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Building a New Computer – Part 4: Installing Windows and Loading Drivers

Now that we’ve put the computer together and setup the BIOS options, we need to get down to business: Installing the operating system. For the purposes of this article we’ll be focusing on Windows Vista, but we’ll try and briefly cover XP as well.

What You Need to Know Before Installing

It’s very important to stop and read these items, even if you don’t read the rest:

  • If you are going to be dual-booting Windows XP and Windows Vista, you should always install XP first, then Vista.
  • In a dual-boot scenario, make sure that you leave plenty of room for either operating system. Don’t try to get away with a tiny partition for one operating system just because you think you won’t use it as much. Also, buy a big hard drive, they are cheap.
  • Windows XP does not have SATA drivers included. You’ll either need to create a slipstreamed install cd, or set SATA to IDE mode in the BIOS.
  • If you want to use Linux instead, then great… unfortunately there are too many varieties to cover them here. I recommend Ubuntu, and for installation support you should check out the Ubuntu Forums.

Installing Windows Vista

I’m not going to cover every single step of installing Windows, but I would like to highlight a couple of very important options during the setup that can make a big difference. For the most part, installing Vista is a simple and easy task.

Step 1: Put the install disc in the drive, and boot up the computer.

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You may or may not get this next screen, depending on your install disc. If you do, make sure that you select the version of Windows that you purchased, cause otherwise you’ll have to reinstall later. (I’m not sure that retail editions show this screen, and I’m using an MSDN copy)

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You’ll be prompted to select whether you want to do an Upgrade or Custom install. If you selected an Upgrade edition, you’ll need to have a previous version of Windows. My install disc only allows for a clean install, so there’s not really a choice for me anyway.

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Now comes the most important screen…. where do you want to install Windows? If you have previously installed XP, you will need to create a new partition in the space that you left open for Vista, which should say “Unallocated Space”. (Whatever you do, install XP first in a dual-boot scenario)

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You should be done with the install options at this point, and you’ll see the install screen…

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Your computer should reboot and you’ll have to go through a couple of simple screens to create a user account, none of which are difficult. The interesting part comes later, when we need to start getting all the drivers updated and tweaked.

Installing Windows XP

If you are going to install XP in a dual-boot scenario, you should absolutely install XP first so you don’t have to deal with the Vista boot loader being wiped out if you install XP second. I’m not going to go through the entire installation, but here’s the highlights.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Windows XP does not have SATA drivers included.
  • You’ll either need to create a slipstreamed install cd, or set SATA to IDE mode in the BIOS.
  • It’s very unlikely that your graphics card or network card will work until you load the drivers. You could include those in the slipstream cd if you like.

Once you get to the screen where you can choose the partition, you have a couple of options. If you want to only install XP, you could just hit the Enter key and be done with it. If you are planning on doing a dual boot, however, you need to use “C” to create a new partition.

Note: If you get the message “Setup did not find any hard disk drives”, then you need to create a slipstreamed install cd.

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Choose the size for the partition, and I recommend leaving plenty of space for both Vista and XP. There’s nothing more annoying than running out of space on one of the partitions in a dual boot.

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You could create a second partition at this point if you want, or just install on the new C: partition.

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The rest of the install is more or less painless, and since XP has been around for nearly a decade I’m sure you are familiar with it, but here’s your next steps:

  • Install the Network Card Drivers (usually from the motherboard driver cd)
  • Install the Graphics Card Drivers
  • Install the rest of the drivers (motherboard, sound, etc)
  • Use Windows Update to patch the system. (Make sure you are patched through SP2 at least)

After Vista is Installed: Updates!

Now that you have Vista successfully installed, the first thing you should do is use Windows Update to get your system completely patched. This process will take… a long while. The annoying thing is that you’ll need to run Windows Update a bunch of times… that “Check for Updates” link is your friend. (Sometimes it will return with no updates, but if you check again they’ll show up.)

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I would advise updating your system all the way through Service Pack 1 before you do anything else. It might take a lot of updates and a number of reboots to get to that point, but it will be worth it.

Note: if you don’t have internet access at this point, you need to install the network card drivers from the motherboard drivers disc.

Updating Your Drivers

Having a system that works well depends greatly on the drivers, which are the pieces of software that tells the hardware what to do. If the driver you are using has a flaw in it… bad things are going to happen. That’s why it’s important to use updated drivers.

You will also get the best performance out of your video card by using the drivers provided by the manufacturer rather than the built-in Vista drivers.

What you need to know:

  • The cd that comes with your motherboard likely has driver versions that are already old. If you can get online with the built-in Vista drivers, just put that cd to the side.
  • You should always grab the latest drivers from the manufacturer’s site for at least your motherboard chipset, video card, sound card and network card. Even better, get updates for all of them.

The first thing you can do is open up Device Manager through the start menu search box, and look for any items with question marks or exclamation points next to them. You’ll notice in the screenshot below that there’s an “Other devices” section with “Unknown device” in it, because I haven’t loaded the chipset drivers yet. If you look even closer you’ll see that the video card driver is the default Microsoft version, which is significantly slower than the latest manufacturer one.

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Here’s a couple of download links to get you started, but depending on your system you might need to do some research. For instance, if your motherboard has integrated sound, you will need to head to the manufacturer’s site to get the latest driver for that.

Motherboard Chipset Drivers

Graphics Drivers

Usually the chipset drivers have a simple installer that handles it all for you, no need to do the right-click and update thing in Device Manager.

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The graphics card drivers usually work very similarly, you can just run through a quick wizard and be done with it, after the obligatory 49th reboot or so.

Once you’ve installed the various drivers, you should be able to open up Device Manager and see that all the devices are functioning properly… no exclamation points or unknown devices, and you’ll notice my NVIDIA driver has been updated:

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You can verify the version that you’ve installed for a component by going into the properties \ Drivers tab.

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Note: I had lots of problems with this particular NVIDIA card under 64-bit Vista, so I switched it out with an 8800 GS during the middle of the build. Another reason why running benchmarks is useful (detailed below)

If you click the Update Driver button, you can either let Windows search for updated drivers (although this happens with Windows Update)…

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Or you can choose the driver manually by clicking “Browse my computer for driver software”. On this screen you can either choose a location, such as the folder you extracted some drivers to, or you can pick from the list of installed drivers.

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On this screen you can choose the actual version if there are multiple drivers installed (or you could use the Roll Back Driver button you might have noticed on the driver details screen).

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For the most part, you can simply install the latest drivers and Vista should have no problems detecting and using the devices. If you have a problem, then try updating or rolling back.

Note: The only exception I’ve found to the “no fuss” rule is that NVIDIA drivers are just awful, especially under 64-bit Vista. They install easy enough, but they also crash really easily too.

Using Burn-In and Testing Tools

Now that we have all the drivers loaded, it’s time to give the machine some tests, to make sure everything is working properly… and also because you likely want to show off your Windows Experience Score, which we’ll start off with.

Open up Control Panel and navigate down to System and then “Check your computer’s Windows Experience Index base score”

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At this point you are thinking… but it has a score, didn’t the installation do that for me? You’d be right, but that was before you loaded all the drivers… just click on the score:

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And you’ll likely see “New hardware detected”, so you’ll need to click the Refresh Now button, which will immediately start running the tests (you should close other applications before doing this)

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If you have a problem during this very simple test, then there’s probably something wrong with your drivers or hardware. If it all runs successfully, you’ll see your new score, which may or may not be better than the first one.

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Note: You’ll notice my memory score increased quite a bit… this is because when running the first test I had installed the memory in single channel mode since I was waiting for the other two pieces. Make sure to read your manual when installing the memory.

Next, we’ll move on to some better benchmark tools… there are a lot of them out there, but some of the standards are the Futuremark tests with their two well-known utilities:

When you download these utilities, you’ll be prompted a few times to purchase it, which will give you additional tests. If you simply want to run a regular benchmark for free, you can wait a few seconds for the Continue button to become active.

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Once there, you can run the benchmarks and see how your system performed.

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Unfortunately the free version doesn’t give you much else besides a score via their website, and in my case it didn’t give me a very useful comparison, since the machine they compared it to was a quad core overclocked to 5GHz:

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The real point of running these tests is to make sure your system can handle a load without dying. In my case, my machine locked up during the initial run because the old video card I started out with had serious video card/driver problems, so I replaced the video card with a better one and was able to successfully run the test.

Run a CPU Stress Test to Check Temperatures

If you got through the PCMark test, your system is no doubt running perfectly fine. This test is just to make sure that your processor isn’t going to overheat if you are maxing it out for a long time.

There’s a couple of tools you can use to max out the CPU, but the simplest one is called Max CPU by Kenny Kerr. All you have to do is move the slider to the number of CPUs you want to max out.

If you open up Task Manager and Core Temp at the same time, you can see that all the CPUs are running at 100%, and the cores are only running at 55 degrees or less, even after a couple of minutes.

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If your temperatures are way out of range, you know that you either didn’t install the CPU cooler correctly, or you need to get a better aftermarket cooler.

The famous programming blogger Jeff Atwood even recommends taking some temperatures of the inside of the computer, and I can’t argue with him… if the motherboard and CPU are generating so much heat that you can’t touch them, then there’s likely a cooling problem.

Final Status

At this point, you should have a fully working system, and you can start loading all of your software on the machine. Don’t forget to load anti-virus and anti-spyware software before you start downloading random applications.

From the perspective of building the computer, we’re done… but I’m going to add one final article in the series and tell you about my favorite config tweaks that I apply to any new machine, so stay tuned for updates.

For those of you that missed the rest of the series, here you go:

If you’ve got any other tips for other readers, be sure to leave them in the comments.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/30/08

Comments (27)

  1. Toby Adams

    “My install disc only allows for a clean install, so there’s not really a choice for me anyway.”

    To do an upgrade, wouldn’t you have to run the setup program from within an existing Windows XP install?

  2. The Geek

    @Toby

    I don’t have an upgrade cd to check, but I don’t think so.

  3. VG

    OMG. That’s an excellent piece of info. It clearly shows how much time you have put in compiling it. Thanks for this awesome article. :)

  4. Bytes

    Nice article, however I must say that the Nvidia drivers are much better (stability wise) then before under Vista 64-bit.

  5. Frondget

    How did you capture those image which were blue screen or installing.
    it is impossible to run an program under that situation

  6. bassmadrigal

    @Frondget

    He might have been running it in a Virtual Machine, which would then give him the ability to do a screen capture.

    I would also add AMD and VIA links to the motherboard chipset drivers.

  7. The Geek

    @bassmadrigal

    You are exactly correct there, and good thought about the VIA/AMD links.

  8. Karasuhebi

    The link you provided to download NVIDIA Drivers is not working for me. I don’t mean it’s broken, I mean it’s not listing my video card. I have a NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300 running on a Microsoft driver. When I click on GeForce Go on their drop-down menu, 7300 is not one of the options.

    I want to get the NVIDIA driver, since you say it runs better. Help?
    -Karasuhebi

  9. Karasuhebi

    Never mind, I found my answer:
    “The manufacturer of this system requires that you download the driver for your GPU from their support site.

    The GeForce M series and GeForce Go series notebook GPUs use drivers that have been customized by the notebook manufacturers to support hot key functions, power management functions, lid close and suspend/resume behavior. NVIDIA has worked with some notebook manufacturers to provide notebook-specific driver updates, however, most notebook driver updates must come from the notebook manufacturer. Additionally, the desktop GeForce graphics drivers will not install on Geforce M series and Quadro M series notebook GPU’s.”

  10. Derek

    How do you get to the “Core Temp 0.99″ Screen? is it only in Vista? i always wanted to know the Temp of the parts of my computer, and can you provide a list of Average Temperatures for CPU’s GPU’s HDD’s and Memory and stuff like that ,

    Thanks

  11. Dang

    I just got my new build but when i try to install XP it always said that there was an error and the computer have to shutdown -.- any suggestion?

  12. Karasuhebi

    Try installing Vista, then.

    -Karasuhebi

  13. Tom

    Fantastic article here, much appreciated

  14. Gareth

    Hey people,

    Quick advise on installing OS’s.
    If you’ve had no oast experience in installing OS’s, its best to try on an existing computer than on a new one. And no I’m not saying on the actual computer.

    If you have a old computer, it would be a good idea to download Windows Virtual PC and practice installing a OS’s on there so you know how to do it to avoid mistakes in the future.

  15. Chicklet

    I love the article full of details. I have a questions, What is the difference between WIndows XP and Linux?

  16. Marlon

    great!

  17. Arthur

    Great presentation! I haven’t built a PC in about five years, (I usually lag about 2-3 years on upgrades), but this website really got me up to speed on pc building. I am currently building and this is a useful reference.

    Art

  18. Rob

    Even a rocket scientist would have no problems whatsoever.
    Handy website and OS loading instructions. Very useful and well done presentation!

    Thanks

  19. vu

    which one is faster, intel single core 3.2ghz or intel celeron dual core 2.5ghz

  20. so mad

    um’ thanks!11!!

  21. wigglerthefish

    Usually the dual core. Most apps are multithreaded and will greatly benefit from 2 cores.

  22. john

    Is there an update version for Win7?
    or anyone know of one else where?

    thanks in advance

  23. BlondeToo-(but a Dude)

    OMMFG!.. LMAO @ Frondget’s total disregard for the ISSUE posted, and seemingly bewilderment @ a “screen-grab”!!… Thanks Frondget – - and don’t worry, baby doll; not ALL us blOnDeS ‘R’ dUmb. 8-p~

    Wooh.. haven’t laughed that hard in a while. (Her little profile picture didn’t help out either! LOL @ little image that you can almost hear the character saying to you in a hypnotized voice, “Gee… Those are shiney.. “.. LOL

  24. tenzin

    i need a very big help i m totally zero in informatique.i got windows vista home premium edition on my laptop.by mistake my cousin delete many file important.now microsoft office is not working.everytime i tried to open they showing window install n installing the component for microsoft office.the component they search in not in my computer.so i m block.do u think i hav to buy new microsoft packet? or there is any way i can get those lost file.i also want to kno if it is possible that i can upgrade my windows vista to another window like window7.n also to put new window in my computer what all procedure i shuld follow so that all my saved file rest in same place.thanks

  25. Jack Sams

    My computer will not download or upgrade Adobe flash player,.Need help

  26. Shygon

    i have a problem. if someone can help me…
    i have changed my motherboard , processor an RAM , on my old pc, now i have a new ASRock m3n78d , AMD Athlon II and 4gb memory kit (ddr3) . i wanted to install Windows 7 but i was haveing an error during instalation. I put my old XP to install but i had an error “Setup did not find any hard disk drives” during Windows XP Installation. . i read this guid an i find out that xp does not have SATA drivers included. my question is dose Windows 7 have ? i have tried to install it 2-3 times but i am havein his errors on diferite bios settings:

    default BIOS – windows cannot install required files. the file does not exist. make sure all files required for installation are available and restart the installation . error code 0×80070002

    default ide/sata – windows cannot access the instalation source . verify that the installation sources are accesible and restart the installation
    ++this windows 7 was tested on other PCs an is working very well, so the dvd is not damaged .
    can someone please help me ?

  27. mahamed ahmed

    … What You Need to Know Before Installing … If you are going to be dual-booting
    Windows XP and Windows Vista, you should always install XP …
    befor istart to tha combuter

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