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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: I want Vista out of my PC and XP back in, but how?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) April 19, 2007 2:44 PM PDT

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I want Vista out of my PC and XP back in, but how?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 4/19/07 2:44 PM

I recently purchased a new desktop preloaded with Windows Vista Home. But after some frustrating moments of attempting to install and run a few of my favorite programs, I've realized that Vista just isn't playing nice and simply just won't run them! On top of that I even have a couple of peripherals left out in the cold because of a driver incompatibility issue with Vista. This is so irritating! I've decided that the best thing to do is go back to Windows XP because everything worked flawlessly on my old system--but how do I go about it? What are all the necessary steps I need to take to get me going on my new machine with XP loaded on it? Can I use the system recovery disk from my old XP computer to replace Vista with XP on my new computer? Or will I have to buy another copy of Windows XP? Thank you for any help you can provide.

--Submitted by Franklin S.

Answer voted most helpful by our members:

Title: Downgrading a new Vista system to XP

Well, your question (which Ive seen several times now in a number of contexts) raises quite a few issues, and not all of them are technical ... in some cases, there are some legal and even moral issues as well. In responding, theres a question with all of the responders face, which is whether to discuss options that might be physically possible but not legal. Im going to take the approach of disclosing what is possible. Ill leave the legal and moral issues to the attorneys and your conscience.

Also, before going further, some people who get a new PC with Vista are reverting back to XP because they simply dont like Vista, or cant get something to work. So, before going to the heart of your problem, let me offer two suggestions to those people, although this is not your situation, and your reasons for wanting to go back to XP are far from cosmetic. But, for those who think that they dont like Vista, or cant get it to network properly with their other machines (especially XP machines), let me make these two suggestions:

1. Before giving up on Vista, right click the Vista start button and select the Classic start menu (which will also give you the Classic desktop). Vista will become DRAMATICALLY more friendly and more like what you are used to. You will still have (if you had it before) access to Aero (Glass) and all of the other Vista eye candy. But the system will behave much more XP-like (and, indeed, even Windows 98-like ... I actually recommend this for XP as well, which also as a classic mode that is turned off by default). By the way, if you dont like it, its a simple mouse click to go back as well.

2. If you cant get Vista networking working, especially if you cant get your XP computers to see drives, files or folders on your Vista system:

a. first, read the Microsoft document at

b. Even after reading this and using its recommendations and procedures, you may find that sharing still doesn't work unless you turn off all security (passwords). In many cases, this is caused by a "feature" that exists in both XP and Vista involving zero-length passwords. XP Pro, Media Center and Vista will not allow network access to network computers that have zero-length passwords. You may see the computer, but will get a "you do not have permission ...." message if you actually try to access it.

To fix this:
Start / run / gpedit.msc (start the group policy editor)

Open the tree:
Computer configuration / Windows Settings / Security Settings / Local Policies / Security Options

Find the item:
Accounts: Limit local account use of blank passwords to console login only

If this item is enabled, you will not be able to logon to other computers on the network that have blank (zero-length) passwords. IT IS ENABLED BY DEFAULT

Change it to disabled

This will fix a ton of network access problems on many home networks where no user account passwords are implemented

3. Some things that seem not to install under Vista on a first attempt can be installed if you use a compatibility mode, and/or if you set the installation program and/or the installed .exe program to run as administrator. For example, HP says that the software for the model 5470C and 5490C scanners is not and will never be Vista compatible (literally, their answer is buy a new scanner). But, in fact I was able to get it installed and working at least seemingly perfectly simply by setting the scanner softwares .exe file to run as administrator after it was installed.

4. The availability and quality of Vista drivers will improve over time. The tuner on my ATI All-in-Wonder 2006 Card does not currently work under Vista, but ATI has indicated that they do expect it to be supported at a later time, although that point may still be a number of months in the future. HP has made similar comments about some models of printers, scanners and multi-function devices which currently either have no drivers or only partially functional interim drivers (while, at the same time, both ATI and HP as well as other firms will also tell you that many older products simply will never have Vista drivers (for example, my HP 5470C scanner .... but sometimes, the XP drivers can be made to work under Vista anyway)).

Now, on to your problem: How to install Windows XP on a system that came with Vista.

First, you need a copy of XP. To be legal, and to be certain of activating and passing all WGA tests, this needs to be either an OEM Copy bought new for this machine (never previously installed on any other computer), or a retail copy (full product, not upgrade) that either was never installed on any other computer, or that at least is not currently installed on any other computer.

You specifically asked Can I use the system recovery disk from my old XP computer to replace Vista with XP on my new computer?; the answer is that you cant do it legally. But in some cases it may be physically possible if you dont care about the legalities, particularly if the two computers were made by the same OEM (e.g. Dell, for example). Also, SOME Vista licenses, but not all of them, actually allow the Vista license to be downgraded and used to make XP installation legal, but even in these cases, they do not (and will not) supply either the XP install media or the XP product key. And, finally, most computer technicians would know how to use an upgrade copy of XP, although in the situation that you describe, it would NOT be legal under the terms of the license agreement.

But, all that said, the first task at hand is to obtain a suitable copy of Windows XP that will allow installation, activation and passing all WGA tests. And now that Vista has replaced XP in stores and at many computer dealers, that in and of itself is becoming increasingly difficult, unfortunately.

The next task is to find all of the necessary suitable drivers for XP. This is usually possible, but can be difficult, and its most difficult with a notebook computer. [As an example of this, in 2003 I needed to install Windows 98 on a Toshiba 1415, which had never been supported by Toshiba for Windows 98. I did manage to find all of the necessary drivers, but the effort required was tremendous, taking almost 100 hours of research, downloading and testing.] Fortunately, at this time, I dont believe that there are any major chips (e.g. CPU chipsets, video, audio, LAN, etc.) for which XP drivers actually do not exist, but finding the right compatible drivers can be very difficult, since they may well not be conveniently available from the computers manufacturer, and the chip makers generic drivers dont always work, especially when the chip is installed in a laptop. The best case is a model which, while now supplied with Vista, was at one time offered with XP. In those cases, the necessary drivers are probably on the manufacturers web site, and you might even be able to find a source of an XP OEM install CD (you will still need a valid license and product key). In the worst case, expect to do a lot of research, downloading and experimenting. It helps a lot to do this on a spare scrap hard drive, indeed Id recommend that you remove the drive that came with your machine (your Vista drive), save it, and get a new drive for the XP installation. Also, do not connect to the internet and do not even attempt to activate Windows (XP) until you have the entire configuration fully working. You may end up installing Windows on a trial basis a dozen or more times while experimenting and attempting to find all of the necessary pieces and get the all integrated correctly. You definitely do not want to hit the Microsoft activation servers each of those times, as they will almost certainly come to the conclusion that you are trying to pirate windows and will ultimately deny activation to your product key. Dont activate Windows until everything is working to your satisfaction.

The drivers that you will typically need, and the order in which you will need them, are:

-An F6 Driver for Windows installation (MAYBE, but not in all cases)(get this from the motherboard manufacturer if needed)
-CPU Chipset
-SATA and/or RAID driver (possibly required if the hard drive is not conventional IDE)
-External peripherals (printer, scanner, webcam, etc.)

How difficult installing XP becomes is hard to say and will vary on a model-by-model basis, but at this time, my guess is that all of the necessary drivers are generally available in almost all cases. Consequently, it will generally become a matter of getting a copy of Windows and then of tracking down the necessary drivers.

I hope that this is helpful,

Barry Watzman
--Submitted by Barry (CNET member Watzman

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Franklin, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Thanks!

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