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A+ OS TechNote: Upgrading Windows


When Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, it is not always necessary to perform a clean installation; you can upgrade the current version instead. Upgrading the OS has several advantages over a clean installation. The latter would replace the current OS and its settings, user profiles, and possibly application data would be lost. You would also have to reinstall all Windows applications. When you upgrade Windows however, you can save Windows application and user settings, as well as third-party applications (though some may require an update to work properly on the new Windows version).

The exact tasks involved in upgrading Windows depend mainly on the version, but there are several tasks that apply to every upgrade, regardless of the version or edition. Just as with a clean install, the first thing you should do is verify hardware compatibility and minimum hardware requirements. The hardware requirements and the HCL are both available at Microsoft.com. Note that it is important to ensure sufficient disk space will be available for the new OS, but that there is also sufficient space for performing the upgrade process itself. It’s also recommended to remove/disable any programs such as custom power management tools and anti-virus software prior to upgrading. Before you upgrade live systems, you should perform a test upgrade to check if applications and hardware will continue to operate correctly on the new OS.

Upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional

Windows 95, 98, NT 3.51 and NT 4 Workstation can be upgraded directly to Windows 2000 Professional. The easiest method to initiate a clean installation is to boot from the Windows 2000 Professional Installation CD or the Setup floppy disks. For an upgrade however, you will need to start Setup from within the current OS using the WINNT32.EXE command. This allows Setup to automatically detect the current Windows version, determine whether it can be upgraded to Windows 2000 Professional, disable programs that might interfere with the upgrade, and allows you to provide parameters to control the upgrade process. The following table lists some of the common parameters for the WINNT32.EXE command. For a more complete listing check out the link below the table.


Parameter purpose


Specifies the source location of the Windows 2000 files. You can copy files simultaneously from multiple servers, by using the /s: option multiple times (up to a maximum of eight) to specify multiple source locations.


Specifies a drive letter to place temporary files. (note: for a clean installation, Windows 2000 will also be installed on the specified partition.)


Instructs Setup to look for installation files in this alternate location first, instead of using the files from the default location.


Instructs Setup to carry out a specific command before the final phase of Setup. This would occur after your computer has restarted and after Setup has collected the necessary configuration information, but before Setup is complete.


Displays a complete list of available parameters.

Using Winnt32.exe to Upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional

Another important parameter for the winnt32.exe command is the /checkupgrade only parameter, which you can use to check if the target machine meets the minimum system requirements. You can save the results in a file Upgrade.txt (for Windows 9x) or Winnt32.log (for Windows NT) in the system root (i.e. C:\Windows) by default. You can also run the Chkupgrd.exe utility to produce the same results.

Upgrade to Windows XP Professional

The main difference between upgrading to Windows 2000 and upgrading to Windows XP are the available upgrade paths. Windows 98, ME, NT 4 Workstation (Service Pack 6 or later) and 2000 Professional can be directly upgraded to Windows XP Professional. If you want to upgrade from Windows 95 you need to upgrade to Windows 98 first, and if you want to upgrade from Windows NT 3.x you need to upgrade to Windows NT 4 SP6 first. Just as with Windows 2000, upgrading to Windows XP requires you to run the Winnt32.exe command from within the currently installed Windows version. Click here for a complete overview of the Winnt32.exe parameters supported by Windows XP.

Windows XP also supports the /checkupgrade only parameter, but does not support the Chkupgrd.exe utility. Instead if you run a US version of Windows, you can download the Windows XP Upgrade Advisor instead.

Both Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional support unattended upgrades. This allows you to upgrade many systems without user intervention. You can start and unattended upgrade by using the Winnt32.exe command with the /unattend: parameter, i.e. winnt32 /unattend:unattend.txt. The unattend.txt file contains an "NTUpgrade" option that can be set to Yes or No.

Windows 3.x computers that have been upgraded to Windows 9x can be upgraded to Windows 2000/XP but it is highly recommended that you at least seriously consider a clean install as there will be leftovers that may cause unpredictable behavior. In general, if there’s no real need for upgrading, it’s usually wise to perform a clean install instead.

After upgrading

New versions of Windows often include new Windows components. When you upgrade Windows, the new version will typically only install the Windows components that were also installed in the previous version. You can install additional Windows components by using the Add/Remove Programs control panel applet.

Although the latest Windows versions (XP) often include a service pack, there is a big chance it is not the latest. Hence, it may be necessary to download and install the latest service pack. When you install a service pack, whether it is after an upgrade or not, you should take the same precautions in regards to compatibility issues of currently installed applications. If there is not a new service pack available, there are likely intermediate updates than need to be installed as soon as possible.

Windows XP introduced a new feature called Automatic Updates. When you perform an upgrade to Windows XP Professional on a computer with Internet connectivity, you can have setup use Dynamic Update to check online for newer versions of installation files. Instead of using the Internet for each installation, you can also place the updated files on a share in the network and use winnt32.exe with the /dushare:pathname parameter.

Applications that have been designed for Windows 9x/ME may not run properly on a Windows NT version. There are several ways to address compatibility problems with applications after the upgrade:

- Reinstall or upgrade the applications after the upgrade of Windows.
- Use migration dynamic-link libraries (DLLs) to allow the 9x/ME software to run.
- On Windows XP, you can run an application in Compatibility Mode by right-clicking the application, selecting Properties, and then clicking the Compatibility tab. On this tab you can enable Compatibility Mode and select the previous operating system for which the application was designed (e.g. Windows 95, Windows 98 / ME, Windows NT 4 Service pack 5 or earlier, and Windows 2000).

Last but not least, it is usually a good idea to defragment the volume on which the upgraded OS resides, before, and after the upgrade.
Current related exam topics for the A+ OS exam:

DOMAIN 2. Installation, Configuration and Upgrading

2.2 Identify steps to perform an operating system upgrade from Windows 9.x/ME, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, Windows 2000 Professional, and Windows XP. Given an upgrade scenario, choose the appropriate next steps. Content may include the following:

- Upgrade paths available
- Determine correct upgrade startup utility (e.g. WINNT32 vs WINNT)
- Verify hardware compatibility and minimum requirements
- Verify application compatibility
- Apply OS service packs, patches, and updates
- Install additional Windows components

Click here for the complete list of exam objectives.

Discuss this TechNote here Author: Johan Hiemstra


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