Windows is a mature operating system that usually installs smoothly, but sometimes it will freeze during the initial setup process. Here are five ways I have found for dealing with these freezes. The techniques I am going to cover are valid for Windows XP, Vista, and 7.
1: Be patient
As clichéd as it may sound, the first bit of advice is to be patient. Lately, I have seen several newly built systems appear to freeze up when Windows Setup first displays the Windows wallpaper screen. In each case, though, Setup eventually resumed. Sometimes, the system sat idle for about 10 minutes before anything happened. In other cases, it took upward of 45 minutes before Setup resumed.
So far, I have not been able to find any sort of explanation from Microsoft as to why it can take Windows Setup so long to move past this screen. However, I can confirm from my own experiences that it can and sometimes does happen. In my experience, the problem seems to occur most often in systems that use Gigabyte motherboards with AMD processors.
I can also tell you that the Windows wallpaper is not the only place where Setup appears to freeze. It may also appear to freeze just before the screen that asks you which hard disk you want to install Windows onto, although this freeze doesn't last nearly as long as the one that sometimes occurs at the Windows wallpaper screen.
2: Disable the floppy disk controller
Even though floppy disks have long been considered extinct, some system board manufacturers still include floppy disk controllers on their boards. I have seen a couple of situations in which Windows absolutely would not install until the floppy disk controller was disabled through the system's BIOS.
I recently saw another system that was experiencing long delays during Windows Setup (similar to the ones I talked about in the previous section). Disabling the floppy disk controller caused Windows Setup to run much more smoothly, and the delays went away.
Unfortunately, disabling the floppy disk controller isn't a cure-all for unexplained pauses during Windows Setup, because most newer system boards are not equipped with floppy disk controllers.
3: Check your memory voltage
If Windows Setup is freezing up on a seemingly random basis, the problem can often be tracked to the system's memory. While there are several well-known methods of troubleshooting system memory (some of which I will talk about in the next section), there is one technique that is often overlooked.
Most system board manufacturers assume that you are going to be installing 1.5 volt memory modules. If you use memory that is rated for even a slightly higher voltage, the system will tend to lock up at random intervals. If you discover that you are not using 1.5 volt memory, you aren't necessarily out of luck. Some system boards will allow you to adjust the memory voltage through the BIOS.
4: Try removing memory
As I mentioned in the previous section, most of the time when Windows Setup freezes, the problem can be traced to memory. If you suspect that memory may be to blame, try removing all but one memory module and see if that corrects the problem. If it doesn't, try swapping the remaining memory module with a known good one to rule out the possibility of bad memory. If that doesn't solve the problem, try downloading the system board's documentation. You can use the documentation to verify that the memory's speed is supported. Just because a memory module fits into a slot on a system board, that doesn't necessarily mean that the system board can use it.
While you're at it, check for any other memory-related requirements the system board manufacturer may have. Some system board manufacturers support only specific brands of memory.
5: Try using an IDE or a USB DVD drive
One last problem I have occasionally encountered is that Setup may freeze as a result of using a SATA DVD drive. Don't get me wrong: SATA DVD drives are not always problematic. However, many system boards include four to six SATA ports that are intended for use with hardware RAID arrays. If you plug a SATA DVD drive into one of these ports and try to create a RAID array (using fewer hard drives than the system board is capable of supporting), Windows Setup may freeze. In these types of situations, you may be better off using an IDE or a USB-based DVD drive.
Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.