Upgrading a computer running Win XP from an Intel- to an AMD-based motherboard.

What follows is a set of instructions and tips based on my own experience of upgrading a Windows XP computer from an elderly Intel motherboard (Pentium 4 3GHz, 1GB RAM) to a brand new AMD one (Phenom II x 4 965, 4GB RAM). I had a lot of trouble getting all the information together to do this and figured quite a few other people must be in the same boat. And typing it out helps me remember too!

I advise you to read all of this before starting, which will help you to work out what you need and what might happen on the way. You should allow at least 2 hours for the job, probably 3. A good book to read while you sit keeping an eye on the computer is useful too!

Two browsers

Before we even get on to the first stage, I would strongly advise that you install an internet browser thatís not Internet Explorer, alongside IE. It seems fairly common that IE needs reinstalling after a Windows Upgrade/Repair Install, and if it doesnít work at all (mine didnít) it would be tricky (probably involving another computer) to get it going again as youíd have no internet access. Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, whatever - just something else capable of getting you online.

Backup!

Statement of the obvious, but make sure you have backed up PROPERLY and RECENTLY. ĎProperlyí means a full partition backup so that you can, if necessary (and it might well be), restore the entire system as if your main hard drive has been wiped. It wonít be wiped but it might be altered in ways that would make recovery bit-by-bit an incredibly awkward process, or worse. ĎRecentlyí ideally means just before you started the mobo replacement process. You should also have a startup disc that lets the backup software run in recovery mode even if your computer wonít boot. I use Acronis backup software which allows you to do all these things. There are plenty of alternatives.

Desktop layout

This is a small detail, but if you are particularly fond of the layout on your desktop, you may want to make to note of it, or store it (Iím sure Iíve seen programmes that will do this for you, though Iíve never bothered using one). The arrangement of the icons may be upset during the Windows reinstallation due to starting up with temporary video settings. Itís no worse than a mild annoyance, though.

UBCD4WIN

This may seem a bit belt-braces-and-string, but I highly recommend downloading and creating an ĎUltimate Boot CD for Windowsí startup CD. In the end I didnít use it, but at one stage of things going wrong it might well have saved me a couple of hours of work. Google the title, download it, follow the instructions.

In-place upgrade - slipstreamed installation CD

The instructions on the Microsoft website (look for article KB824125) for how to do an in-place upgrade are simple and correct - apart from one thing which they omit to mention. They say you should use Ďyour Windows CDí. If, like me, thatís one you bought some time ago, it will be pre-SP2, SP3. In that case, youíll be unable to follow the ĎUpgradeí path because youíll get a message pointing out that you canít upgrade to an older version of Windows. So you need to create a Ďslipstreamedí installation CD with the latest Service Pack on it. (You should already be running SP3.) I did this using Nlite - again, Google, download, install, run. It has lots of features you may or may not use, but the important one is the ability to build a new Windows XP installation disc from your original one and the SP3 download. You can get that from the Microsoft website as a single download (about 300MB). Donít worry that it appears to be for developers only - itís the right one as long as it mentions XP.

Intelppm

This is the thing that will stop the motherboard upgrade working if itís not attended to, and will land you with a Blue Screen Of Death halfway through the installation, at which point you appear to be stuck. Intelppm is a system file which looks after power management on Intel processors, and it doesnít apply to AMD. Not surprisingly, if you let it try to run with an AMD processor, everything will go horribly wrong, so you have to disable it. The best way to do this is to edit the registry just before you start the motherboard replacement procedure.

Registry editing is scary stuff, not made any more comfortable by warnings plastered all over the Microsoft website about the computer becoming unusable if you do something wrong. But youíve backed up, so the worst that can happen is that you need to back-pedal a few steps. Just be careful and double-check everything.

There are instructions regarding the intelppm problem on the Microsoft Knowledge Base, in article number 953356. This looks as if itís not quite right but although it addresses a slightly different scenario it has all the right information. That said, there is again a mistake in it that requires careful consideration. It says you should modify the information in registry subkey ControlSet0001. This isnít necessarily right. There are 2 or 3 subkeys called ControlSet000x, where is is 1, 2 or 3 (or maybe even higher, for all I know), and the CurrentControlSet, which is the set operating the computer in front of you now, is one of those as indicated by a pointer in another subkey, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Select. Look for the ĎCurrentí setting and note its value: this tells you which ControlSet to alter. In other words, if the value of Current is 3 (as mine was), you need to edit ControlSet0003, NOT ...0001. Apart from that, the Microsoft KB article is right. Do what it says.

The official procedure!

Having done that, DONíT reboot before carrying on with the motherboard replacement procedure as given in KB824125. (If you do reboot youíll end up running an Intel system with intelppm disabled and goodness knows what will happen.) Use your slipstreamed installation CD. The procedure prompts you pretty well and after a minute or two your computer will start to reboot. Donít go away because you need to switch off the power just as the reboot starts (i.e. WAIT FOR IT TO CLOSE DOWN FIRST!). When you get the Power-On Self Test screen pull the plug, then do the hardware bit of the motherboard replacement. Most motherboards come with pretty good instructions and labelling these days. Just make sure all the leads inside the case that plug on to the motherboard are labelled - if they arenít, do it as you pull them off the old board.

When itís all in place, plug in just the keyboard, mouse and monitor (and any expansion cards youíre definitely intending to use), reinsert the mains cable and switch on. Leave the Windows installation CD in the drive. The system should load itself up pretty smoothly. If it doesnít, and/or you get the BSOD, make a note of what went wrong in as much detail as is displayed, then try rebooting (front panel reboot button). Sometimes things work the second time. If you get a BSOD with an error message that looks a bit like this:

STOP: 0x0000007E (0xC0000005, 0xFC5CCAF3, 0xFC90F8C0, 0xFC90F5C0)

(the first two address exactly like that - the last three might be anything)

you may have edited the wrong ControlSet for the intelppm thing. There is still a way around it, though I havenít tested this, which is to use Windows Recovery Console to disable intelppm. You canít do this from the main Windows installation CD, though, because it sees a system halfway installed and wonít offer the option of loading the Recovery Console. This is where I could have done with the UBCD4WIN disc. If you use that, you _should_ be able to get to Recovery Console. If so, the command to type is Ďdisable intelppmí. Because I havenít done it I canít give detailed instructions. You may have to experiment with paths or something. If that doesnít help, or the problem is something else, you may just have to reinstall the old motherboard and reload the entire hard disc from the backup.

Missing files

Assuming youíve got past that stage and Windows is installing happily, your next headache is likely to be missing files. About 2 or 3 dozen times during the Windows re-installation, I got messages about Ďcannot find file ....í. The Ďretryí option wonít get you anywhere, so you have to click Ďcancelí. There will then be a note asking you whether to carry on regardless - you just say yes. Sometimes you get a warning about Windows possibly not working properly without this file - carry on anyway. Iíve done a couple of repair installations and always had something like this, and Iíve always had a perfectly good working Windows installation afterwards. Anyone know why it occurs, and why it doesnít seem to matter?

Driver discs

You may be prompted, at some point during the Windows installation, to replace the Windows CD with a driver disc for some hardware youíve installed (expansion cards, most likely). If you donít have these you donít have to abort the installation but obviously you wonít be able to use the hardware in question until you have the drivers set up. If all else fails, borrow another computer to download them and transfer them to the one youíre setting up on a CD or USB stick.

Re-activate, but not immediately

Eventually (probably about half an hour after starting the upgrade procedure, with most modern hardware), youíll get to the point where Windows starts to load. You will get a warning message about ĎWindows requires reactivationí, asking you whether to do it now. You have 3 days in which to reactivate, and I advise you not to do it right now. Itís dead easy once the system is fully running, which with luck it will be in less than an hour, but if Internet Explorer is going to give trouble (see below), attempting to reactivate at this point may just make the computer hang completely.

Boot a few times

You may find (I did) that the computer gets part-way loaded into Windows and then just stops, with no sign of activity from the hard disk or the display. Give it a minute or so in case itís thinking, then reboot (front panel button). Again, I donít know the science behind this but itís always worked for me. Usually one or two reboots will get it going.

Video

If youíve changed the video adaptor (and since these days they are usually built into the motherboard, you probably have), Windows is likely to load in some failsafe video setting like 640x480, so your icons will be all over the place and the display will look all wrong. When the system is far enough installed to be usable, get into display settings and correct this. (Put the mouse over an unused area of desktop and right-click to get access to the Settings menu.)

Reinstall IE

The installation CD, even if it is a recently slipstreamed one, may well have put an old version of Internet Explorer on the drive, which may fail to connect to the internet, giving this bizarre error message:

The requested look up key was not found in any activation context

This is where you need your other internet browser. Go to the Microsoft website and download whichever recent version of IE they are offering, and install it. You shouldnít need to uninstall the old one first. If this works, you can now reactivate Windows (took me about 5 seconds) - there will probably be an icon for it in your Start menu, otherwise go to Programs - Accessories - System Tools - Activate Windows.

Updates and patches

Now that youíre on friendly terms with Microsoft again, use the Windows Update tool to reinstall the various updates and patches that came out since SP3 (if youíre really clever you might have slipstreamed these on to your installation CD, but I couldnít be bothered - Windows Update can just run overnight and do its thing). Itís actually worth running this at least twice (youíll almost certainly need to reboot after each time you run it) as some updates canít be loaded until others are in place.

Antivirus

You may find at some stage you need to reactivate your antivirus software too. Youíll probably get plenty of warnings about this.

Backup again

Donít leave things too long before backing up again - and make sure itís a full partition backup, not an incremental one added on to the last.

Footnote - why bother?

I considered upgrading a couple of times in the last few years but put it off mainly on grounds of efficiency - it didnít seem worth the trouble and expense for the speed increase I would get. And for some users, it wouldnít have made sense to upgrade my system. It depends what you do. For web browsing, playing music and video, word processing and other typical office tasks... my old Pentium 4 would have been fine, though perhaps a memory upgrade would have been worthwhile. Adding a GB or two to a system costs almost nothing and often fixes things like slow loading of programmes.

However, if youíre like me and do a lot of data- and maths-intensive stuff (mostly processing and editing large audio files in my case), you may notice quite a big improvement, and if youíre a heavy multi-tasker youíll find that having multiple processor cores speeds things up (note that not many programs can use all the cores). To give you some idea, I ran a simple test using the most processor-intensive task I have on this computer, the highest quality noise reduction settings in Izotope RX2 Advanced audio processing suite. One the Pentium 4 this would take about 3-4 minutes to process one minute of music. One the AMD 965 it takes about 12 seconds. I think a 15-fold speed improvement is worth a little expense.

Back in 1987, I started using MathCAD software. I recall very clearly that on my PC back then (an Olivetti M240 with an 8086 processor and a 20MB hard disc), a 4096-point Fast Fourier Transform took 24 MINUTES to complete. When I added an 8087 maths coprocessor it came down a lot - donít remember the numbers but something like 4 times processor. My next PC had a 16MHz 286 processor plus 287 coprocessor and would do the job in 24 seconds. I donít have the numbers for all the PCs Iíve owned since then, but suffice to say that from the Pentium 2 onwards they have all done it so fast you canít time it (less than one screen refresh). The new AMD processor/board will do a 1,048,576-point FFT in about a quarter of a second. Very roughly, since FFT complexity scales almost linearly with size, thatís a little over a million times faster. I now have 6000 times as much memory as I did back then, a total of 40,000 times as much hard disc capacity, and an internet connection that can get data off a computer in another continent faster than the Olivetti would read it off its internal hard disc. And the Olivetti cost at least twice as much as the sum of all the computer hardware in front of me as I write - in 1987 money!

Incidentally, I have also upgraded my hard drive to an OCZ Vertex 2 Solid-State Drive, which makes a very obvious improvement too. Opening large audio files takes about 3 seconds per hour of material instead of a little over 1 minute, while saving is less dramatic but still improved at about 15-30 seconds per hour, depending on how much flushing is going on before saving (previously 1 - 4 minutes). As little as 12 years ago my (486DX) PC only just had enough hard disc speed to play CD-format audio in real time! Booting the PC is down to less than a minute from about 4 minutes (Iíve got far too many programs on here), and most applications start in well under a second. Compacting folders in Mozilla Thunderbird (over 20,000 emails, 1.5GB total) is down to about half a minute from several minutes. For anyone who uses a PC in their work, in any way, this can easily seem money well spent.