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Beginners Guide to installing Windows

Need help installing Windows XP, 2000, 98 or ME? Our beginners guide to installing Windows will help you out!
@TweakTown
Patrick Tilsen
Published Mon, Oct 31 2005 11:00 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:26 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

Introduction

IntroductionSo, you need to reinstall or install Windows on a new hard drive or computer? Perhaps you've had an error you don't know how to fix, you just got a new computer with no operating system or some sort of computer support person told you it was a good idea.Regardless of why you need to install, you do need to install. Unfortunately, you haven't the slightest clue as to what you're doing - or you do, but want to learn a bit more. You might not be sure what to do just to install; you might not know what to do afterwards; you might even think you know what to do, but you want to be sure. You've come to the right place, it's our complete beginners guide to install Windows (XP and below).In the next lot of pages, you'll learn to properly reformat a hard drive, install Windows, install drivers, configure Windows and install programs for maximum safety and finally, to tweak Windows settings to gain the maximum achievable performance your computer can get.The steps described will be geared specifically for Windows 2000/XP, but will work with all versions of Windows unless it is specifically noted or implied otherwise. If you are fairly computer-literate, and to an extent you know what you're doing, feel free to skip some parts as we are catering for the newbie. Some parts will teach you nothing, whilst others will be of great value if they contain information you didn't know.

Formatting, Partitioning and Windows Installation

Formatting, Partitioning and Windows InstallationThe first step to installing Windows is to format and partition your hard drive. You may be wondering what that means. When you partition your hard drive, you put a sort of barrier on it. You can use this to separate different portions of your hard drive, or just to have a big one. Even if you don't separate different portions, you still have at least one partition.Formatting is another thing. When you format a hard drive's partition, you put a file system on it. A file system allows you to put files on the hard drive. These, combined are used to install your operating system (Windows), install any programs you may want, and to put any files you want on your hard drive. Simply put, they are required for Windows.The complicated-sounding stuff aside, formatting and partitioning a hard drive is easy. I will teach you two ways: The easy way, and the really easy way.The really easy way: Just use your Windows disc during the install. This doesn't apply with all versions of Windows. With Windows XP/2000, however, it is quite simple. The CD will ask you if you want to install on an existing partition (if one exists, only applies if your hard drive has been used before without being reformatted), or format a new one.The easy way: Use Fdisk. To do this, you can either use a boot floppy with Fdisk on it. The easiest way to do this is to download Free FDISK from here. If you are on an older Windows OS, such as Windows 98, you can also create a startup disk. To do this, go to My Computer (generally accessible from the Start Menu and the Desktop) and right-click on your floppy drive (A). Left-click Format, and elect to create an MS-DOS startup disk. After doing this, go to C:\Windows\Command and copy Fdisk to your floppy disk. After doing either of these, you will be able to use Fdisk from your floppy disk outside of Windows.
There are many other formatting/partitioning utilities you can use - If you are more comfortable with a different one, than use it. It shouldn't matter.Regardless of what method you use, you'll first need to go into your BIOS and set your boot device for Floppy (or for CD-ROM) depending on which you chose. So what's a BIOS? BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. It is essentially the only method of communication between you and your computer outside of an operating system of some sort. To access it, you must hit a certain button when your computer starts up, but before it begins to boot into anything (such as Windows). The BIOS may flash what this button is before it boots. For example, a BIOS may say "Press DEL to enter Setup." If this button is not listed, try pressing Delete, along with each of the F buttons (F1, F5, F10, etc.).Once inside the BIOS, you should be able to navigate with your keyboard. Look for a "boot device" setting. This may sound complicated, but should be relatively easy to find. Once you have found it, you must change it either to CD or floppy. After doing that, simply start your computer up with the Floppy or CD in its drive. It should either boot into the Windows installation program, MS-DOS, or whatever partitioning/formatting utility you are using. If you can't figure out how to get into the BIOS or how to setup a certain device as the boot device, visit the forums and we'll be happy to help you.
Recommended SetupRegardless of which option you chose, you probably don't know what a good way to partition and format your drives is. You have multiple choices for file system and multiple choices for number of drives and drive space.If you are relatively new to Windows or completely incompetent, meaning you may have had trouble following me thus far and have no idea what to do once inside Windows, you should just create one large partition. On older operating systems (Windows 98, for example) you are basically limited to one choice for your file system: FAT32. Navigate through Fdisk and create one large FAT32 partition (fill the whole drive). If you're installing Windows XP, 2000, or NT, it's best for you to create one large NTFS drive (fill the whole drive).You can now proceed to installing your OS. Using the method I described, set your CD drive to be the boot drive and boot off your Windows disc. If you are using an older OS, you may need a separate floppy boot disk. To get this, go here and get a boot disk for whatever operating system you're going to be using. You will use this to run setup.exe off of the CD but only with operating systems older than NT, 2000 and XP - with XP for instance, you boot from the installation CD and go right into the setup.If you are a little more knowledgeable and have an okay idea of how to use Windows, you may want to go with a multiple partition setup. This will apply mainly for Windows XP and 2000, but can be easily adapted for other operating systems.Using Fdisk or the Windows disc (or whatever you use), create one partition for your operating system to be installed on. It is suggested you make it 10 to 20GB and in NTFS for Windows XP/2K - this will give you plenty of room for the Windows files, Office and so on. If you have a smaller drive or are using a Windows 9x OS (95, 98, 98SE, ME), make it 3 to 6GB and in the FAT32 file system.After creating the first partition, you should proceed to install Windows if you are using the Windows XP/2000 CD. After installation, you will create one or two more partitions from inside Windows.
To do this, go to Start, Run, and type in "diskmgmt.msc" (without quotes) and press enter, which will bring up the Disk Management tool. From there, you will see all of your various drives listed. Right-click on the "unallocated space" on the hard drive and click "New Partition" to create a new partition. Leave it at "Primary Partition" on the next window and assign it whatever drive letter you want. Finally, put it in NTFS, with the default allocation unit size and a volume label descriptive of what it will be used for - this is personal preference. If you're using Fdisk or another utility, you can do this before installing Windows but the built in tool inside Windows XP is really simple to use. You can either make a single partition for applications and files, or one partition of each. The size of the partition should be based on how much space you think you'll use which is mostly just for organizational purposes. If you have a second hard drive, here's where you can use it to boost overall system performance a little.Create a partition on it 2GB or less in size in the FAT32 file system. After that's done, go to Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance > Settings > Advanced > Virtual Memory > Change. Completely remove the paging file from the Windows partition (C:) and put it on the new partition on the secondary hard drive. Have it be set to the exact size (preferably 2GB) of this partition, with the maximum and minimum sizes being identical.

Drivers

DriversOnce you've booted onto your installation CD and formatted your hard drive, installing Windows is basically a no-brainer. It will just start installing and eventually ask you for your product key and for your regional information.- Driver and DirectX InstallationIMPORTANT: DO NOT INSTALL ANYTHING OTHER THAN CPU-Z PRIOR TO INSTALLING YOUR DRIVERS, SERVICE PACKS, AND DIRECTX!So you're inside your operating system. Now what? Things might seem unstable and slow; your screen resolution and color depth might seem rather low (stuff will look big and ugly). You need to install drivers. Prior to installing any drivers, it's best you install any service packs for your operating system. For Windows XP and 2000, simply go to www.windowsupdate.com in Internet Explorer - it won't work in Firefox or other Mozilla browsers. Click "scan for updates" and choose to install only service packs (which will be in the critical updates section).For those XP users who wish to use just Service Pack 1, and not Service Pack 2, you can find the manual update here. I recommend experienced users stick with SP1 because it allows more tweaking to be done, and SP2 adds very little for the experienced user. In fact, there are even some programs that have problems with it. However, inexperienced users should stick to SP2 because it does have a few security features which are important.* If you are running Windows 98, download and install the unofficial service pack here:www.exuberant.ms11.net/98sesp.html* If you are running Windows ME, download and install the unofficial service pack here:www.exuberant.ms11.net/mesp.html These two service packs are extremely important for stability and performance. Their existence alone prevents me from writing a huge Windows 9x tweaking guide, because they make the vast majority of Windows 9x tweaks a waste of time. Don't worry about the unofficial part; these packs are more reliable than anything you will ever get from Microsoft for Windows 9x.After you have your service pack, it's time for DirectX. To install DirectX (the current version is DX9c), go here, download it and install it. You can also find it on the CDs/DVDs of most new games.

Drivers Continued

Drivers ContinuedBefore doing anything else, you need to find out a bit about your hardware. If you don't know your chipset or motherboard manufacturer or graphics card, you need to find them. If you have a system from a big company, such as Dell or HP you should be able to look up your specific model on the company's web site and get most or all of the latest drivers you'll need from them at their support download pages. Try to download the latest drivers as the ones supplied with your system are most likely already out-dated even before you receive the system. Latest drivers always offer better stability and bug fixes and sometimes increase system performance.If you built your system or had someone do it for you, you will have to find out what your graphics card and chipset are (assuming you don't know). If you know the specific manufacturer of the motherboard, search for its web site and see if it has any drivers available.If it doesn't, or you don't know what company made the motherboard and chipset, go to www.cpuid.org and download CPU-Z - it's a very useful program which will tell you plenty of details about your system. It will tell you the chipset under the "Mainboard" tab. Once you have found your chipset you can do a Google search for the manufacturers web site. Common chipset maker's web sites include: www.nvidia.com and www.viaarena.com. Download and install the drivers once you find them.
Note that depending on the chipset, you may not need to install any new drivers. If you can't find anything, then XP is likely to have complete native support for it and an updated driver won't do much beside a slight increase in performance, if that much. This generally applies to older Intel chipsets more than anything else. You can also try the driver section of Windows Update, as it may have your drivers.Time for graphics card drivers. There are a number of ways to easily identify your card. The easiest may be simply opening the computer case and looking at it. It won't be hard to find; your monitor will be connected to it. The second easiest way is to go to Control Panel (accessible from the Start Menu), System (click "Switch to classic view" if you're on XP) and click the Hardware tab. Then click device manager. Expand "video adapters" - that's your graphics card.If it's an ATI Radeon, for example, go to www.ati.com and look for the latest drivers - for a Radeon series graphics card (the most common), you'll need the Catalyst driver.If it's an nVidia graphics card, such as a GeForce, go to www.nvidia.com and look for drivers - you'll need Forceware.If it's an Intel onboard solution, go to www.intel.com. Be sure to be specific with the model number when looking for Intel drivers. You should note that there's a very good chance your graphics drivers were covered by your chipset drivers if you're using an Intel solution.Unless you still have drivers to install (miscellaneous drivers; any PCI cards you may have, look for manufacturers' web sites on Google or use any CDs you have), you're ready to install software and mess with settings.

Software Installation

Software InstallationAfter you have your graphics card drivers, you may want to increase your resolution and color depth. To do this, go to Control Panel, then to Display. On the settings tab you can change these. Most prefer 1024 x 768 for the desktop, but it depends on the size and quality of your monitor as well as your eyes. You should change the "Color Quality" option to the highest supported by your graphics card, which is hopefully 32-bit.I won't tell you the names of a bunch programs to install, that's obviously up to you and your personal tastes. I will, however, recommend a few things:Anti-Virus:If you already have a purchased product with a current license, such as Mcaffee or Norton, just install and update that. If you don't, get AVG from www.grisoft.com. You can get the free version, which is arguably better than all of the available pay programs on the market. I personally prefer Symantec Corporate edition, but I have access to it and most people won't, so I recommend the free version of AVG. There are other programs, and you should feel free to experiment, however you must never have multiple anti-virus programs on your system at the same time. That will bog your system down and make it very slow.Spyware:You may not know what spyware is, but you will almost undoubtedly get it if you use the Web, which you obviously do, since you're reading this (Editor Note: You won't get any spyware from TweakTown though!). We've covered the topic of spyware a couple times in our Spyware and Adware Removal Guide and PC Security Guide which is worth a read if you're new to computers.
Spyware can steal your personal information, provide you with pop-up ads, and/or just cause your system to slow down or have serious problems in general. Just think of spyware as a kind of virus that anti-virus programs don't bother with. Spyware can also be known as malware or adware, depending on the specific effects.To combat spyware, there are several (free) programs you can get:- Ad-Aware SE (my personal favorite)- Spybot Search and DestroyNote that these are all free, though some of them have versions that you can buy, as will a number of similar programs not listed here. I recommend the free versions of all of these for the simple reason that you will do no better with the pay versions. Remember to read our other full guides on spyware listed above for a more in-depth look.Firewall:A firewall protects you from the villains of the Internet. Crackers (erroneously known as hackers thanks to the mainstream news media), worms (a type of virus), various other viruses, and even some spyware can be prevented with the use of a software firewall. It is also recommended you read our PC Security Guide which goes into detail about firewalls.Go to Control Panel\Network Connection and right-click on any connections there, then click properties. Under the Advanced tab, you have the option to turn on XP's built-in firewall. If you are a typical user that doesn't do much beyond e-mail, web-browsing, and word-processing, this is perfect for you.If you are a gamer or use many programs, especially file-sharing programs, you will be better off with something that gives you more control and is easier to turn off. My personal favorite is Zone Alarm.Note that you should turn this off before playing any moderately new games, for both performance and networking issues. There are other good software firewalls that I haven't listed here simply because Zone Alarm is my personal favorite. Feel free to experiment, however just as with antivirus programs, you should never run multiple firewall programs at the same time or even have them installed at the same time.If you have a router, which you almost surely do if you have several computers on the same Internet connection or a broadband connection, you will have a hardware firewall. A hardware firewall is in many ways better than a software firewall, and for many people it may eliminate the need for one entirely. It differs in that you have very little control. You can't stop programs on your computer from accessing the Internet, which you can do with a software firewall. At the same time, it doesn't take up any RAM or processing power of your computer. I recommend most users have both, but more experienced users can do quite well without a software firewall.

Everything Else and Final Thoughts

Everything Else and Final ThoughtsEverything Else:For further tweaks (mainly XP users, though much applies to 2000), I strongly suggest you read our Windows XP Tweaking guides - Reformat to Relax and Relax to Righteous.You may also want to read Black Viper's guides for services, if you're running Windows 2000 or Windows XP. His site has been down for some time, but you can still find a backup here.It is recommended that only experienced users even bother with service tweaks, and even then only if you really want to push the performance of your computer. Messing with services can seriously hurt functionality, and even Black Viper's guide might not be able to stop you from screwing up.Final ThoughtsIf all has gone well, you should know have a fully functional PC running Windows.If you've followed all of my advice, your system should be relatively secure and perform well. If you encountered any problems along the way, feel free to post your problem in our forums where you'll find friendly advice which won't cost you a dime.If you think part of my guide was ambiguous or hard to understand in anyway, feel free to email me.

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