Upgrade Windows XP to Window 7 on a SATA drive

I chose to go the route of a Windows 7 Upgrade to save a little money.  I think perhaps the full install would have been worth the money to spare me the aggravation.  I will not try to recount this as an epic horror but instead list the series of steps that made this work.  It is worth noting that the “epic” nature of this event was incurred due to switching to a SATA hard drive.  Windows XP is not terribly friendly with these drives if you are installing anything older than Windows XP SP2.  As I understand it a slipstreamed SP2 installer should work fine, but I have not tested that.

Slipstream SATA Drivers to Windows XP Install Disk

There are blogs and directions out there for how to make this work.  Simply put, this didn’t work for me.  That was kind of annoying, but what I am glad about is that I found something that did work.  But for reference here are a couple of places that talk about this process (here and here).

Setting SATA Controller to IDE in BIOS

This is the process that worked for me.  I will note that I was shocked at first to see less than my full drive, but I was installing WinXP SP1.  There is a known issue with WinXP and SP1 where the drive only shows up with about 131 GB of space.  You can expand the partition post-install.  I started to recall past experiences with this issue when configuring my previous hard drive.

Step 1:  Set SATA controller in BIOS to IDE mode.

Step 2:  Install Windows XP, and don’t worry about the drive size being “wrong”

Step 3:  Install Windows 7 Upgrade … and this is where I resized the Windows partition (I halved the disk out of habit).

Step 4:  Set the AHCI parameter in the windows registry.  This was a problem under WinXP that required a lot of dancing around to make it work.  Being a bit of a Linux fan, I have to say that seeing this work so nicely under Win7 impressed me.  The “worst” part about this was the required reboot; and if that’s the worst, then I’m pretty happy.

Step 5:  Reboot and let drivers install

Step 6:  Be happy that Windows 7 installed!  Success is success.

Other Hurdles I Cleared

Sound Blaster Audigy (yes, Audigy) sound card with digital speakers:  Because I’m too cheap to get a new sound card in addition to all this, I had to download drivers, download updates to drivers, and fiddle around with settings to get my digital out to work.  But it works!  The unfortunate thing is that the toggle for the digital out is well hidden — which means switching to my headphones is going to be a process each time I was to do it.

nVidia GTX 460 SE drivers:  The only “hurdle” here is EVGA being unclear on the box that their card is an “SE” not a standard 460.  But, hey, the drivers installed and it works.  What is there to complain about?

Reconnecting my Linux drives:  Because I don’t entirely trust OS installers (any of them), I disconnected my Linux drives.  I had to make sure my SATA controller setting was set properly for them to work.  Once it was set back to AHCI, as apposed to “Standard IDE” or “RAID”, reconnecting the drives resulted in things starting up nicely into Linux.  All hail boot order in the BIOS!  So handy.

Reconfiguring GRUB:  I still use GRUB (not grub2) and setting up new entries is a simple matter of editing the /boot/grub/menu.lst.  And, viola, back to dual-boot.  Of course, there’s a little trial-and-error to figure out the proper drive reference for GRUB.  I was lucky and it was only a matter of uncommenting my Windows XP entry and renaming it — the basic drive reference had remained the same.

No Primary IDE Master:  This was resolved automatically by having my Linux drive connected to SATA-1 again.  I put my Linux drive on that and since I disconnected it for the install, this gave the BIOS something to complain about.  I really like “problems” that resolve themselves…!

And there you have my little journey.

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About John

I write about technology interests, cooking, and my own writing (sci-fi and fantasy... sometimes both). I try to keep things light, but sometimes I get side-tracked on an issue that I feel strongly about. No offense is meant, I'm just like any other person who feels strongly about something when I write. View all posts by John

3 responses to “Upgrade Windows XP to Window 7 on a SATA drive

  • Patricia Korbet

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve currently got WinXP on my SATA drive (the install was a big trial-and-error for me last year) and contemplated upgrading to Windows7 rather than reformatting or whatever other method might be out there. Nice to know it doesn’t sound too terribly painful. And right now, I don’t have a dual boot, but if I can get my old HDD reformatted and usable again, I might convert it to Linux at some point. Not that any of this is on the priority list right now, but it’s great to know that if I do the conversion, I can reference your blog. 🙂

    • John

      The hardest part will be getting the old hard drive ready. Many Linux installers like Kubuntu, Ubuntu, and Fedora have very nice installers now; they’re graphical and generally easy to understand.

  • Patricia Korbet

    That’s good to know. My big concern is that the drive is no longer in service because it failed on startup – a missing kernel in the OS. I assume that wiping it and installing a completely new OS will solve the issue and make it usable again, but maybe not. Now that I have a new drive installed as drive 1 in my machine, can I connect the old one to my SATA 2 port on the motherboard and actually SEE it without reformatting? I’d love to move the drive contents over first, if possible, then work on the dual boot process. I bought a new SATA cable, so I have the hardware to connect it. I think I asked you about this before…

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