PC Buyer Beware!

Replace the motherboard of a PC without reinstalling Windows 7/8.1/10

Motherboard problem:  Can I replace the motherboard of my PC without having to reinstall Windows 7?

Problem

My computer running Windows XP Professional SP3 is using an elderly AMD Athlon X2 4600+ dual-core processor and Socket 939 motherboard, so I am looking to replace the motherboard, processor and RAM and upgrade to Windows 7 SP1. Is this necessary in the first place in order to be able to upgrade to Win7? If possible I would like to keep my existing hardware and only add more RAM and upgrade to Win7.

Answer

Note that when you replace the motherboard on a PC using a version of Windows that has been activated Product Activation will require reactivation online or by telephone to Microsoft’s support. In this case, A new and successful install of Windows 7 will activate, but the previous installation of Windows XP will require reactivation – if you decide to keep it in a dual-boot system.

I have myself successfully upgraded a desktop PC running an AMD Athlon X2 3800+ Socket 939 dual-core processor on an MSI MS-7093 motherboard first to Windows 7 and then to Windows 8 and then to Windows 8.1. It runs beautifully on only 2GB of RAM memory on the same MSI motherboard I purchased in 2005, so you will probably be able to upgrade to Windows 7 without replacing the motherboard and processor.

You could, of course, add more RAM memory if you have free memory slots on the motherboard. Note that you must have a graphics card that supports the “DirectX 9 with WDDM 1.0 or higher device driver”. If the motherboard graphics chip or graphics card only supports a lower version, Win7 will only be able to start up in Safe Mode. Here is the page on Microsoft’s website that provides the system requirements for upgrading to Win7:

Windows 7 system requirements –

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/system-requirements

I would use the Memory Adviser on crucial.com to find out which memory configurations you can add. Of course, if you want to increase the performance with a new motherboard, memory and processor, that’s what you’ll have to do, but your existing hardware is good enough to be used for office applications and to go online.

If you buy and install the Upgrade version of Windows 7, there has to be a qualifying existing installation of Windows installed on the PC, which you have (XP Pro). I bought another hard disk drive and installed Windows 7 Upgrade version on it, the doing of which keeps the installation of Windows XP Pro on the existing hard drive, which creates a dual-boot system with Win7, adding Win7 to the startup boot menu that presents itself, allowing a choice of the version of Windows to use. That way you can access WinXP’s files via Windows Explorer and transfer any files to folders in the installation of Win7.

Note that if you want to remove WinXP from the dual-boot system, it’s a fairly involved process, so it’s advisable to choose to install Win7 on the same partition as XP, which will overwrite XP. Alternatively, install it on a new hard drive after the installation setup has seen that you have a qualifying version of Windows to upgrade to Win7 and then disconnect the hard drive containing XP so that boot menu is not changed to include both versions.

If you want to keep XP in case you want to install it later in order to be able to use it to qualify to reinstall Win7 Upgrade version, keep XP on its own hard drive, removed from the system, and, as an extra source of recovery, create a restorable system image and save it to an external hard disk drive. I use the free version Macrium Reflect to create system images, which is more reliable than the Backup and Restore used by Win7 and Win8.

The full retail version of Win7 can be installed on an empty hard drive (without any qualifying version of Windows) and can be installed on as many PCs as you like as long as only one PC is in use at any one time. One Windows licence can only be activated once. If you try to activate it on another PC, the activation process will fail.

Here is a video explaining and illustrating how to install Win7 on a WinXP system:

Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 –

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/help/…

If you buy a new motherboard and processor (AMD or Intel), Windows XP Pro almost certainly won’t make the transition to the new drivers that it will need to run the new motherboard’s chipsets. That means you probably won’t be able to use Windows XP Pro after Win7 is installed.

Note that RAM never uses a device driver and the processor doesn’t often have a device driver, so you don’t have to do anything to Windows XP if you upgrade those components. Windows will automatically recognise and install those devices.

That said, if you install an AMD Athlon X2 dual-core processor or an AMD Phenom quad-core processor in the (AMD-based Socket 939, AM2+, AM3) motherboard you have chosen, you will need to download and install the AMD Processor Driver Version 1.3.2.0053 for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 (x86 and x64), which “Allows the system to automatically adjust the CPU speed, voltage and power combination to match the instantaneous user performance need.

This package is a user-friendly localized software installation of the driver designed for end-users. This driver supports AMD processors on Windows XP SP2 and Windows Server 2003 SP2 x86 and x64 Editions.” I installed that driver and later updated to WinXP SP3 successfully without having to upgrade it. So, if in doubt, check the processor’s manufacturer’s website to find out if a driver is required. If the processor appears as it should in the Device Manager (a dual-core processor will show two processors, a quad-core, four processors, etc.), then there should be no problem.

I had a single-core Athlon 64 3000+ processor installed in a Socket 939 MSI MS-7093 motherboard, which can run Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processors for that socket if the latest BIOS update is installed. However, when I installed a Socket 939 Athlon 64 X2 3800+ dual-core processor, Windows XP asked for the source of the above-mentioned processor driver to be inserted, and the two cores were installed as unidentified devices under Processors in the Device Manager. Installing the processor driver fixed the problem in the Device Manager.

Note that if you keep using Windows XP Pro SP3, which is no longer supported by Microsoft but which can still be used  – I am still using it in December 2014 and some users are still using Windows 95 and 98 – and you install an SATA hard disk drive to replace an IDE PATA hard drive, there are issues with the SATA device driver, which XP does not support natively, requiring the driver to be installed at startup. You only install the driver once and then XP uses it to run the SATA hard drive thereafter. The usual method was to use a floppy disk and press the F6 key at startup, but new computers don’t come with one, so you’ll have to use an alternative method. Here is a webpage that provides one:

Install Windows XP on SATA without a Floppy (F6) –

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Install-Windows-XP-On-SATA-Without-a-Floppy-F6-47807.shtml