Hold on to your hats, boys and girls, the fun is about to start. Microsoft has prepared another batch of exams that will test your knowledge of its most recent operating system, Windows XP. This Daily Drill Down will show you how exam 70-270 fits into your MCP, MCSA, and MCSE study plans. In addition, I’ll give you a detailed analysis of the exam so you can focus your study efforts to ace it the first time through.

The skinny on exam 70-270
The title of exam 70-270 is Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional, and it will thoroughly test your knowledge of Windows XP. This exam has been available for testing since October 23, 2001, and, as with all Microsoft exams, it will cost you $100 to take it.

Following the trend of making its certification exams more difficult (and more valuable), Microsoft is raising the bar to a new level this time around. You’ll be given 240 minutes to complete exam 70-270, which will challenge you with 110 form-based questions. Information related to the passing criteria was not available at the time of this writing, but you should not walk into the testing room unprepared.

How this exam fits into the certification picture
If this is the first Microsoft exam you’re taking, you’ll be certified as a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) when you pass. Should you want to pursue the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) or Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certifications, exam 70-270 will be one of the first steps you take along those paths. The material covered by this test forms a foundation that other, more technical exams will build upon.

Breaking down Microsoft exam 70-270
Given the length of this exam, you’ll need to be well versed in every facet of Windows XP Professional. I’m going to break exam 70-270 down into several broad categories, including installation, basic administration, hardware devices and drivers, monitoring and optimizing, configuring the desktop environment, network configuration, and security. I’ll cover each of these categories in depth in the following sections.

Installing Windows XP Professional
While you could probably work through a basic CD-ROM installation of Windows XP, to be able to pass exam 70-270 you must be knowledgeable about the other types of installations you can perform, such as network installation and an operating system upgrade. In addition, you must understand the four stages of the installation process and be familiar with the many switches that can be used to customize your installation.

Another type of installation is the unattended variety that employs an answer file created with either a text editor or the Setup Manager Wizard. Ensure that you’re familiar with the five levels of user interaction, as well as with creating a Uniqueness Database File (UDF). This file is used in conjunction with the answer file, allowing you to perform many individual installations with a single answer file.

You’ll be tested on installing Windows XP using the Remote Installation Services (RIS). You should also know the RIS client requirements and understand how to create a Remote Installation Preparation (RIPrep) image.

The final type of automated installation that you’ll be challenged on is the System Preparation Tool, Sysprep.exe. Know the four modes that have been added under Windows XP and be very familiar with the Sysprep switches and their functions.

Other installation topics you might find covered by exam 70-270 include upgrading to Windows XP, uninstalling Windows XP, performing a dynamic update, and configuring dual-boot workstations. Pay special attention to troubleshooting installations and upgrades. Microsoft seems to favor tricky questions along this line.

Basic administration of Windows XP
Once you have installed Windows XP, you must turn your attention to managing the operating system’s basic resources, such as the file system. During the Windows XP installation, you’ll be asked to select the type of file system you want to use. The choices in Windows XP are FAT, FAT32, and NTFS. Know the differences among the file systems and the advantages of each. Also understand how to convert a FAT or FAT32 partition to NTFS.

You must also know how to manage the files and folders that hold your data. You must be well versed with NTFS file and folder permissions for this test. This is a very broad subject, and you can be sure that it will be covered in depth on this exam.

Another topic that falls into the basic administration category is dynamic storage. Familiarize yourself with the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of basic and dynamic storage, as well as the use of the disk management tool, Diskpart.

The final topic here is printing, one of the most important services your users want. You can expect local and network printing to be covered in detail on this exam.

Working with hardware devices and drivers
Because Windows XP can be installed on virtually every type of computer system available, expect to see quite a few questions about hardware devices and drivers on the exam. Even if much of this information seems old hat, spend some time reviewing it.

The hardware management information covered on the exam is fairly straightforward. You must be familiar with hardware installation, Plug and Play, system resources, display configuration, PCMCIA adapters, USB ports, and infrared port configuration. You should also have a good understanding of hardware profiles, power management, power schemes, ACPI configuration, and low-battery alarm settings for laptops.

Be knowledgeable about using peripheral devices such as smart cards, digital cameras, modems, wireless devices, and handheld devices, and know how to install and configure network adapters and multiple CPUs.

Once you have a good handle on the hardware, you can focus on device drivers and the software utilities used to configure and manage your computer system. One of Windows XP’s handiest features is the device driver rollback capability, which allows you to revert to a previously used version of a device driver in case the newly installed one doesn’t work correctly. Because this is a new feature to Windows XP, you’ll undoubtedly see it covered on exam 70-270.

Monitoring and optimizing the operating system
Windows XP provides some excellent tools for monitoring and optimizing the performance of the operating system. They’ll help you tune and troubleshoot the system’s memory, processor utilization, and disk performance. They can also be used to edit the system registry and back up and recover the operating system, file system, and system state data.

After becoming familiar with software products such as the Performance Console, Task Scheduler, Recovery Console, and Disk Defragmenter, you should look at how to interpret certain statistics. For example, if you notice that the pages per second category in the Performance Console shows more than 20 pages per second, you should add more RAM to the system. Microsoft seems to favor problems like these on its exams.

Also understand the system registry. The registry database is made up of five main subtrees: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, and HKEY_USERS. Be very familiar with what is stored in each of the trees and how to use the registry-editing tool. In previous versions of Windows, you could use Regedit.exe or Regedt32.exe. In Windows XP, the functionality of these tools has been combined. Running either of the programs will take you to the same registry editor.

One of the most critical functions of a network administrator is to ensure that the backup and recovery scheme of the organization is in place and protecting the company’s most critical assets. For this exam, you must understand the differences between incremental, differential, and daily backups. You should also know how to maximize the strengths of each of the types of backup schemes to formulate your own backup and recovery strategy.

Configuring the desktop environment of Windows XP
Windows XP sports a different user interface from previous versions of Windows. While the familiar Start button and Taskbar are still present, the colors have been softened and the Start menu has been reorganized. While the jury is still out on the new look, you should be familiar with the new GUI environment when taking exam 70-270.

Just as with Windows NT and Windows 2000, when a user logs in to a Windows XP workstation, a user profile will be created. This profile stores information about the user, such as his or her desktop and application settings. You should not only understand what is stored in the profile, but also the file structure of the profile and the location where the profile is stored.

Managing the Windows XP desktop includes software management, which can be done using the Group Policy tool. This utility manages software installation and application access, so you can be sure you will see questions relating to it on your test.

The Program Compatibility Wizard (PCW) is new to Windows XP. This tool lets you run software designed to run under Windows 95, 98, or Me. Once configured to run under the PCW, the application will believe that it is being run on a workstation that’s using one of the legacy operating systems.

As a network administrator, you’ll enjoy the new remote control features that are built in to Windows XP. From a remote location, you’ll be able to control another workstation to provide technical or educational support. This is a great new feature in Windows XP, and you can bet that exam 70-270 will have some questions relating to it.

Network configuration in Windows XP
Connecting a computer to a network is a relatively straightforward process. These days, most networks are using the TCP/IP protocol, and even if you’re not, Windows XP should allow you to put the workstation on your network without much fuss.

With more and more networks connecting to the Internet, the demand for integrated networking products is increasing. Microsoft has included products and features in Windows XP such as Internet Connection Sharing, Internet Connection Firewall, Network Bridging, Virtual Private Networks, and Remote Access Services. Be sure that you’re very familiar with these subjects, as well as network protocols such as TCP/IP, NWLink, DLC, AppleTalk, and NetBEUI. Exam 70-270 will definitely present you with some tough networking questions. Though you may think that a subject such as NetBEUI isn’t worth learning, think again. Obscure questions relating to subjects such as this show up quite frequently on Microsoft tests.

Implementing security in Windows XP
Network administrators must always be concerned about security, and you can be certain that the security portion of the exam will be thoroughly covered. The basic topics that you should be very familiar with include configuring, managing, and troubleshooting user and group rights, account policies, account settings, and auditing. Because all of these can be managed using Active Directory (AD), spend some time learning about the concepts, structure, and troubleshooting skills of this directory service product. If you plan to implement AD or pursue your MCSA or MCSE certifications, you’ll need to know a great deal more about it. The more you learn up front, the better off you’ll be.

After mastering the basics, you should turn your attention to the Encrypting File System (EFS). This 128-bit public-key encryption scheme is available for use in Windows XP if your partition or volume is using NTFS. Also be familiar with CIPHER, which is a command-line utility that allows you to manually manage EFS folders and files. As with many command-line utilities, CIPHER has a number of switches that you should be familiar with.

Finally, you must understand how to implement and troubleshoot Internet Protocol Security (IPSec). This protocol is used to provide network-level authentication, encryption, and data integrity as information is passed through insecure networks such as the Internet. IPSec can be implemented in an AD setting or on the local Windows XP workstation. The endorsed authentication methods supported in IPSec are Kerberos v5, Microsoft Certificate Server, and Pre-shared Key.

Microsoft has raised the bar with the Windows XP exams and is attempting to make its certifications much more valuable in the industry. To pass exam 70-270, Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional, you must have an in-depth understanding of the broad topics discussed in this Daily Drill Down.

To prepare for this exam, I highly recommend using one of the many practice exam products available, such as the Exam Essentials practice module. While reading a book and getting hands-on experience will serve you well, actually being quizzed by the practice exam will definitely pay off when you’re in the testing room.

Exam 70-270 is on the upper end of the difficulty scale, and you must be well prepared to pass it. It’s not an impossible task, though, so with a good deal of studying and some experience, you’ll soon be walking out of the testing center with a smile on your face because you have met the challenge and passed this exam. Good luck.

Are you ready?

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