thing about it, you can stick it on 'old hardware' and it will to a certain extent work ok.
    Paul Smith-Keitley
    • Metro Silliness

      He did give compliment Windows 8 on its ability to work with old hardware. However he did rightfully slam Windows 8 on its "Metro silliness." I have to agree with him that once you do everything you can to eliminate or hide anything "Metro" in Windows 8, it actually becomes somewhat useful.
      • Agreed

        I used 3 programs from Stardock.com and I never have to see the Metro start screen and I have a start button. The programs ate Start8, ModernMix, and Decor8.

        With drivers I've used DriverAgent and they did a good job but they use a Pay to Play model - Slimware Drivers does not and I've used them to get drivers for an older desktop I got for my wife to use.
        • Your comment had a funny typo...

          You said "...the programs ate Start8, ModernMix, and Decor8." LOL

          My programs don't eat anything, although Windows 8 seems to have eaten all of Windows 7 reputation.

          I guess a daily dose of Start8, ModernMix and Decor8, is the digital equivalent of Alka Seltzer, Pepto Bizmol and Losec for the Metro Induced Acid Reflux Syndrome (aka Ballmer's disease)
    • If you have a newer graphics adapter

      you'll be successful. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a dog-slow machine with extremely ugly graphics.

      This is partially unavoidable, as Windows 8.x looks like garbage no matter what, but at least works quickly enough if you have recent driver support.

      Microsoft, AMD, and nVidia really drew a line in the sand with this - if you have anything older, such as most AGP cards, you're out of luck, even though the card, were it to have drivers which could be installed, would give excellent results. The Microsoft basic driver is so ridiculously slow I'm sure that MS was laughing when they designed it.
  • Whew, that was a lot of trouble.

    Me, I'd get the drivers off on a thumb drive FIRST. Windows 8 best, Windows 7 in a pinch, latest XP drivers if desperate. Get both 32 and 64 bit sets if possible. Then use something like True Image (or a free alternative) to back up the system drive. Finally, use a burned DVD or another USB drive to boot and install from. Then happily nuke the XP installation and go. If it sucked, then use the backed up image to return to where I was. Then move on. It's a little tedious, but not as dramatic as this article makes it.
    • Lenovo drivers

      I started to do something similar for a Lenovo machine... By the time I managed to download all the drivers for Win 8 x64 from their site for one model laptop I was exhausted, didn't bother with the rest of them. It was like mining coal with a toothpick.
      • Trick for Lenovo

        Get the Network, disk drivers, Intel Chipset and their "System Update ver 5.x" utility.

        Install Win 8 with the NIC, disk and Intel chipset.

        Install "System Update ver 5.x" utility and run it to pull down all the other available drivers and install them.
    • More trouble than Linux ;-)

      Install blows away your apps? 32-bit vs 64-bit issues? Use a wired network connection? "Dig hard for drivers"? Honestly--this article sounds like a guide to install a Linux OS from 10 years ago!

      I do understand this was an "experiment" and NOT a "reccomendation"--nobody would actualy think upgrading any PC of that vintage--that was shipped with and certified for XP--to Windows 8.x (would they?)! Obviously a more logical alternative would be Windows 7 Starter or Home Basic--but then where can you buy this or acquire the install media if you don't already have it or something like an MSDN subcription?

      Given the use case of the machine invovled--it is an ancilliary machine that sits in the "west wing" and is used for basic tasks only--you'd probably have more success installing a Linux OS. Driver support for older hardware in Linux is superior in most respects (versus newer hardware for which Windows gets the drivers first). You can run a proper browser, you can use LibreOffice, and you can RDP into another box or use WINE should you need to do something unusual. It is obviously not a gaming box so that isn't an issue.

      Seriously, if you want to stretch out the life of an XP machine a couple more years, the most logical upgrde from XP is to a lightweight Linux OS running a familiar-looking desktop like Cinnamon or XFCE. I don't say this becauss I am some kind of fanboi or to slag on Windows. It is simply that MSFT has moved on with Windows and there are alternatives that are sincerely easier to install and use on more "experienced" hardware--and you can remain "metro free" if you do not like that sort of thing.

      If you do fancy Win8 really it isn't worth your time to upgrade anything that pre-dates Win 7. You are really best to look at total system replacement, and there are very affordable Win8 PCs out there that will give you a lot less trouble.

      You still have choice..and if you have that kind of attachment to old hardware you have to look at all options.
      Mark Hayden
      • I agree, Mint is probably the best choice.

        I use a Knoppix 7.2.0 encrypted flash drive on my keychain. You create it by booting to the Knoppix CD and using the menu option to create Knoppix flash drive.

        It's a little different working this way, but easy.

        As a first step, just click the main menu > Knoppix >Install components after connecting to the internet to get flash and other goodies. I also recommend installing GDebi installer from the Synaptic Package Manager to make web installations easier.

        I also change the DNS to Google Public DNS for IPv4 and iPv6, which I found works much better than the default Verizon FIOS DNS. It also has phishing protection and advanced caching.

        It's really fast and uses the 3.9 kernel, so applications are cached into the SSD if you are using one making everything go faster.

        I constantly log into Google and use Chrome. Chrome bookmarks and settings are shared over the cloud when you do this, which is really, really nice.

        With the Knoppix Flash drive, you can use anyones computer without accessing their hard drive or passwords. .... Just Awesome. Any files or settings are saved to the flash drive.
  • win 8 on atom 330 oké here

    On my bedroom netbook, an Asus 1201N with Atom 330 and upgraded 4 gb ddr2 ram, Windows 8 64 bit has been running very well for since January for such slow hardware Still a bit slow booting (1min30sec to 2min incl.login) but after boot very acceptable, it runs even smoother than Win7/64 bit I used before that. Upgraded via USB.All not directly supported drivers were downloadable via manufactures of hardware parts instead of Asus. Only hardware error was the quickboot option which is turned off.
    • Win8 is almost always faster then Win7

      I say "almost", allowing for the possibility under some circumstance on a particular piece of hardware it might not be faster but I have not actually encountered that scenario.