Although Windows XP Professional is relatively easy to install, things can go wrong during the installation process. Unfortunately, there’s no one method that you can use to correct a failed installation, because there are so many different types of installations. For example, the troubleshooting procedures would be different for clean installs, upgrades, and dual boot installs. Therefore, in this article, rather than providing you with a step-by-step troubleshooting technique that will only work for a limited number of people, I’ll provide you with some general pointers to assist you in solving installation problems for different types of installations.

Hardware- and alternate OS-related problems
If you’ve ever worked with Windows NT or Windows 2000, you’re probably familiar with Microsoft’s Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). If components within your system aren’t listed on the HCL, there’s a chance the installation will fail because of incompatible hardware. So if you have a failed installation and you didn’t check the compatibility list beforehand, verify that the hardware meets the minimum Windows XP requirements.

Also, if you’re upgrading from another operating system, your older hardware drivers may not be compatible with Windows XP. Under normal circumstances, the Windows XP Setup program will attempt to detect your hardware devices and then replace your existing device drivers with its own device drivers. Sometimes, however, this process doesn’t work properly. For example, on several of my test systems, the Windows XP Setup program replaced a 3Com wireless network card driver with a version that didn’t work correctly. The only remedy was to reinstall the correct driver after the installation program completed.

Although in my case, the 3Com network card didn’t cause the Setup program to completely crash, there are devices that will. One such device is the ATI Rage Fury MAXX video card. The only way to prevent this video card’s drivers from crashing the Windows XP Setup is to install updated drivers before running Setup. The Setup program will then see that you have newer drivers than what Setup is trying to install and will not try to install its drivers. So if you receive a lot of STOP messages when you try to upgrade to Windows XP, try updating all of the device drivers that your previous OS uses and then try the installation process again.

Suppose you’re having a lot of STOP messages while installing Windows XP, but you’re installing a brand-new copy rather than upgrading. There are a couple of different things that could be happening. First, if you’re trying to set up a dual boot system, you’re probably running the Windows XP Setup program from within the other OS. There’s a chance that the alternate OS could be to blame for the problems. Try configuring your system to boot from CD and try the installation again. By not using your other OS as a part of the installation process, you’ll be able to determine whether the alternate OS is to blame or if the problem is caused by something else.

If you can rule out an OS error, it could be that some of your other hardware is causing problems during the installation process. Try temporarily removing all nonessential hardware (sound cards, network cards, modems, etc.) and then reinstalling each component after the installation completes. Usually, this technique will get you through the installation process.

If after you’ve removed all of the nonessential hardware the installation still doesn’t work, it could be that you have a problem with the core hardware. For example, the system may have a bad memory chip that needs to be replaced.

Check the diagnostic logs
If you’ve checked everything I suggested above and are still unable to install Windows XP, your best bet is to check the installation log files. Windows XP actually creates several different types of log files, but there are two log files that you should focus your attention on. In the Windows directory (or whatever directory that you’re installing Windows XP into), you’ll find the files Setuplog.txt and Setupapi.log. Simply copy these two files to a floppy disk and take them to another computer. You can open the files using Notepad. Look for components that didn’t successfully install. These can indicate where the problem lies.

Although the Windows XP Professional Setup program is designed to be easy to use, there can sometimes be problems. The techniques I have outlined above can help you diagnose and resolve some of the more common installation problems.

Sold on Windows XP?

What do you think of Microsoft’s latest OS? Does Windows XP live up to the hype? Have you beaten Spider Solitaire on the hardest level yet? Post a comment to this article and let us know what you think about Windows XP.