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Vista is Dead, Long Live XP! or How to Downgrade from Vista to XP

If you read my last blog entry you'll know that I recently purchased a brand spanking new PC, which, of course, came with Windows Vista pre-installed. I was so dazzled by the speed of this machine that I was lulled into a false sense of security about using Vista. It seemed fast, it seemed cool. Why did everyone hate it so much?

Well, I soon discovered that if I left my workstation for awhile, about 10% of the time upon my return the whole thing would be locked up, requiring a cold boot. This was a major pain, but the worst part was that after a few weeks of this the machine itself seemed to have trouble booting from time to time. Eventually, upon boot, I saw this message, something all owners of a brand new PC love to see:

view plain print about
1WDC WD5000AAKS-65YGA0: Hard disk failure is imminent. Please back up your hard disk and have it replaced!

Yes, even the exclamation point was there.

So, I contacted HP for support and they confirmed that this was a "known problem" and arranged to ship me a new hard drive. While speaking with them I was asked whether I had had a lot of power failures recently. "No", I replied, but it made me think about all of those cold boots. Could they have been damaging my hard drive? Did Vista kill my new PC?

I decided that once I received my new hard drive I was going to do two things:

  1. Set up my two 500GB drives with Raid 1
  2. Dump Vista and install XP

Item 1 was easy as pie, but after doing some initial research into item 2 I realized that it's not as simple as slipping your XP CD into the drive and rebooting. The problem is that many of the drivers that this hardware requires are not on the XP CD, and the biggest problem is that the drivers for the SATA hard disk controller are absent. This leads us to the infamous "F6 Predicament" - you can press F6 when installing Windows to load an SATA driver from a floppy disk, but who buys a new computer with a floppy disk drive these days? The solution to this is to do a slipstream install, which allows you to add additional features to a Windows install and then burn the lot onto a new install CD.

This is actually incredibly easy to do with a freeware product called nLite. I'm not going to walk you through how to use that product as it is pretty straightforward. It allows you to do all kinds of fancy things with your Windows install, such as:

  • not installing some of the many useless Windows components that are included in a standard install
  • setting up an unattended installation
  • configuring a whole bunch of Windows tweaks

I just used it to do the following:

  • Add SP3 to my install
  • Add drivers for my chipset, hard disk controller, network card and video card to my install
  • Add the product code from my original CD to my install, so I didn't have to type it in (especially nice if you have to install more than once)

After building up your new install image it allows you to save it to your hard disk, and also will burn it onto a CD for you.

Probably the most time consuming part of this whole process was tracking down the Windows XP drivers for all of my components. Thanks Google!

So, new install CD in hand, I put it in the drive, rebooted, pressed any key, and lo and behold, Windows XP started installing. It worked like magic. Now I have a wonderful, super-fast, brand new PC, with Windows XP!

If you've read this far, perhaps it's because you'd like to do the same. Here is a link to an article that I found particularly useful. If you have any questions or need any help with this, feel free to drop me a line.


I fully hear you about Upgrading to XP from Vista. I wrote an article showing how to do it on a Toshiba and it is my most popular article!!!

60 thousand views!

Good luck with your new machine. I bet you'll be much happier and your software will run much better now.

# Posted By Dan Wilson | 6/13/08 10:44 AM
My HP notebook do not allow me to install XP. I have always "blue screen" while installing XP. When I check the BIOS, there are some settings which mention that preinstalled OS is Vista and I can not change these settings. What a lame!!! :(

Still in Vista on notebook. :)
# Posted By O?uz Demirkap? | 6/13/08 11:30 AM
Funny that you post this... My path was almost identical with my new Dell.
New Dell with Vista (stinks!) --> hard drive failure --> Upgraded to XP
I then went one extra step, though, to Kubuntu and that's where I currently sit.
Good luck with XP!
# Posted By Terry Schmitt | 6/13/08 11:43 AM
I remember when XP was the wost thing ever and no one wanted to leave 2000.

We run Vista 64bit on our production machines because we load them up with lots of RAM. The extra security can be a pain in small areas, but then it also does keep the system more secure.

Just update your drivers and your computer will run Vista just fine.
# Posted By Brian | 6/13/08 11:41 PM
@Brian: I did give Vista a try for a few weeks, and I actually quite liked it, but the instability was unacceptable to me. Perhaps 4 GB of RAM was not enough ;-)
# Posted By Bob Silverberg | 6/14/08 5:52 AM

Smartest reply I've seen here. I just don't know why people continue to deal with the pain of Windows. XP sucked before Vista came out yet now people are flocking back to it because of Vista. Vista must really be awful.

I was a Linux admin in a previous job and happily ran Linux as my desktop platform for years. I currently use Macs at home. My laptop is a MacBook Pro. I run Windows XP at work and I nearly cry everyday because of how crappy it is. Its really a sad excuse for an OS. Linux and OS X are just flat out superior to XP. If you use XP because your work requires it, I feel your pain, but other wise, do yourself a favor, take a chance and get to know Linux if you don't want to purchase a Mac.
# Posted By Jeff Self | 6/14/08 8:45 AM
My wife's previous Compaq laptop didn't report SMART errors, which led to quite a bit of frustration when I tried to troubleshoot some data corruption errors she was experiencing. I plugged it into my crappy, budget Acer laptop, and it reported the SMART drive failure error during POST.

HP wouldn't replace the drive since it was just past the 1-yr warranty. On a whim, I contacted Toshiba, the drive's manufacturer, to see if they had a repair/replacement program and they replaced it for free under their standard 3-yr warranty! I'd already replaced the drive at Best Buy because she needed to finish up one of the books she was working on, so it's now a backup drive in a USB enclosure.

We upgraded her new laptop from Vista to XP several months ago due to numerous lockups (on a Core 2 Duo with 4GB RAM, and dual hard drives with no on-board RAID!?! Frickin' HP. Never again.) HP's site didn't provide XP drivers for this particular model, but I found a similar model on their site and gathered the rest from the chip vendors (did I mention "Never again"?). Works *much* better & faster now.

Today, I'll be fixing the lovely "parse error in /etc/sudoers" that popped up after I updated or installed something in Synaptic, but at least it boots ;). There really needs to be a better way to fix this though...
# Posted By John Wise | 6/16/08 6:08 AM
Happy to see that at least 1 person in the world found my article useful ! I found links to my site from your page and I was curious about why, but I see that you used my article well.

After this expericence, I paid $30 to get a driveragent account, and I use it on every computers. I can easily update every drivers on xp or vista very easily. It doesn't help to boot when installing, and to install the network card, but when the OS is installed and the network card is active, it take 15 minutes to find and install every other drivers!

# Posted By Frederic Malenfant | 7/21/08 10:32 AM
Nice to hear from you Frederic. I was under the impression that driveragent was more of a scam. You're saying that you are happy with them and the service that they provide?
# Posted By Bob Silverberg | 7/21/08 11:06 AM
I agree that it really look like a scam !

Their web site is a little bit strange... but they really host 125000 drivers, they provide the link to the real company site with the update (exemple ati, intel, ...) and they also host a copy of the driver to make it more easy to download it. I suppose there must be a very big amount of work to keep all those drivers up to date, they seem serious, so I don't think this is a bad service.

I used it for 1 month, I updated 4 computers, and they all works very fine. It found me some really obscure drivers from gigabyte with my Compaq laptop, it was impossible for me to find that the originals drivers were from gigabyte ! And it worked fine. I hope I will not get some strange transactions on my credit card!
# Posted By Frederic Malenfant | 7/21/08 11:27 AM
I have been assimilated. Last year when I wrote my article about downgrade from vista to xp, I tried Vista before during a week and it was SO slow... Recently, I decided to retry vista, but with SP1. I must admit that there is a great improvement between my 2 tries (on the exact same hardware). I still hate vista for its "security overdose", but I like the bar on the desktop, the general look, and the fact that I must search every options 1 hour because they renamed and moved every menu of the control panel :-) It took me hours to find a way to get my desktop icons back (my computer, network, ...) !!!
# Posted By fm | 7/21/08 12:36 PM