Power User: Chronicles of the XP upgrade from hell

John McCormick

For two decades, I have upgraded systems and software without much trouble. Despite the hype, year 2000 changes didn't even make a blip on the scope. But in the last couple of years, I've encountered more problems than in all the other years combined.

The problems began when I moved from Microsoft Windows 98 to Win 2000. My webcam got left behind. I downloaded and installed the correct software version from the vendor without problems'that is, if you ignore the fact that the webcam still doesn't work. But at least there were no error messages.

That operating system upgrade also cost me the ability to synchronize my Handspring Visor handheld computer through a Universal Serial Bus port, even though Win 2000 said everything was fine.

Then along came Win XP Home Edition. I bought a new, 1.99-GHz Pentium 4 system with XP, 512M of RAM and a nice set of amplified speakers with subwoofer, which I would happily have left off. Thanks all the same, but I don't listen to music on PCs.

Office XP on the new system crashed frequently, losing data at one point. Also, the new version of Internet Explorer routinely began locking up after a few days.

I sometimes keep as many as 15 or 20 windows open, and Win 2000 had handled that just fine until it ran out of resources. Even then, it only slowed down'one reason why I wanted 512M of memory on the new system.

But Explorer 6 under XP did more than slow down. With only a few windows open, I experienced complete system lockups about every other day.

Despite claims of XP's improved compatibility, I still couldn't get it to connect and sync the Visor, and the Video Blaster webcam still didn't work, either.

One week after arrival, the new PC's speaker system went down. It had to be a software or audio board problem because the speakers themselves still work'elsewhere.

My old Lexmark laser printer installed just fine through the parallel port. Then I needed to print something in color, so I installed a Lexmark X63 color fax-copier-printer through the USB port.
Or at least I thought I installed it. Now I keep getting 'Device busy' error messages, except when I turn the X63 off and on to reset it. Then I get 'Device not available' error messages until I reboot the computer.

After a few weeks of this madness, I upgraded XP Home to XP Professional.

The first installation went fine until I tried to reboot. Then the software reported a missing file. On the second try it reported a corrupted file'a bad checksum.

Three full reinstallations and several hours later, I switched to a different copy of XP Pro and managed to install it on the first try. Now at every bootup I'm prompted to choose between the working version of XP Pro and the nonworking version that I'm afraid to try to uninstall.

A bonus: I also had to reinstall all applications because the second copy of XP Pro didn't consider itself an upgrade to XP Home. All the software and files were still on the drive, I just couldn't run any of them. Plus, about 20G of hard drive capacity disappeared completely.

Oh, and the PC also lost its ability to go into hibernation mode. XP Pro keeps reporting that the computer lacks that capability. But Hibernate worked fine before I installed XP Pro.

And my iiyama Vision Master Pro 510 monitor no longer will shut down, no matter what power settings I specify.

I reinstalled the Lexmark printer and still get the same error codes. I was hoping for some variety, perhaps an exciting new error message, but no, the new printer just won't print. It still works as a fax machine, though.

Explorer 6 still locks up every few days, and now I get a polite message that it's going to shut down and trash any unsaved data. Under XP Home, it simply crashed without warning.

On two other PCs, I lost a hard drive completely when I installed XP. The drive didn't even show up on the hardware configuration menu. Another drive crashed, but I can access it to install a new OS.

The precise cause remains a mystery. I did pull several failing drives from my high-end removable drive frames, and two out of three worked when directly connected. The removable frames have now gone the way of all things useless.

I cleared up some of these problems with a few minutes' tinkering. Some took hours to fix, and most of the rest could probably be fixed if I downloaded yet another updated set of drivers or software. But I've been seeing bad reports about XP Service Pack 1, so I think I'll pass.

Bottom line: It's uneconomic to fix what goes wrong during an OS upgrade. It's cheaper to replace the PC than to fix bugs, tweak applications and utilities, and try to troubleshoot existing hardware.

By the way, all these problems occurred on well-known, name-brand PCs, not bargain hardware. I haven't mentioned the brands because most of the trouble is coming from the software.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com

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