The perils of installing XP on a SATA drive

Now we all know what a concentrated cauldron of crap Windows Vista is. Once upon a time, you had a nice, quick PC. Like a particularly sturdy mountain goat, it was nimble, fleet of foot and agile enough to cope with whatever you threw at it.

Then along came Windows Vista with its bloated graphics engine, chunky system requirements and excess baggage that milled around like a desperate hanger-on from P. Diddy’s entourage. Your new PC was slower, the hard disk constantly thrashed and memory gobbled up quicker than a cash bung on the Westminster terraces.

Additionally, ultra mini netbooks are now all the rage and come in 2 flavours: cheaper versions with Linux for geeks who think nothing of a 5-hour Internet witch hunt to track down device drivers and more expensive netbooks having Windows XP installed with all its corresponding licensing robbery. However, there’s nothing to stop you from buying a cheaper Linux netbook and sticking XP on it.

Reverting back to Windows XP involves a fresh install which is all well and good but these days, all PC’s and laptops (and netbooks) tend to ship with SATA hard drives. Trying to install XP on one of these can be troublesome as I found out to my chagrin when I wanted to get rid of Vista and Linux from a desktop and netbook.

After having changed the BIOS setting for the hard drive from AHCI to Compatible, I wiped the drive and booted up using the Windows XP installation CD. So far so good, the XP installation screen appeared and it proceeded to load drivers. Less than a minute in though, I got the dreaded BSD with a typically cryptic Micro$oft error message that said "run CHKDSK /F to check for hard drive corruption" despite this being brand new kit.

One repartition and format later, I tried again but got exactly the same error. No problem, I have the SATA drivers for the specific drive and can just stick those on a floppy disk and use during install instead of the XP drivers. Initially, this appeared to work as XP asked for the floppy disk and loaded the third party drivers. Any hope that the install would continue were dashed though when the same BSD error message appeared at the same place in the installation.

I couldn’t figure out why this was happening and spent hours searching forums and support sites for the answer. People with similar problems managed to solve them by just changing the BIOS setting for the SATA drive to Compatible but I’d already done that and it still wasn’t having any of it. Eventually, I stumbled across a post where someone mentioned using XP with SP2 for a clean install and I thought let me try that as my version of the XP installation CD was vanilla with no service packs.

A quick visit to the local torrent store to download Windows XP with SP3 and bingo, we’re back in business! XP installs just fine without having to use third party drivers and or indulge in some kind of weird pagan ritual.

So in short, if you’re trying to install XP on a SATA drive, make sure you change the BIOS AHCI setting to Compatible and use an XP installation with at least SP2.


One Response to The perils of installing XP on a SATA drive

  1. j7n says:

    I suspect that this issue was caused by the capacity of the disk drive, and not the interface. LBA48 was enabled only starting with XP SP1. Although Win2000 already had the driver support in SP3 and SP4, Microsoft in their cautious wisdom left this feature disabled by default.

    Even if 48-bit LBA access caused problems in a minority of devices, Microsoft should have allowed the system integrator decide whether they want it or not. Windows Setup has always been very dumbed down, and even more so in Vista and Seven, despite that this process is intended for qualified personel who are capable of answering a simple question about LBA and disk capacity.

    DMA has also been disabled in previous OS, TCP scaling is present in XP and Win98 (!) but is also disabled by default. I may be accused of imagining a conspiracy, but I believe that they are holding back powerful features in order to present the next Operating System where they are finally enabled as superior.

    Installing an OS and service packs separately should never be done. It adds bloat to the installation and takes time, in particular in Vista and Seven, and its WinSxS system.

    I remember when SATA was introduced with Intel 8xx series chipsets, it was said to be fully compatible on the application level with Parallel ATA. And that is indeed still the case. The AHCI mode is not very appropriately described as “emulation”, which is usually capable of delivering but a fraction of performance (think game emulators). AHCI mode is of course welcomed by kids and overclockers who like everything new.

    AHCI, in particular from Intel, which is the only platform I have used, has caused more trouble than it should really. The need to reinstall the OS just to switch disk drivers is ridiculous. With SATA, on Intel 9xx platforms, they decreased the number of P-ATA channels to just one, which motherboard manufacturers supplemented with RAID controllers needing a driver. There were no issues installing Windows onto a disk connected to the primary IDE port, loading the right driver in Device Manager, and then connecting the system disk to a RAID port. The system remained bootable. Not so with the Intel storage driver.

    I do install AHCI drivers for other people just to make the system appear more capable, should they bother to check. nLite is a good tool for integrating them. There are also slipstreamed installations of XP with drivers, but I don’t trust them.

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