Podcomplex PC Guide | Setting Up a New Operating System

preparation Preparing to Install Windows

If you have more than one hard drive, I recommend disconnecting all drives except the one that Windows will be installed on. This will guard against inadvertent data loss, and ensure the installation goes as smoothly as possible.

This guide is based on an installation of Windows XP, although the principles apply to all versions of Windows. Before you begin, make sure you have all the ingredients you need for the installation:

  • Windows installation disk (and product ID number)
  • Older Windows version disks - 95/98/ME/2000/XP/Vista (if using an upgrade option)
  • All driver discs for system hardware (sound card/video card/motherboard etc.)
  • Download updated drivers for all system hardware from manufacturer site

boot sequence Boot Sequence

For most users, there will probably be no need to change the boot sequence. However, if required, it can be modified in your BIOS settings. To access the BIOS, you usually hit 'Delete' as the computer is booting up. The screen that appears when you start your PC will tell you what key to press, but the message is normally something like 'Hit Del to enter setup'.

Once you are in the BIOS setup menu, find the boot sequence option menu and set your optical drive (CD or DVD) as the first boot device, and your hard drive as the second. This means the computer will first check for a bootable disc in the CD drive and boot from that, or if there is no bootable disc in the drive, it will boot from the hard drive instead. Most systems will have this sequence enabled by default (if you have a floppy drive, the system usually checks this even before the CD drive).

If you have different operating systems installed on separate physical hard drives, you can switch the boot sequence in the BIOS to choose which drive/OS loads on startup.

To find out more about BIOS settings, try Adrian Wong's BIOS guide.

formatting Hard Drive Formatting

If you are installing a new version of Windows on your computer (clean install), make sure you format the hard drive using a low-level format first. This will fill the drive with zeroes, ensuring that all data on the disk is completely erased - particularly important if you have used the hard drive before with other versions of Windows (or another OS entirely). Even if your hard drive is brand new, it is a good idea to perform this step anyway, to ensure that the drive is error-free.

A good way of doing this is by using the software tool provided by the manufacturer of your hard drive - you can download this from their website for free. To check who made your hard drive, open Device Manager:

Right-click on 'My Computer', select 'Properties', then click on the 'Hardware' tab. In Device Manager, your hard drive manufacturer will show up under 'Disk Drives'.

Western Digital

While you do have the option of formatting a disk in either FAT32 or NTFS, there is no reason to use FAT32 unless you want to run a dual-boot configuration with, for example, Windows Vista and Windows XP on the same PC.

The XP setup (installer) program also gives you the option of formatting the hard drive. Here are some links to official Microsoft resources on the subject:

Microsoft's guide to formatting and partitioning a hard disk
Microsoft's guide to creating a dual-boot system
Microsoft's boot disk information page

partitioning Hard Drive Partitioning

This is an optional step in setting up your new system, and there is some debate about whether it is a good idea or not. In an ideal scenario, you should have a dedicated physical hard drive for your operating system and program installations, and a separate drive for your data.

If you only have one hard drive, however, I recommend creating a small (20-40GB) partition on which to install Windows. This should be the first partition you create, as it will be the fastest.

Due to the way hard disks are constructed, the read/write speed and access times are faster at the outer edge of the platters then they are in the centre. Because of this, the actual performance of the drive varies quite a bit depending on which part of the drive is being accessed - therefore, the Windows installation should be located as close to the outer edge as possible (the first partition).

The remainder of the drive may then be allocated to the second partition, which will be used for data storage. In general, I would recommend buying as large a hard drive as possible - but the larger it is, the more important it is to partition. For a 500GB drive, for example, I would have at least three partitions. This may help to reduce data loss in the event of something going wrong further down the line.

Note: A common question that crops up when dealing with drive capacities is the apparent discrepancy between the capacity claimed by the manufacturer and the free space that actually shows up in Windows Explorer. The reason for this is that while humans tend to count in base 10 (decimal), computers operate in base 2 (binary). So, what is referred to as a 500GB drive is actually 500 billion / 2^30 - which shows up on your system as 465.66GB. The "missing" 35GB is accounted for by this conversion.

Some interesting observations about partitioning (and some good links) can be found at the radified partitioning site.

If you want some serious partitioning solutions, the most reputable software in this field is undoubtedly Symantec's Partition Magic.

process Installation Process

The actual installation should be relatively straightforward - simply insert your Windows XP disc in the drive and restart the computer. The computer should then detect the CD and proceed to boot from it, launching the XP installer program. You then follow the on-screen prompts to complete the installation.

If your XP disc does not have Service Pack 2 included, you will need to either install it manually after XP has fully installed, or perform a 'slipstream' installation. For information on creating a slipstreamed SP2 disc, visit the Elder Geek site.

If you encounter problems booting from your XP disc, go to Microsoft's boot disc page. Remember that you must use the appropriate boot disc for your Windows version - XP Home or Professional, with or without included Service Packs.

Note: The ultimate boot CD is a useful utility for diagnostic/recovery purposes. Although you do not need this for Windows installation, it may come in handy someday, so I recommend downloading a copy from the ultimate boot cd website.

drivers Get the Right Drivers

It is important to ensure that you have the very latest drivers for all the hardware in your system. The most up-to-date drivers can be downloaded from the manufacturer's website. If you are not sure of your exact hardware setup, you can use PC Wizard to detect your configuration and determine who made each component.

1. First of all you should install DirectX - the latest version of this comes bundled with most new games, or can be downloaded directly from Microsoft.

2. Next, install any motherboard chipset drivers that you require. These are essential to ensuring stable operation of your system.

- Intel
- nVidia
- SiS

If you are using a dedicated sound card (essential for musicians) and graphics card (optional for musicians, although programs such as WaveLab do like a bit of extra video power) then you may want to disable the onboard (integrated) sound or video. This can help reduce potential conflict problems later on. The easiest way to do this is by not installing the chipset's audio or video functionality in the first place.

3. Install your graphics card drivers now. Again, you need the latest drivers for your particular make/model.

- Matrox
- nVidia

For some further reading, here's a good tweak guide for getting the most out of your ATI graphics card.

4. Now it's time for the sound card drivers. To ensure the best audio and MIDI performance, it is essential to download the latest updates for your particular hardware. The driver CD that came with your sound card will almost certainly not be the latest version. You can either install the drivers from the CD (and apply an update patch later on), or you can install the latest version straight away by downloading the complete installer from your audio manufacturer's website (recommended).

- M-Audio
- Edirol
- E-Mu
- Hercules
- Turtle Beach

For most audio applications, you should use the ASIO drivers developed for your particular hardware. Once the drivers are installed, each application you use will give you the option of choosing an audio driver - usually under 'Settings' or 'Preferences'. So if you have an M-Audio Ozone, for example, choose 'M-Audio Ozone ASIO' as your audio driver.

5. If you have any peripheral devices, you should connect them now - most will be Plug and Play, and will not require any drivers. If you are using a USB mouse and it seems to be working okay, there is no need to use the installation disc that came with it, unless there is a specific feature in the software that you require.

web Internet Usage and Virus Protection

Before you go any further (especially if you plan on connecting your newly-installed system to the Internet), you should install a reputable anti-virus solution such as one of the following:

- Norton AV
- McAfee
- PC-Cillin

If you are happy to stick with free virus protection, these will do a decent job:

- Trend Micro Online Scanner
- AVG Antivirus
- Trend Micro Sysclean
- Avast! Home Edition

If you're feeling curious, you can find out more about viruses and virus protection at ICSA.

You should also consider using Mozilla Firefox as your Internet browser, which you can download from the Mozilla website. If you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer, make sure you have the latest version installed.

The ideal setup, of course, would be to have a system dedicated entirely to your Digital Audio Workstation - which you never let anywhere near the Internet - and have a different PC altogether for Web surfing. However, this is not a practical solution for most people. A cheaper alternative to this would be to have a dual-boot system, where one OS is dedicated to the DAW and another for Internet access and general usage.

To make sure your Windows Firewall is enabled, go to Start>Control Panel>Network Connections and right-click on the connection you are using to access the Internet. Then select 'properties', and in the 'advanced' tab, select 'settings'. Here you can turn on the Windows Firewall. If you have a third-party firewall, you do not need to use the XP firewall.

When you do connect to the Internet, the first place you should go is to Windows Update.

On the update site, perform a 'custom' scan to detect all high priority updates required for your system. You should also select any 'Optional Hardware' updates and proceed with the update installation.

Once your update of Windows is complete, you can then proceed to install any applications that you will be using on your system (Cubase, Reason and so on).