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How to install Windows XP in 2 days or less

I broke down and splurged on a new Dell Inspirion 9300 laptop. My previous laptop was an Inspiron 8200, which had been serving me well for three years... until the mouse button broke off. Now, this was probably not a big deal to get fixed, but I figure that a computer's usable lifetime is starting to run out when physical parts start falling off. Also, I couldn't resist a GeForce Go 6800 and a $750 off coupon. So I figured I'd get a new toy and hand the old laptop off to my father, who, as mechanical engineer, is less demanding of pointing devices and has a vast arsenal of adhesives and cements at his disposal to sort of stick the button back on.

Advice for first-time PC laptop buyers: as soon as you get a new computer, format it. Backup the hard drive or swap in a better one, wipe the system partition, and reinstall Windows XP. If you can't, beg or pay someone else to do it. The reason is that the OEMs install an unbelievable amount of crap on the machine, and it will make your life miserable. I thought it was bad on my 8200. This time, Dell preinstalled every piece of software I hate: Dell Support Center, QuickTime, RealPlayer, AOL, and McAfee. Now, my 1GB memory from Crucial hadn't arrived yet, so the machine was a game developer's nightmare: an XP machine with 256MB of system RAM and 256MB of video RAM. However, it was unbelievable how slow it was with all the junk — we're talking a good 10 minutes of swapping on startup, lots of annoying support popups everywhere, and 5-10 seconds of waiting per web page load. It will be better once I install more memory, but it was still so messed up that even after disabling a bunch of stuff system performance still inexplicably stank.

Time to reinstall.

The first annoyance I encountered was that Dell doesn't ship a Windows XP CD anymore, and the instructions for burning one don't work because the program simply isn't installed. There's a slip of paper in the box that says you don't need one because there's a recovery partition on the hard disk. Gee, that's great, except that I'm swapping the hard disk. I've heard that you can get one if you call them up and bitch, but I was impatient and just grabbed the install CD from my 8200. Apparently, the OEM CDs are keyed to the manufacturer of the BIOS but not the specific computer model, because it installed and pre-activated fine.

Now, like How to install Windows XP in 5 hours or less, but developer style:

  • Backup contents of hard drive onto Athena.
  • Swap hard drive into new laptop.
  • Insert Windows XP CD, Dell Edition.
  • Setup networking. Christen new computer "KOS-MOS."
  • Log in as Administrator.
  • Create main account. Add to administrator group. Relogin as main user.
  • Classic Windows XP theme.
  • No wallpaper. No screen saver. No fade effects. Enable ClearType antialiasing. No hide keyboard shortcuts on Alt key.
  • Open Windows Messenger. Do not load Windows Messenger on startup. Do not allow Windows Messenger to run in background. Close Windows Messenger.
  • Open My Computer.
  • View as Details.
  • Use Windows classic view.
  • Do not search for anything. Do not use simple anything. Do not cache anything. Do not hide anything. Do not use intuitive anything. Yes, I know I can screw up my system if I randomly delete files.
  • Apply. Apply to all folders. Apply again for good measure.
  • Right-click taskbar, Properties. Do not group simplar taskbar buttons. Show Quick Launch. Use Classic Start menu. Do not personalize menus. Use small icons.
  • Control Panel, System.
  • Do not animate anything. Do not fade or slide anything. Do not draw shadows under anything. Do not smooth scroll anything. Do not use background images for folders. Do not use common tasks in folders. Do not use visual styles on windows and buttons.
  • Do not report errors to Microsoft for random programs I compile in Visual C++.
  • Enable remote desktop.
  • DIRCMD=/ogne. PATH += c:tools.
  • Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Computer Management, Disk Management.
  • Change DVD-ROM drive to Y:.
  • Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Services.
  • Stop Help and Support. Disabled. Stop Themes. Disabled.
  • Run Windows Update. Wireless network doesn't work. Wired network doesn't work.
  • Visit Dell site on desktop. Download wireless drivers to USB stick.
  • Install wireless drivers.
  • Connect to wireless network.
  • Go back to desktop and look up the WEP key again.
  • Connect to wireless network.
  • Windows Update. Download a hundred patches. Install. Reboot.
  • Windows Update. Start Windows XP Service Pack 2 download. Wait half an hour.
  • Install Service Pack 2. Wait some more.
  • Still waiting.
  • Reboot.
  • Windows Update. Download a hundred more patches. Install. Reboot.
  • Turn off Windows Firewall. Turn off Security Notifications. Turn off Automatic Updates. Turn off annoying balloon messages.
  • Firefox.
  • Close Firefox start page. Set start page to blank.
  • Download latest Detonators. Install. Setup program refuses to install on GeForce Go 6800.
  • Control Panel, Add New Hardware. Add new device. Display device. Get out of my way and let me pick the driver to use. Select Detonator driver.
  • 1920x1200 resolution, normal fonts. Do not show NVIDIA icon in notification area.
  • ClearType Tuner PowerToy.
  • TweakUI for Windows XP. Do not fade menus. Do not optimize hard disk when idle. Do not use intuitive filename sorting. Do not warn about low disk space. Do moment of worship with "we're not worthy" motion for Raymond Chen.
  • Sound drivers.
  • Ethernet drivers.
  • Visual C++ 6.0.
  • MSDN Library October 2000.
  • Plug laptop power in and bring computer out of standby. Or not.
  • Hard power-off and power-on.
  • Chkdsk /f. Curse NTFS.
  • MSDN Library October 2000.
  • Visual C++ 6.0 Service Pack 5.
  • Visual C++ Processor Pack.
  • DirectX SDK.
  • WinAmp 2.
  • Perforce.
  • Keynote.
  • DAEMON Tools.
  • Mount Platform SDK CD image. Install Platform SDK.
  • Visual Studio .NET 2003. Dig out Visual Studio .NET 2002 CDs. Stick in CD 1 so .NET 2003 will install. No Visual C#.NET. No Visual Basic.NET. No Visual J#.NET. No .NET anything. No server junk. Wonder why the Visual J# Redistributable Runtime is a mandatory prerequisite for Visual C++.
  • Visual Studio .NET 2003 MSDN Library. Look for "do not install Windows CE documentation" option. Lament that it is still not there.
  • Fast Solution Build.
  • Launch test .avi file. Do not automatically acquire licenses. Do not rewrite MP3 ID3 tags. Do not take audio file extensions. Close Windows Media Player 9. Search for mplayer2.exe. Run Windows Media Player 6.4. Make Windows Media Player 6.4 default for all video types.
  • The Bat!
  • Yes, I'm particular about how my systems are set up.

    In general, I've found that Windows XP works best when it is configured to match Windows 2000. Unfortunately, thanks to the annoying defaults, this means I end up toggling almost every checkbox in Windows. The machine still only has 256MB of system RAM at the moment, but performs far better than it did before.


    This blog was originally open for comments when this entry was first posted, but was later closed and then removed due to spam and after a migration away from the original blog software. Unfortunately, it would have been a lot of work to reformat the comments to republish them. The author thanks everyone who posted comments and added to the discussion.