How to build a brand-new gaming desktop with Windows XP (not Vista)
After 20 hours of toil and trouble, our new desktop Samus is running perfectly!
She is a brand-new eMachines T5254 with two 2.1 GHz processors, 2 GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GEforce 8500, running (drum roll…) Windows XP.
Monitor: $120 (but we could have gotten a comparable one for $80)
Graphics card: $80
Sound card: $40
Optical mouse: $10 (why are these not standard already?)
That’s a very nice complete setup for only $650, and we could have gone even lower if not for a few of our peculiar preferences. We got the tower, graphics card and sound card from Best Buy and the monitor and optical mouse from Discount Electronics.
Our motivation for getting a new desktop is that the games we want to play don’t run on our laptops, or when they do run, they don’t run well. We’re usually on the couch when we play games on our laptops, so as long as we get a graphics card with an S-Video out, we can play on the TV. The integrated graphics card (which was actually pretty nice, a GEforce 6 series) didn’t have an S-Video out, so we upgraded to a very nice one, the 8500.
The reason we needed a sound card is because the onboard sound card was proprietary, and the manufacturer has only released drivers for Vista. We wanted to wipe Vista and install XP, and when we did so, we couldn’t get any sound at all. So basically, we needed to get a stupid sound card just so we could run XP instead of Vista. Phooey on proprietary hardware specs, phooey on integrated sound and video cards, and most of all, phooey on Vista. PHOOEY!
What follows is the story of the 20 hours of toil and trouble we incurred when wiping Vista to install XP. I’m posting it in the hopes that it can save someone else from spending as much time futzing with it as I did.
The first thing to do is to remove Vista. A decent overview can be found at http://removevista.com, but I’ll go into a little more detail here, because that site has things like “make a boot CD and use it” which could use a little more detail. So, here are my instructions for how to wipe Vista and install XP.
- Download the Ultimate Boot CD. It is an ISO file, which is a file type meant to be burned to a CD.
- Burn the Ultimate Boot CD ISO file to a CD. Be sure to burn it as an ISO file: your CD burning program might do the right thing if you just double-click on the ISO file. It’s easy to make the mistake of burning a data CD that contains just one file (the ISO file), but that won’t work. So check to make sure the CD has more than one file on it when it’s done burning.
- Back up all data you wish to save.
- Put the Windows XP install CD in your CD-ROM drive and boot up your computer. Mine says [F10] Boot Menu when I’m booting up, so I hit F10 and it asks me which device I’d like to boot from. I pick CD-ROM, and then after a bit it says “Press any key to boot from CD” so I press a key.
- Press R to repair an existing installation
- Put the Ultimate Boot CD in the CD-ROM drive and reboot, using the same F10 procedure.
- Select Hard Disk Tools -> Disk Manager 10 (Samsung).
- Format the C: drive. It doesn’t matter which version of Windows you pick, because we’re going to reformat later.
- Put the Windows XP install CD back in the CD-ROM drive and reboot.
- Install Windows XP! In the process, you can reformat the drive as NTFS.
I learned most of these steps from removevista.com, and filled in the missing knowledge about boot CDs by hours of painful futzing. Also, I learned that if you have an XP CD that isn’t bootable, you’re hosed. (Unless you can find some way to boot with the boot CD and then hotswap CDs, which I lost patience with figuring out.)
After XP is done installing, be sure to connect to the Internet to let it download all its service packs and vulnerability fixes and stuff.
Install the drivers for the Nvidia GEforce card. This was no problem.
Then I tried to play a game. This was the point where I got “out of range” and “cannot display this video mode” errors. The monitor would just go blank and display that error. The TV would work fine via the S-Video cable, but the monitor was hosed. I futzed with this for several hours. I changed the refresh rate, changed the resolution, mucked about with safe mode, returned the monitor and got a new one, nothing helped. Then I finally stumbled across the solution: download the latest DirectX patches. I also installed the latest drivers for my monitor, but I don’t know whether that made any difference.
Then I tried to play a game, and it crashed for a different reason. I checked the log file and found that it was crashing when trying to initialize the audio. This was because the integrated sound card was not detectable by XP and the manufacturer did not release any XP drivers. Grr! So we went out and bought a cheapo sound card, and we couldn’t get the drivers to recognize it. Grr. EDIT: See Randy’s comment below for a link to the drivers for the onboard audio card! This would have saved us so much hassle!
I went into the BIOS and disabled the onboard sound card. That didn’t fix the problem. I left it disabled, so it might have helped later; I’m not sure. I think it was like [F2] on boot, then Integrated Peripherals or something, then HD Audio.
So we returned the cheapo sound card and got a slightly less cheapo sound card, a SoundBlaster (because I know I can download drivers for those), and that worked except that there was an annoying amount of static interference. We spent another several hours trying to fix the static. We checked the speakers, it wasn’t the speakers. We moved the sound card to a slot further away from the video card, and that didn’t help. We tried putting various things between the sound card and the video card, and that didn’t help. We tried turning the wireless off, and that didn’t help. We tried muting the line in and the CD audio, and that didn’t help. We knew it was the video card causing the interference, because we’d get far more audio static when we’d do something 3D and graphics-intensive. But we couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Finally we just went back to Best Buy and bought a SoundBlaster Audigy SE for $40, popped it in, and it worked like a charm. Yay for throwing money at the problem! I don’t know if the other semi-cheapo used sound card we got (a SoundBlaster Audigy 2) was just bad, or what, but buying a new one did the trick. Yay!
Now Kyeli is playing Sims 2, which is running smoothly and not even thinking about crashing. We have a beautiful desktop background, a perfect couch setup, working audio, working graphics, and a really great new computer. All is well, and I’m quite pleased with myself. (: Kyeli was very helpful too; I couldn’t have done this without her help. *kiss* (:
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