Testing the Windows Millennium Edition Installation

(Preliminary – Continued)

Celeron 300 with VIA Motherboard Chipset:

We assembled this machine to fill in the gap between true older legacy computers and the new hardware releases we are seeing today. The motherboard was one of the first slot one motherboards with an early VIA chipset on board that could use PC-100 SDRAM. We chose it for no other reason than the VIA chipsets drivers were always a pain to load properly, and we wanted to see how Windows ME handled it. We then added the minimum memory of 32MB PC100 as specified by Microsoft, then added an old ATI Mach 64 video card, an early Sound Blaster 16 sound card and an early Supra 28.8 modem. Even the hard drive wasn’t anything special at 2.5G. The remaining components, floppy drive, CD-Rom drive etcetera, were just pieces lying around. Aside from booting the basic system to see if it would run, we had no idea about the life of any one particular component as most came from our test area. Since the motherboard was about 2 years old, it had a bios with a revision date of January 1998.

Upgrade from the last OEM release of Windows® 95 (OSR2b):

True to form, it was difficult to get Windows 95 loaded correctly with the VIA chipset drivers, and we used what we believed were the most current. After a number of tries, we were able to load them exactly as VIA had intended. We made sure that all devices had been loaded correctly and Device Manager showed no errors. We verified this by checking the Device Manager again while in safe-mode. We made sure that only a few of the updates recommended Microsoft were added, but not all of them. We even left Internet Explorer at version 4.01. During the process, we made a list of all of the important driver information, including file names and version numbers.

When we inserted the Millennium Edition CD, everything started normally, and as before, the installer examined the existing Windows installation, informed us that there were programs running that would cause problems and that it needed a restart in order to continue. After the restart the upgrade proceeded normally. After the upgrade, the computer started faster than it had with Windows 95, notably faster. Not merely because of the fact the MS-DOS had been omitted, but the boot into the graphical User Interface was faster.

We began checking what had occurred behind the scenes during the upgrade, especially with respect to the files and drivers used by Windows ME. While we had thought we had installed Windows 95 with all of the latest drivers available, apparently Microsoft was able to get their hands on some later versions, especially for the VIA chipset, the sound card and the modem. The bottom line, everything wasn’t working as perfectly as we had hoped. If you recall our comment above about the Bios revision date, this played an integral part in some of the errors that occurred, such as Blue Screen errors and the Startup Folder literally disappearing. We updated the bios to a version dated November 1999 and retested the upgrade, and this time it went perfectly. Obvious indicator to anyone planning and upgrade or fresh installation, make sure the Bios on the motherboard is current, at least August 1998 or later.

Just so that you don’t go away thinking we missed something, we reinstalled the Windows 95 image to this machine and repeated the entire upgrade process. This time though, we went into the registry just before we inserted the Millennium Edition CD and deleted at least two dozen registry keys. As an example, we removed all of the enumerator (ENUM) keys which are used by the installer to determine the hardware installed. Again, the upgrade went perfectly.

Clean installation on the Celeron 300 and VIA Chipset:

We could take up allot of page space here to describe how well the clean installation of Windows Millennium Edition went, but it really isn’t necessary. Since the Bios update, Windows ME easily located and identified all of the devices in this Celeron based unit during the installation, and there was no reason to suspect that it wouldn’t do it again. Let’s get into some of the more interesting problems that we found, and yes, we said problems!

Pentium II 400 with Intel LX Chipset:

Okay, let’s start with a little description of the computer. It began life as a test machine about 18 months ago for one of our systems engineers when the Intel LX chipset began surfacing in larger numbers. After it served its purpose in testing about 8 months ago, the engineer held onto the machine for every day tasks including testing shareware and freeware. The machine consists of an Intel Pentium II 400 MHz processor on an LX chipset based motherboard with an ATA 33 bus, on which there was installed 64MB of PC-100 SDRAM memory. It sports a Matrox G400 video card, a Sound Blaster AWE-64 Value sound card and a US Robotics 56k v.90 modem. Windows 98 (first edition) is installed on a 5.4G Maxtor hard drive. The remainder of the components are pretty much standard, 3½” floppy drive, Panasonic 40+ CD-Rom drive etcetera. This machine had a motherboard Bios dated April 1998.

Upgrade from the first release of Windows® 98:

What made this machine a little bit different than the others was all of the freeware and shareware that had been installed. At least half of which was MS-DOS reliant. This, we knew, was a big issue in the Millennium Edition as rumor had it that Microsoft had eliminated MS-DOS in this version of Windows. In addition, from all of the testing and all of the software that was installed, and no doubt the leftovers from some un-installations, the registry was a huge 3,745,752 bytes in size. That’s huge by any standard! As we had before, we imaged the drive with Drive Image Pro and made the system ready for the upgrade. We did nothing special with this computer other than to make a backup image.

We inserted the Windows ME CD into the drive and started the update, and as before, Windows ME wanted nothing running in the background. This time around though, the installer really took its time checking out the registry along with the devices that had been installed. Overall, the upgrade on this machine took 34 minutes from start to finish. Now it was time to do some digging to see what happened to our patched version of Office 97, the band-aid version of WordPerfect 7 we had plus all those shareware and freeware applications.

There were no surprises when it came to the normal installations of software, Office 97 and WordPerfect 7 were untouched. Windows ME somehow even managed to fix a problem that kept reoccurring with WordPerfect crashing. What was truly amazing was to find was that most of the shareware and freeware had managed to survive the upgrade. There were some real old applications dating from 1994 that were history, but for the most part everything worked. Amazing, given all the issues with previous Windows versions. There were a couple of minor Blue Screen of Death crashes, but we weren’t entirely certain whether these were due to the Bios version or the enormous amount of freeware and shareware that had been installed. We opted to verify this by updating the Bios and then do a fresh installation. Let’s move on to the fresh install, as this is where we ran into problems when we were just about lulled into a false sense of security.

Clean installation on the Pentium 400 with the LX Chipset:

We prepared this computer like we would any other. We made sure that we had a Windows Startup Disk so that we could access the CD-Rom drive, removed the existing partition on the hard drive, inserted a new one and then formatted the drive and transferred the basic system files. When the format was complete, we rebooted the system to the hard drive to make sure everything worked as it should.

As with any CD-Rom oriented Windows installation, we ran setup directly from the Windows ME CD. The installer proceeded to run scandisk, copy the necessary files and continue with the installation. It was very typical of a Windows 98 installation. When the installation was nearing completion, all we needed to do was set the time zone and Windows ME was ready. We went through all of the normal routine items, watching the video (there should be a way to shut this off), registering the product and setting up the Internet connection. Just like clock work, Windows ME handled the device recognition perfectly, as we found no errors in device manager. Now it was time to start installing software.

We started with Creative’s AWE-64 sound software, as Windows ME only furnishes basic drivers and its own multimedia package, but none of the additions offered by Creative. We inserted Creative’s Sound Blaster 64 CD into the drive and waited. We waited, and we waited! Finally we touched the fated Ctrl + Alt + Del keys to maybe see what was happening, and suddenly the Sound Blaster installer screen came up, but it was partially frozen. We finally rebooted the machine and then tried the installation again, and again we faced the same problem. Undaunted, we decided to disable the auto-run feature and try and run Creative’s installer manually via Start/Run. Unfortunately our efforts were again thwarted, as the installer just refused to run.

We decided to contact Creative’s technical support department in an effort to determine what was preventing the installer from running. Oddly enough, they weren’t sure either. We were informed that Creative was releasing new drivers, but after nearly four hours on the telephone, we weren’t any further ahead then we already were. After several hours of head scratching, we decided to break down the various components and transfer just the files we needed to a temporary directory and try the installation from the hard drive. After several more attempts, more failures. We decided to let it ago and come back to it the next day. Oddly enough, one of Creative’s technical support people contacted us with a work around that consisted of a complete download of a fresh installation. This time everything went as it should, but unfortunately this didn’t end the problem!

We ran into the same problems when we attempted to install the special modem software package for the modem, and again with the Matrox G400 software package. Although this is unconfirmed at this writing, we are given to understand that the problem involves a combination of issues, those relating to MS-DOS and those relating to a feature in Windows ME and protected files. As more information develops, we will post it here. It is important to note that we were able to add these additional software features where they didn’t interfere with the installed multimedia files, but the process is both tedious and time consuming. Oddly enough, Windows ME did not tamper with these added features during the upgrade. As to the Bios issues, our first update was to a bios dated July 1998. We found some minor problems with this update regarding USB and some file problems. Updating the Bios to a December 1998 release date resolved these issues though, but only after a clean format and fresh installation. We cannot over emphasize the need to insure that your Bios and hardware items are as current as possible, but more about that later.

Pentium III 550 with Intel BX Chipset:

This machine, as with the Celeron 300, was assembled from off the shelf components manufactured within the last 18 months. The motherboard was fairly recent vintage and from one of the top 10 manufacturers. It had a Bios revision date of December 1998, supported on-board USB as well as the ATA-66 specification for hard drives. The Intel Pentium III SECC CPU was brand new out of the box, and the memory was 128MB of PC-133 SDRAM matched to the specifications of the motherboard manufacturer. We installed an S3-3500 video card, an Adaptec 2940UW SCSI card, a Creative Sound Blaster AWE-64 Gold (Retail) sound card as well as a recent Lucent 56k v90 modem. We connected a new Maxtor 10.1 gigabyte ATA-66 hard drive to the IDE bus and a new Plextor SCSI CD-ROM drive to the SCSI card. After testing the machine to make certain there were no hardware related issues, we installed Windows 98SE and added all of the updates through August 30, 2000. We then installed Internet Explorer version 5.5 as well as Office 2000 with Service Pack 1. We did have some minor problems getting the ATA-66 drivers loaded, but that was expected as this was one of the earliest motherboards to support this specification.

After the installation, one of our technicians spent a few days with the machine tweaking it as he would his own, and then proceeded to surf the Internet filling the cache with cookies, temporary files and letting the swap file grow as large as possible. We then had our technician set up AOL’s version 5.0 as well as Quick Time for Windows.

Upgrade from Windows® 98 SE:

It is important to those of you reading this that you understand that this machine did not have the accumulations of downloaded freeware or shareware, nor were there loads of collected temporary and other junk files on this machine. Further, in an effort to duplicate what might be found on an average every-day computer, we began adding typical software items, such as AOL, Quick Time, WordPerfect, Lotus etcetera. This should be taken into consideration beforehand and will be one of the issues reviewed in our conclusions.

We inserted the Windows ME CD into the drive as we had previously, and started the update, and as before, Windows ME wanted nothing running in the background. The installer took its time checking out the registry along with the devices that we had installed. At first blush, the upgrade seemed to have gone off without a hitch, so with that we decided to digging to see what happened, if anything. There were no surprises when it came to the installations of Office 2000, it seemed to work perfectly. However we need to stress that it may take several days or longer to learn if there are any real issues with Office 2000 that a daily user might incur through daily use. In addition, we found a number of other issues that arose during testing.

There were a couple Blue Screen crashes, one of which was attributed to Quick Time and the S3 video chip on the video card, as we had two mouse pointers on the screen. After some searching, we had to make some adjustments to Quick Time’s initialization files. After that, the problem disappeared.

Another issue involved the Pentium III 550 processor being incorrectly identified. It seems that Windows ME looks to the original Windows 98 data first, and since Intel had not yet released the Pentium III 550 at the time Microsoft had released Windows 98, the Pentium III 550 was not included in the processor “friendly name” list. You can read more about that issue here: Q216204 – Intel Pentium or Celeron CPU Identified Incorrectly. Intel has made available a patch to correct the processor ID issue.

One of the more difficult issues to resolve arose from our failure to record all of the changes that we had made to the Windows 98 setup just prior to starting the upgrade. One of our technicians decided to use Winfile.exe to move files around and no one wrote it down. All of these files were converted to the MS-DOS-compatible short file name in 8.3 format. For example, our test log data file named “Test_twenty.doc” became as Test_t~1.doc. We found the problem when the same technician went back to recover and move files and again used Winfile.exe. As he was moving files, they were being converted to the MS-DOS-compatible short file name in 8.3 format after he copied or moved them. This is now an issue in the Microsoft Knowledge Base.

The last of the issues involve AOL’s version 5.0. This is truly what nightmares are made of. Every time we would start AOL, the machine would blue screen and lock up. One of the more consistent errors was that “AOL.EXE caused an error in module “unknown”. Of course, AOL’s technical support was of no assistance at all. The technician we spoke with informed us that they had not experienced any problems with AOL 5.0 and Microsoft’s Millennium Edition. We think what he meant to say was that they had no experience with the Windows Millennium Edition at all. We’re not bashing AOL here, but some technical support might be nice! We tried everything from changing files to uninstalling AOL and then reinstalling, and nothing seemed to make a difference. We were finally able to get it to work by formatting the hard drive, installing Windows ME and then adding AOL 5.0. That’s not very appetizing for those who have allot of applications installed and need to perform an upgrade!

Clean installation on the Pentium III 500 with the BX Chipset:

We opted to try a fresh installation two ways, one using a full retail version of Windows ME, and another using an upgrade disk. There is little difference between the two versions other than the installer looking for a pre-existing Windows version when using the upgrade CD. With the upgrade CD, you will want to make sure that you have a working Windows 98 Startup Boot disk, as none comes with it.

The fresh installation was unremarkable and ran smoothly. We did our normal system preparation of removing the old partition using Fdisk and then formatted the hard drive and transferred the system files to make it bootable. We then booted to the hard drive to insure that everything booted as it should. It is very important to mention here that any time you have SCSI drives of any type, hard drives or CD-Rom drives, make sure that your SCSI device drivers are current and “in hand”, as without them you are sunk before you even begin.

While the Windows 98 SE startup boot disk supports the Adaptec 2940UW SCSI card and allows you to access drives, especially CD-Rom drives, not having current drivers could pose a serious problem as you will see when you review the last system we tested.

On to the installation. We started the installation as you normally would by accessing “setup” on the CD. The installer performed its normal disk checking and informed us that everything looked okay. With that we proceeded along with the installation. The installation seemed to progress normally, and upon the final restart brought up the now familiar start screen with the new media player and the accompanying sounds. Unfortunately, those sounds were stuttering and choppy. As a side note, we have yet to find a way to kill that screen before it finishes playing.

Since the sound problem developed right from the beginning, we started looking at the sound card and its drivers to see what problems there might be. Be aware of the fact that all Windows 9x versions, including the Windows Millennium Edition, loads only basic drivers. A no frills approach!

In any event, we removed the drivers and went into Device Manager and removed the sound card with the thought in mind that we could load the correct drivers from the Creative Labs CD. Unfortunately after removing the drivers and the sound card device, we learned that the Creative Labs installer would start, but not run. Very much like we experienced on the Pentium II. We tried every conceivable method we could think of to enable the Creative installer to function, but it simply would not start. Since we had plenty of disk space, we decided to create a directory and copy the entire CD into it and try and load the AWE 64 drivers and add-ons from there. Unfortunately this too proved to be a futile effort. We contacted Creative’s support department in an effort to learn what the problem might be, and after a couple of days of research, it turns out that Creative’s installer has a problem with some of the faster Pentium III processors and motherboards. Although they didn’t elaborate, they did provide us with a working download of the needed files, which we burned to a CD for safe keeping.

Now it was time to play with this new operating system and see what it could do. We setup a normal dial-up connection and started the new media player. Everything seemed to work great until we started to download some streaming video, at which point Windows ME promptly gave us a blue screen crash. After a few hours of hardware checking to make sure nothing had failed, we put a call into Microsoft. Although they didn’t have an immediate answer, they did send us off into the right direction, the video drivers. It seems that when the S3 drivers for the 3500 video card were given to Microsoft, they may have been either basic “fits-all” drivers or a beta version, although no one would directly confirm this. We downloaded new S3-3500 video drivers and installed them and the blue screen problem in media player went away.

The next problem that we found involved our US Robotics modem. Normally we can log onto our dial-up test connection at 50K and above, and usually around 53k. For some reason we couldn’t get past 42.6k. We tried fiddling with settings as well as several work around methods, and nothing seemed to work. After several hours of testing and a call to US Robotics (3-COM), we found that the drivers in Windows ME were not the latest and greatest. We updated the modem drivers and we were nearly back to normal at 51k. We also found that there was a tweak or two to be found in the Knowledge Base regarding these modems and the “S” registers. Just search on U.S. Robotics and it will come right up.

So far, so good. Now to load some software. We decided that we would install Office 2000 (with Service Pack 1) and WordPerfect 8. The installation of Office 2000, along with the service pack, went along smoothly without a hitch. Obviously Microsoft planned it that way. WordPerfect, on the other hand, was nothing but problems. We experienced everything from Blue Screen errors to file corruption. One of the more important errors involved the language modules, “LMI7 caused an invalid page fault in module LMI7.EXE at 0137:0040d39c”. Corel states that this error is generated when attempting to install the Language Modules from a network to a workstation, after installing the Language Modules to the network using the NETSETUP.EXE. Unfortunately though, this machine wasn’t connected to a network, and their technical support department was of little help without a cash offering. We did manage to work around the issue and get it working, but a casual user would be facing some difficult problems.

All in all, both the upgrade and the fresh installation went reasonably well, but both can cause a relatively inexperienced user some fits of frenzy when trying to straighten out the issues we found. In fairness, we note that none of these issues are directly related to either Microsoft or Windows ME, as they involved third party drivers and applications, which should have been updated by those “third parties”.

The largest of the issues that we faced happened to be with one of the latest system types available, as you will see in the next review.

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