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Windows XP Upgrade Tips

Windows XP will be available in two versions: Professional and Home Edition. Both have the same core features. Windows XP Professional adds features intended for corporations, such as a high-security encrypting file system, roaming user profiles, Netware support, and user interface settings that default to a business-oriented look. Most of those are features only an IT department would love.

Variable Cost

Windows XP Home Edition and Professional each will have two prices, depending on whether you upgrade from an existing Windows system or install Windows for the first time on new hardware. Windows XP Home Edition will cost $99 for the upgrade version and $199 for first-time installers. Windows XP Professional will cost $199 for the upgrade version and $299 for first-time installations.

If you want to upgrade two or more PCs in a home, Microsoft will let you purchase additional licenses at a small discount of about $8 to $12. You'll get a valid key code--the 25-digit alphanumeric you must supply during the product activation process--for each license. That means you can use one Windows XP installation CD (purchased at full price) to upgrade several PCs.

Most users will be able to use the upgrade editions. If you've built your own PC from parts (or if you want to upgrade a Windows 95 machine that meets the minimum hardware requirements) you'd probably have to opt for the new, higher cost installation. And, if you have to upgrade multiple components on an existing PC to meet the recommended system configuration, buying a new PC may be a more cost-effective (and hassle-free) option.

Check latest prices for Windows XP

System Requirements

Both Home Edition and Professional have the same bare minimum requirements:

  • 233-MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, and 1.5GB of available disk space
  • Microsoft recommends at least a 300-MHz processor and 128MB of RAM

The recommended specs are especially important if you intend to take advantage of such resource-consuming features as having multiple users or tapping into the music, video, and gaming features. If you like to run multiple applications, especially these memory-intensive ones, you might want to upgrade your memory to at least 256MB of RAM for a better experience.

You may need a BIOS upgrade to use some of the hibernation and power-management features, particularly if your BIOS was made before January 1, 2000. Microsoft says systems dating back to the 1999 Christmas holiday season should be able to upgrade without significant problems. Older systems may have some problems.

Upgrade Paths

Upgrading your current system to Windows XP will preserve all your network and hardware settings, and you shouldn't need to reinstall any applications--with a few exceptions (which are noted in an upgrade advisory downloadable from Microsoft's Web site a few weeks before the OS ships).

From Win 98, 98SE, Me: If you're currently running Windows 98, 98SE, or Me, you can upgrade to either Windows XP Home Edition or Professional.

From Windows NT 4.0 Workstation or 2000: You can only upgrade to Windows XP Professional if you're running NT or 2000. Microsoft doesn't support upgrading an existing Windows 2000 or NT 4.0 system to the Home Edition. To use Home Edition on such a machine you'd need to do a clean install, manually configure the settings that XP setup missed, and reinstall all your applications.

From Win 95: Upgrades from Windows 95 are not supported for either the Home Edition or Professional. Given the system hardware requirements of Windows XP, most systems that are running Windows 95 wouldn't be a good upgrade bet anyway. If you do want to install XP on a system currently running Windows 95, you can perform a clean install.

Upgrade Specifics

Hardware: The devil is always in the details, and OS upgrades are no exception. After considering the basic system and software requirements, you'll want to check Microsoft's hardware compatibility list to see if your system and all your peripherals are listed. If they are not, check the vendor's Web site to see if XP support will arrive soon.

Software: System utilities and antivirus programs are the most likely sources of incompatibilities. Expect to have to replace them with new versions (which may not be free) or to have to download and install patches. For example, Symantec says none of its popular Norton software--AntiVirus, CleanSweep, Internet Security, SystemWorks, or Utilities--is compatible with Windows XP, but new XP-compatible versions will go on sale by the time XP ships.

Device drivers: Those written for the Windows 95/98/Me environment often won't run on Windows NT/2000/XP, which means that someone (usually Microsoft or the original vendor) has to write or update the drivers. Microsoft has made sure the drivers are in place for the most popular hardware. However, it may be impossible to get the drivers you need for old hardware that's no longer being made or for hardware from defunct companies.

Upgrade utility: Microsoft will include an Upgrade Advisor utility on the Windows XP CD that will look for known incompatibilities before you start the upgrade process. It will be available as a free download--but at 35MB, it will be a lengthy one. Microsoft also plans to offer the utility on CDs, which you’ll be able to get for free at computer stores or by mail for about $10 shipping and handling. Because thousands of hardware and software products exist, the utility may not catch each and every problem.

Don't let the upgrade issues scare you off, at least if you're upgrading from Windows 98/98SE/Me. You can uninstall XP from any of those OSs (as long as you didn't choose to change your file system from FAT32 to NTSF during the upgrade). You cannot, however, roll back an upgrade from NT 4.0 or 2000.

--Dave Methvin

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