Originally posted by Logik!
Smooth Windows Setup/Operation
Here are some guidelines for installing and configuring a Windows-based system so that it runs silky smooth and gives you the least possible grief. It is possible to do this without a tremendous number of 3rd party utilities.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. OS CHOICE
2. CHECKING HARDWARE COMPATIBILITY
3. CHECKING SOFTWARE COMPATIBILITY
4. UPGRADE VS CLEAN INSTALL
5. CONFIGURATION & TWEAKING
6. REGULAR MAINTENANCE
7. ADVANCED FEATURES
8. TROUBLESHOOTING (OVERVIEW)
9. TROUBLESHOOTING (DETAILED)
If you haven't already done so, please, please, please ditch Windows 9x/ME. They have served their usefulness as a transition from 16-bit Windows to 32-bit Windows, but their time is long gone.
Trust me on that. You want to be using a stable OS with proper memory management and a robust file system. This limits the choice (for Windows OSes) to 2000 or XP. I favor XP in virtually all cirumstances (even at the
corporate level), and more specifically XP Pro.
Only the most novice of users should settle for XP Home. Anyone who might ever conceivably install a network will find that XP Pro is a better choice. (And don't focus on the list price of the OSes -- you can find bargains all over the place, particularly online).
In order of preference, here's what I would recommend:
1. Windows XP Pro
2. Windows 2000 Pro
3. Windows XP Home
CHECKING HARDWARE COMPATIBILITY
Since the release of NT, Microsoft has provided a list of compatible hardware that they've tested with their Operating Systems. This list is not 100% inclusive, but if you don't see your peripheral in this list, you should make sure that the vendor really does support the OS you are looking to use.
The next step is the vendors website. Be sure that you are going to be able to find drivers for your equipment BEFORE you start installing the OS. If you purchase your system from one of the big OEM vendors, then this is less of a problem, as the OS will be pre-installed, and the system should have only certified components.
If you're putting your own system together, then you need to do a decent bit of research before purchasing anything, so that regrets are minimized. Go with well regarded, brand-name products -- don't make the wrong choice between quality and cost.
Windows NT/2000/XP is much more picky about hardware than Win9x/ME. Don't assume that your sound card will work with the new OS just because it worked with the old one. Drivers can make or break a system...
CHECKING SOFTWARE COMPATIBILITY
Similar to the issue of hardware compatibility, you will want to verify that the apps you want to use are actually available on the new Windows OS of your choice.
Windows XP has excellent backwards compatibilty with many older apps -- Win2K SP2 and above possess some of this functionality -- and games. The greatest area of contention will be utilities, since they tend to interfere more with low-level interfaces that can change between versions of the OS.
UPGRADE VS CLEAN INSTALL
Although you will be tempted to save some time on your new install by simply upgrading over the old install, this can cause more problems than it's worth.
Clean installs are generally advised unless you took *really* good care of your previous installation, and you don't have lots of 3rd party utilities installed.
If you were running NT or 2000, and you want to upgrade to 2000 or XP, respectively, then you can take a chance with an upgrade. If, however, you were previously running Windows 95 or 98 -- and especially WinME -- then you are encouraged, make that commanded, to perform a fresh install. Otherwise, you'll just be delaying the inevitable clean installation.
Upgrades should be done from within the old OS, while clean installs should generally be done by booting from the CD (or DVD).
Make sure you remember to disable or uninstall your AV software when installing the OS.
CONFIGURATION & TWEAKING
While your first instincts might be to disable every OS setting that you don't understand or think useful, it might be a bit better to see how things work for a while before launching into serious Tweak mode. Also, don't make a whole lot of changes all at once, as it is harder to troubleshoot problems that result from such changes, and be sure to make backups before changing things.
Here are some good tools to use when changing your OS settings:
GPEDIT.MSC (not in XP Home)
NOTE: It's a good practice to use NTBACKUP to perform SystemState backups at least once per day. This is true even if you have the SystemRestore feature enabled.
Take the opportunity to configure the file system for best performance, by disabling "Last Access Time", among other things.
You'll also want to set a good sized pagefile, based on your installed RAM and anticipated system usage patterns.
Many folks bring over their Win9x habits after they upgrade to Win2K/XP. They install all sorts of apps and utilities to keep the OS running smoothly. While this was necessary to keep Win9x from periodically imploding on itself, this is not the case with either Windows 2000 or XP.
The primary activities that constitute regular system maintenance are:
3. Disk Checks
5. Registry Cleaners
Windows 2000/XP have pretty robust utilities for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th items, but you will definitely have to rely on Third Party products to address virus prevention. My current favorite product is AVG, but there are more than enough products in this category to satisfy everyone.
NTBACKUP is very robust, especially since it now backs up to a file (rather than just tape). There are other products that can be obtained if you want to backup to removable storage such as CD/DVD. Even so, you should make regular use of NTBACKUP to perform SystemState backups, which will help you recover from serious system issues.
You will find that CHKDSK is all you need for checking your drives. There's nothing that the 3rd party products offer that is compelling vs the built-in tool. This is especially true if you're using NTFS rather than FAT32.
There are many defragging tools available for 2000/XP, including PerfectDisk and Diskeeper (from which the built-in defragger is derived). The 3rd party tools make it easy for you to schedule defrags based on
percentage of file/disk fragmentation, and can address MFT and directory fragmentation as well.
When installing applications, make sure that you keep track of what files and components are installed, and what settings are made to the registry. This will help you identify conflicts if any should arise.
I'm not that big on Registry Cleaners. It can be an issue with other, Win9x/ME software, but it is far less of an issue with Win2K or XP. If you must use one, try the one from JV16.ORG and be sure to backup your registry (or, better yet, SystemState) before proceeding.
There are a number of advanced features offered by 2000 and XP, over their Win9x/ME cousins, including, but not limited to:
Robust Shell Scripting
Advanced NTFS Permissions and User Rights
Proper Domain Support
Encrypted File System
Remote Desktop (XP Pro only)
SMP (2000/XP Pro only)
The Help System is a good way to become acquainted with these features and to start to make better use of your OS. Learn to use the command shell as it will allow you to perform many tasks faster than the GUI, to say nothing of automating those tasks. The command line interface (CLI) is king!
Here are the key things to check when troubleshooting OS issues:
- Check the EventLogs
- Look at running processes
- Verify installed applications
- Check the versions of installed drivers
By far, the most common issues involve permissions, bad software installations, and/or self-inflicted registry tweaks.
When installing software, you should keep track of changes made to your files and the registry. Apps make specifically for 2000 and XP are more likely to follow the guidelines for good behavior, but many older Win9x apps act as they they expect to be the only thing ever installed on a system. Be careful what you install.
The first place you will want to look when you begin a troubleshooting episode, is the EventLogs. These are the primary location for determining all that goes on within the OS and applications. Again, apps specifically written for NT/2000/XP will be more diligent about writing to the EventLogs than apps written for Win9x.
FDISK and FORMAT are not troubleshooting tools. Don't be so quick to reinstall the OS as soon as you encounter problems, or you'll never learn how to troubleshoot or resolve any of the issues you or others might encounter.
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