Install Windows XP on a netbook (USB stick method)
Update: Before you try all of this, you may want to try using WinToFlash, a utility designed to create a bootable Windows flash drive for Windows XP/Vista/7/Server. If this works for you, you can skip the section on preparing a flash drive and jump straight to the installation instructions. Also, keep in mind, these notes were written for installing Windows XP on the HP 2133 Mini-Note. Although many of these steps will apply for different computers, some of the commands may differ a little bit.
Update 2: If you’re trying to install Windows 7 on a netbook, Microsoft is making things even easier. Just use the Windows 7 USB tool.
Installing Windows XP or any other operating system is easy if you have a USB optical disc drive. But if all you’ve got is a USB flash drive and another computer with a DVD burner, you can still install Windows XP (or many Linux distributions for that matter) on a disc drive-less ultraportable like the HP Mini-Note or the Asus Eee PC. After spending most of Saturday installing Windows XP on my HP Mini-Note I thought I’d share my results with you. Remember, your results may very, so while these are the steps that worked for me, they may not work for you. For example, depending on the version of Windows XP you are using, you may need a different hotfix to install the audio drivers.
There were two resources that were extraordinarily helpful. Bsumpter at MiniNoteUser wrote up an excellent tutorial for installing XP on a Mini-Note, and EeeGuides has a great walkthrough for installing XP on an Eee PC using a flash drive. By combining these methods and a few other, I was able to setup my Mini-Note with a Windows partition, a spare partition for installing Linux, and a large data partition for shared files.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 USB flash drive, 1GB or larger
- 1 Windows XP installation disc
- Assorted files that I’ll describe as we go along.
Preparing the flash drive
First up, we need to prepare the flash drive.
- Download and unzip this file (alternate link 1) (alternate link 2). It should contain 2 folders: 1 titled Bootsect, and the other USB_prep8.
- Navigate to the USB_prep8 folder and click on usb_prep8.cmd. This will bring up a Windows console window.
- Press any key to continue and a PeToUSB window will open.
- Make sure your flash drive is selected, and click start to format your flash drive.
- When the format is complete, click OK, but do not close the PeToUSB window or the Windows Console.
- Open a new console window by typing “cmd” into the run box in the Windows Start Menu.
- Find your Bootsect folder (if you’re not used to DOS commands, you can type “dir” to list directories and files, type “cd foldername” to navigate to a folder name – called foldername in this example, and if there’s a long folder name you can save time by typing the “cd” and just the first few letters and then hitting the Tab key to fill in the rest of the name).
- Once you’re in the Bootsect folder, type “bootsect.exe /nt52 g:” if “g” is the letter assigned to your flash drive. If it’s E, then change the letter to e. If it’s Z, make it z. Get it?
- When this is done, you should see a message letting you know that the bootcode was updated, and you can close this console window (but not the other console window).
- Close the PeToUSb Window, but make sure not to close the remaining console window yet
- You should now see a list of 8 options in the console.
- Select one and find the drive with your Windows installation disc.
- Select 2 and pick a random drive letter (but not one that’s already on your PC, since this will be a virtual drive used for copying your files).
- Select 3 and enter the drive letter for your USB flash drive.
- Select 4 and follow the rest of the on-screen directions and you should be all set.
The process should take about 15-20 minutes. When it’s done, you should have a bootable USB stick that you can use to install Windows XP the same way you would if you had a CD/DVD drive.
A few notes here. First of all, there’s a chance you may get down to step 15 and the program will tell you that it can’t create the virtual drive. This may happen if you’ve already gone through the whole process and are trying to do it again to fix problems. The solution seems to be rebooting your computer and trying again. Or at least that’s what worked for me.
Second, if you use NLite to shrink/slipstream/otherwise modify your Windows XP installation file, make sure you do not remove “manual installation files,” or your USB stick will be pretty much useless.
Installing XP on the netbook
Now it’s time to load Windows XP onto your Mini-Note. If you have a USB CD/DVD drive, you probably skipped all the stuff above, and that’s fine. Most of the following steps should work as well. These instructions should work whether you’re installing Windows XP on a system that came preloaded with SUSE or Windows Vista.
- Insert your USB flash drive in one of the USB ports on your Mini-Note.
- Power on your computer and hit F9 to bring up a boot device selection window. This Fn key may differ if you have a different computer model.
- Choose your flash drive, or if you’re using a USB optical disc drive, select that instead.
- Select 2 for a text-based installation.
- Make sure to delete all of the partitions on the hard drive. While you may have some success creating separate partitions on your hard drive using this method, I did not. If you find yourself with a Hal.dll or bootloader missing error when you’re finished, there’s a good chance it’s because you did not delete all of the partitions. Note that I will be providing instructions in the next section for partitioning your hard drive after installing Windows XP, so you can still create a Linux partition later.
- Create one large NTFS partition (using the quick option will save you a lot of time)
- Follow the on-screen directions.
- At least once during the install process, you will be prompted to reboot your computer. If you try to let it boot from the hard drive, you’ll get an error message. What you need to do is hit F9 again when it reboots and this time select option 1 for a GUI setup.
- Once you’re done installing XP, you may notice that you are unable to boot into Windows from the hard drive. If you have the USB disk installed, again hit F9, and select the GUI option again. Windows should start. You’ll need to edit the boot.ini file:
- Type “msconfig” into the run box in the start menu
- Select the BOOT.INI tab
- First, try the “Check All Boot Paths,” option. This may solve your problem by finding and removing the incorrect boot settings.
- You may also need to edit the boot.ini file manually if it doesn’t read something like ‘multi(o)disk(0)rdisk(o)partition(1)\Windows=”Windows XP Pro” /fastdetect’
- The most likely problem is that wrong partition is selected. It may say (0) or (2) or something like that. The steps below will show you how to backup and edit it.
- Open your System Properties by right-clicking on My Computer and choosing Properties. Alternately, you could type “sysdm.cpl” into the run box in the start menu
- Select the Advanced Tab
- Click the Settings option under Star
tup and Recovery
- Click the button that says Edit to open up your boot.ini file in Notepad. It’s a good idea to save a backup now by selecting Save As, and saving the file to a place where you won’t forget it.
- Now you can (somewhat) safely edit the boot.ini file, changing the partition number or other settings to more closely resemble the one I listed above. Save your file, and hopefully you’ll be able to reboot without your USB stick.
Configuring Windows XP
While the steps above will allow you to install Windows XP on your netbook, you may still need to download drivers from your manufacturer before all of the hardware works properly. For instance, to configure the HP Mini-Note 2133 I had to install wireless, audio, and display drivers.
Update: HP has added Windows XP drivers to its support page for the Mini-Note. You should try these official drivers before using the drivers listed below.
Using Parted Magic to create new partitions for Linux or other operating systems
While I tend to use Windows XP on a day to day basis, I wanted to make this a dual boot system so I can install Linux on a separate partition. Most Linux distributions aren’t very particular about where they’re installed. You can put them on a second or third partition, or even on an SD card in your card reader. But Windows likes to have the first partition all to itself. So while you may be able to use the Windows installer to set up partitions on the hard drive, I had more success installing Windows XP first, and then using Parted Magic to resize the Windows partition and create additional partitions.
The best time to do this is right after you install Windows. Your main partition will be fairly clean which will make the resizing operation go much more quickly. We’re talking about the difference between a minute or two and a half hour or more. You’ll also save yourself a lot of pain and heartache if something goes wrong and you wind up wiping your Windows partition, because you won’t have spent days loading and configuring all of your favorite programs yet.
I’m going to assume you’re still using a USB flash drive, but you can also use Parted Magic from a CD-ROM. Detailed instructions for setting up either a flash drive or a CD-ROM are available from the Parted Magic homepage. The main difference is that if you’re using a flash drive, you need to use SYSLINUX to make it bootable.
Once you’ve got your installation media:
- Reboot your Mini-Note with the flash drive or CD-ROM plugged into a USB port.
- Hit F9 and choose the device you want to boot from.
- From the boot menu, make sure to selection option 4: Failsafe Settings
ait a few minutes until you’re presented with a command prompt that says “root@PartedMagic:~#”
- Type “menu”
- Choose Xvesa (if you had tried almost anything other than option 4 in step 3, the system would try to boot using Xorg and your display would look all funny/unusable)
- You should now see a graphical user interface that looks a bit like this:
- Click the little blue icon on the bottom of the screen that says “VisParted.” This will bring up a partition manager
- Your primary hard drive should be listed as /dev/sda. But if it’s not, it shouldn’t be too hard to find since you probably only have one 120GB hard drive connected to your PC. Note that VisParted will say your hard drive is actually closer to 112GB.
- There should be one large partition labeled as /dev/sda1. You can right click on this and choose the resize/move option and then resize the partition either by dragging the edges or entering a value into the “new size” box.
- Once your Windows partition is shrunk, you an either leave the rest of your hard drive unpartitioned for future use, create an ext2, ext3 or other partition for Linux, or do something else altogether.
- Click the Apply button to execute.
- When Parted Magic is done working its magic, you can reboot your system by clicking on the shutdown menu at the bottom right side of your screen. If everything went properly, you should still be able to boot into Windows, but you’ll find that your Windows partition is smaller.
Personally, I decided to make a 25GB Windows XP partition for files and settings, a 15GB ext2 partition for installing Ubuntu or other operating systems, and I made a third NTFS partition for storing data that will be accessible no matter which OS I use.