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Meta question: Should there be XP replacement repair guides?

Hi everyone! I just helped an impecunious gentleman repair a crusty old Gateway KAV60 netbook. The biggest problem with it was actually software: Microsoft Windows XP was in an endless reboot cycle.

While it has a recovery partition, I didn’t feel it would be ethical to simply reinstall XP¹ with IE8 and tell him that it was all good for going online. But, I also didn’t want a perfectly fine computer tossed in a landfill when it could be repaired.

The fix was to install a lightweight distribution of GNU/Linux, overwriting Windows XP. I chose 32-bit L’ubuntu, which will have security updates for at least the next three years. The gentleman came by the next day to thank me for the upgrade and tell me how everything was working perfectly. In fact, since he now has the latest browsers, he’s been able to do things he couldn’t with XP, like watch videos online again.

While that was fairly simple for me, it’s unlikely a KAV60 owner would find a simple, step-by-step recipe to do what I did. Which is too bad since, of all the repairs that can be done on this machine to keep it working, replacing XP is probably one of the most needed.

I know that iFixIt has some general topics on various GNU/Linux distributions, but there’s no link to them when people search for repair guides for a specific machines.

I suggest that iFixIt have a policy of providing a link on how to upgrade to a secure system for machines that came with Windows XP. There could be one generic repair guide for “Upgrading from Windows XP” which most systems could link to. Then, as people have time or the inclination, specific guides for individual machines could be created which could mention the specific quirks (“hit F2 to boot from USB”) and include actual screenshots.

What do people think?

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¹ For those who don’t know: Microsoft abandoned XP years ago and no longer sends security updates. Even worse, IE8 was the last Internet Explorer for XP. Microsoft dropped security updates for anything less than IE11 back in 2016. Giving someone an XP machine is simply unethical.

Answer this question I have this problem too

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This question was migrated from https://www.ifixit.com/Answers.

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To answer your question about ethically supporting XP, I have a 2 way stance on it.

I will not professionally support XP under any circumstance, even if you can’t afford a newer system. I am liable for that thing and it isn’t worth the risk to make someone who is desperate happy, even if they are genuinely too poor to replace the system. In those cases I’d recommend a midrange Win10 system like an i3 U series laptop or something similar.

On iFixit I don’t mind doing it but I WILL NOT recommend anyone going online continue to use it. It’s fine for old games but if you’re going online you’re opening yourself up to a whole can of worms. I will caution them on this but tell them how to fix it and they can do whatever they want with my advice because I WARNED the OP.

I personally keep a few for legacy applications/hardware and games, but I’m also keeping them offline and know how to handle XP safely.

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Now, onto why a general guide doesn’t exist:

As far as making a general guide… It’s not practical for most, including me. I inherit a lot of XP/Vista hardware (some of which is total junk but others not so much) and I don’t want to do it because I need to describe everything from the Pentium 4 (including the Preshott chips) to the Core Duo lines and come up with a general recommendation for RAM and distro, which requires me to get one of each system from that generation.

On top of that, older HP and Lenovo hardware has a WLAN WL so if the machine comes with garbage WiFi under Linux you either get an 1802 (Lenovo) or 104 (HP) error and often a halted system that stops at the BIOS because of a failed WL check. Depending on the age of the system, you either need a PCMCIA or EC (ExpressCard) card and that’s clunky for the average user. The ideal solution is to rip the WL out entirely (custom BIOS) but HP’s business line is a gamble at best (some pre-2010+ is signed and verified and others are not; ALL BIOSes FROM 2010+ ARE RSA SIGNED) and these BIOSes have the potential to kill systems unless it has recovery options that are effective. I am running into this issue on my nc6000 that had the WiFi deleted by IT when they were purchased new :(. I want to nuke the WL outright - not patch cards in as I need to replace it.

I need to know what I am dealing with - that means having a (partial) 1:1 conversation with the system’s owner in the thread and collecting the specs to make distro and hardware upgrade recommendations along with potential new WiFi cards if they need it (along with information like WLAN WL issues). This ABSOLUTELY REQUIRES owner interaction to avoid getting wrong since old hardware is the wild west at times. If I did a guide on it, I’d need to get multiple system generations just to do it. I have the experience because I’ve been schooled on what not to do by the school of hard knocks over time, but the hardware will be unique in so many ways there’s no way I can do it effectively. I'd also want at least 1-2GB of RAM, which isn't always possible because of artificially crippled BIOSes and low end chipsets.

General guides are a pain in the ass to make, even for modern systems… I’ve tried and failed more then once but came very close this time so it *is* possible - just not easy and very failure prone. I’ve made progress to the point I can give it another shot and make it work (with modifications, of course) this time, but I need better hardware since the system I selected has enough issues I’m using it until it dies. I can at least guarantee 4GB of RAM on a system made in the past 5 years.

Update 10/15/18

You’re going to need to crop this if you make the guide before I get to it, but here’s a photo of the nc6000 BIOS (just note that it’s a few years out of date since I couldn’t update it because the DOS update tool doesn’t work):

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EDIT: I revised the current content and added the HP invent POST screen to the guide. I will need to take a new image for the boot order on the nc6000.

I also mentioned the HP and Lenovo whitelists in passing, so readers have advance warning of these systems. It’s more of a “This is a problem, so watch out” deal.

As far as the intro goes I didn’t touch it too much, although I did clean it up as well and covered Vista so both OSes are dealt with in the same guide.

Update 10/17/18

@hackerb9 I’ve had some time to think about this and I may consider pursuing it myself and provide the guide (assuming you haven’t done so already)… IF I can find a worthwhile system to do so. I’m not going to use a netbook or cheap/ancient system with something like a Pentium M CPU, but it’s also not going to be unreasonably off from what most readers will have. I’ve got a rough idea of where to look (IGP, midrange CPU and a low res screen) with too little RAM (which I’m not going to match), but I’m also used to dealing with high end machines like i7 business workstations, dGPU systems like the HP DV series and high end dual GPU Macs.

At this point, it’s open to who will provide the platform. I’m currently more concerned with making 2008-12 work (with modifications and a system without Ethernet and battery age issues), so this isn’t a priority but if I got a machine that’s worthwhile for such a guide (Such as a Vista era Pentium or Core i series system OR something I’ve rejected for the 2008-12 guide) then it will be worth doing (for me). As we discussed I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell the person reading such a guide to discard the WL on HP/Lenovo hardware with a custom BIOS BUT I do think it is worth warning readers about it (and potentially providing the known POST codes).

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I was thinking not of a perfect general guide that will work for every piece of hardware, but a simple general guide that works for most people. I'll post an example below as an answer so you can see what I mean.

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You run into the same problem.

You can dictate things like RAM by excluding garbage hardware generations as needed but you still run into the problem of having to get a machine from each generation you are referencing for it to make sense since this old hardware has very little consistency in multiple areas (hard drives, RAM support and chipsets).

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[This is somewhat of an answer, but is more of an example to help people understand my question.]

The sort of general “XP replacement repair guide” I was thinking about would be short and sweet. It shouldn’t be very detailed and wouldn’t cover every situation (e.g., the WLAN hardware mentioned in @Nick’s answer). It’d be maybe 10 steps and give just the minimum information, sometimes linking to other guides. For simplicity, it should make presumptions even if they’re not optimal. For example, only the 32-bit (x86) version need be mentioned since it will always work and 64-bit XP machines had so little RAM that a 32-bit OS works better. Likewise, L’ubuntu is one of dozens of reasonable choices from the GNU/Linux flavors, but the guide I’m suggesting would pick one instead of offering the cornucopia.

EXAMPLE XP REPLACEMENT REPAIR GUIDE

  • WHAT: Upgrade Windows XP to a modern, secure operating system with the latest web browsers. The system will be L’ubuntu, which is free and has no need for antivirus software. This guide can also be used to recover files from an XP computer that no longer boots.
  • WHY: XP is inherently dangerous to use on the Internet.
  • TOOLS NEEDED: USB flash drive, at least 2GB in size, with no valuable files on it. A network connection.
  • OPTIONAL: Another USB drive to backup your current Windows XP documents.
  • TIME REQUIRED: One hour.

NOTE: This is a general repair guide and does not attempt to cover quirks of some hardware. If this guide does not work for you, you will need to find a more specific guide for your computer.

  1. Download the 32-bit “x86” version of L'ubuntu from lubuntu.me then download and run the Rufus program.
    • Rufus will completely overwrite your USB drive with the L’ubuntu ISO file you downloaded.
    • If you have trouble, you can follow a simple guide for Rufus here.
    • If your computer isn’t working well enough to do this, borrow a friend’s just for this step or buy a flash drive with 32-bit L’ubuntu already installed.
  2. Plug it in with the computer off and reboot.
    • If your system boots into Windows, reboot and try again while holding the F12 key to open the boot menu. (F12 is most common, but Esc, F2, and F10 are possibilities.) [This section would have photo of person holding F12, with background of the BIOS screen saying “Hit F12 for Boot Menu”].
    • The mouse will not work in the boot menu. Instead use arrow keys to select an entry similar to “Boot from USB” and hit Enter. [Put sample Boot Menu screenshots here]
  3. At the GRUB menu, select "Try L'ubuntu" (or just wait ten seconds). [Grub Menu Screenshot]
  4. A demo of your new OS will load up, but slowly since we haven't installed it to the hard drive yet.
  5. Try it out and make sure it works for you. If you are not able to connect to WiFi, stop now. This general guide does not cover nuances of WiFi hardware. [Screenshot of clicking on WiFi icon]
  6. Plug another USB drive into your computer and use the File Browser to backup your Windows files. This is optional but important as in the next steps you will erase the Windows XP system, including all files. [Screenshot of dragging My Documents to USB drive]
  7. Double-Click on "Install Lubuntu" from the desktop. [Screenshot]
    • Follow the menu options and answer the questions. Most are straight-forward, such as your name and your WiFi network. The default answers should be correct except for two places:
      • Choose "Install on entire hard disk" instead of "Install alongside Windows OS". [Screenshot]
      • When asked, “Write new partitions to drive?” Select "Yes". [Screenshot]
  8. Let the installation run. It will take some time, perhaps thirty minutes, as it will download the latest software updates. In the meantime, you can continue to try out L’ubuntu by switching back to the browser. It won’t harm anything to play some Solitaire or watch YouTube while it installs.
  9. When the install is finished it will ask you to reboot and remove the USB drive. That’s it, you’re done!

Enjoy your new system and if you need help, please visit https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Lubunt....

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Problems like a WLAN WL can be fixed with a custom BIOS but I don't recommend it to the average reader of such a guide for very obvious reasons. USB or EC/PCMCIA/Cardbus (similar to PCMCIA) are safer for the average person.

You can probably understand if I chose to nuke the stock BIOS and move to a custom (WL deleted) one but I also know what I'm doing to the degree the risk is low. I would explicitly put a warning about this as well because someone will ask at some point. Normal readers need to understand how risky it really is. Obviously, I get it since I'm at a level I know which systems are a no go and others that are hit and miss but Joe average will not completely get it.

I know that most of the business line from HP is not likely to work and you need to be 110% certain it will work or you may kill the laptop. I'm not going to risk killing a machine so old it uses MiniPCI. MiniPCIe is different if it's safe but nobody makes a modern MiniPCI card.

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@nick,

I appreciate your knowledge and experience and, especially since you have experience writing one up before, I hope you'll help in getting a general XP upgrade guide made. Even if it's not perfect, we can get something done and iterate to improve it.

You seem to have a lot of knowledge about different BIOSes and access to a variety of hardware. If you could get screenshots of the two or three most common BIOSes showing the screen that says "Hit [X] for Boot Menu", I think that'd be super helpful to people.

I think you're right that a general guide shouldn't talk about advanced topics like using a custom BIOS. In fact, I think that the guide should not cover even mildly tricky situations (like proprietary WiFi) at all. What do you think of the approach I used in my example above? I have people first test the system using a live distribution. That way they'll know for sure all the hardware, including WiFi, works before continuing on with the guide.

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I'd really recommend a somewhat modern laptop like a Vista-era C2D with an XP COA. Those are the most ideal IMO and they're common. I'll give you the information I *know* but screenshots should be based on a semi modern system using a common (and relevant) BIOS. I have a Vista HP s3200n that's somewhat modern but that's it for modern machines. The problem is I've installed it in a way removal is difficult and my TV doesn't scale the BIOS well.

The most common consumer level BIOS is AMI. The business BIOSes are a wild west situation that can't be (accurately) predicted - even today to an extent. I just use F12 for Dell and other systems that support it. The legacy HP's tend to use F10 but the newer Win8 ones use a different key (AFAIK F2, but I just press ESC since it's a predictable key). I think Asus uses F2, but I'm not 100% certain - the one I have here has a bad keyboard and the chassis has screw point issues.

I think your situation is ideal for the general guide with how many variations of problems exist. Covering every situation and things like custom BIOS patching isn't a great idea for the main guide... at all. That should be system specific so the author can provide warnings like the RSA signed BIOSes HP uses.

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Thanks, that's helpful. I've got access to some old Dells that came with Vista, so I should be able to get a picture of their BIOS screen.

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When I set those nc6000's up I built one with issues that kill it as a usable laptop for me but is usable for such things like guides. It'll have CCFL backlight issues in the corner but it works otherwise.

If I get a good candidate laptop, I'll give it more thought. The HP nc6000's are older then I'd like for a guide. It's old enough I consider it a "toy".

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