September 21, 2012, 11:07 AM — The madness began as much insanity does, with a nominally simple idea: Upgrade a Windows XP system to Windows 8 and write about the experience. Then my mouth started moving, even before my imprudent brain realized what it was saying. "I have an old Pentium 4 system at home, complete with an AGP graphics card and 2GB of RAM. It's running tons of software. Maybe we should install Windows 8 on that, and see if everything sticks together!"
In reality, performing a Windows 8 upgrade on an ancient Windows XP machine is not a good idea. But the exercise allowed me to explore the boundaries of what's possible -- and to learn some valuable lessons about the Windows 8 setup process along the way.
And now I can share what I've learned with you.
'Old' isn't quite the word for a system like this
Okay, I know: It's an ugly case. But I built this machine when I was younger and more prone to admire tacky garishness. The good news is that you can't order one of these enclosures any longer. You can pay good money for custom case painting, but this kind of psychedelic silk-screening seems to be unavailable in 2012. That's probably a good thing.
Regardless, what lives inside the case is more interesting. I built the system in 2004, not long after the Northwood variant of the Pentium 4 shipped. The components inside are more than just elderly--they're positively geriatric by modern PC standards. To wit:
3.4GHz Pentium 4 CPU (socket 478!)
Abit IC7-G motherboard with Intel 875P chipset
Two 1GB DDR-400 DRAM modules (2GB total)
Radeon HD 9800XT AGP graphics card with 512MB frame buffer
320GB Western Digital hard drive (IDE)
Two 250GB Western Digital hard drives in RAID 1 mode
Sony DVD recorder (16X)
Two Asus 52X CD-ROM burners
520W Vantec power supply
Note that Abit is now out of business. Vantec still makes low-cost peripherals, but it is no longer in the power-supply business. As I'll detail shortly, this system is a little problematic when it comes to Windows 8.
Windows 8 setup: first run
In its original state, this P4-based system ran the 32-bit version of Windows XP--and the last time I used the PC was several years ago as a license server for 3ds Max 8. I uninstalled the license server and a few other applications, mainly to make the system small enough to back up to the secondary 250GB RAID array. Then I ran Windows 8 setup from a DVD.
I first tried 64-bit Windows 8, but was informed that only a clean, fresh install would be performed. So I resigned myself to installing 32-bit Windows 8. Even so, the Windows 8 setup retained none of my applicationsonly data files! Well, that was a rude awakening.