Testing the Windows Millennium Edition Installation

Windows Millennium Edition

Installation Test Results

Although Microsoft’s Millennium Edition does a fantastic job of shortening the startup time and streamlining the user interface with a new look and a raft of new features, we were concerned with how it would handle upgrades and fresh installations across a broad base of equipment types, including some now legacy equipment. This page, and those that follow are not intended by any means to be a sales pitch for Windows Millennium. As a matter of fact, you may find our conclusions at the end to be in stark contrast to much of the pro and con hype that is normal to the Internet.

Unfortunately the tests we ran and what we found cannot be constrained to a single web page, as that would be nothing more than a continuation of the typical hype and opinions found throughout the Internet. Writing about ones experiences with installing and using Windows ME on a single computer is very poor test representation. Although we used several computers of varying types and substituted various devices, even this is, at best, only a fair representation of what can be expected. These web pages are not akin to a short novel, you can’t flip to the end to get the answer, you must review the process.

The purpose of these tests were two fold. First, we wanted to determine how well the updated installer, device interpreter and enlarged driver database in Microsoft’s new Millennium Edition would handle the relatively broad range of computer types currently in use. Second, we wanted to provide our customers and others who visit our site with some first hand background information as to what can be expected during an upgrade to (or fresh installation of) the Millennium Edition. Microsoft states that the minimum system requirements for the Windows Millennium Edition are as follows:

  • VGA or higher resolution monitor
  • Pentium 150MHz processor or better
  • 32MB of RAM or better
  • 480MB to 645MB free hard-disk space
  • CD-ROM drive
  • 28.8 Kbs modem or faster with current Internet connection
  • Sound card
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device

Although the minimum hardware requirements are obvious “Pentium 150MHz processor or better”, “32MB of RAM or better”, we decided to start are testing with the oldest piece of legacy equipment we could find. We began with a 486DX/120 model, worked our way through early Pentium II’s and Celeron systems and finished with some of the latest Intel Pentium III, Rambus equipped units.

We felt that it was important to develop a real-world environment by creating broad based scenarios in order to see what pitfalls might be encountered during the installation process. Our tests were performed in two phases, a clean installation as well as an upgrade from either Windows 95 or Windows 98. The only variations added to the base machines were to substitute a trackball or pad device for a basic mouse, add in a CD-R or CD-RW, a SCSI Card, network card or change back and forth from an internal to external modem. All machines were equipped with 3½” floppy drives and CD Rom drives at the outset.

None of the machines were heavily laden with freeware or shareware, and all but two had clean windows registries to work with. On two of the machines, we intentionally created some registry errors as well as some video driver problems that would pop up a general protection fault (GPF) now and then. Most had variations of Microsoft’s Office® 95, Office® 97, WordPerfect® or Microsoft’s Office® 2000 installed, along with Adobe ® Photoshop, Image Styler®, Print Shop Deluxe® on those machines that could handle the software with the base operating system.

The test computers:

Processor 486 DX/120 Cyrix/IBM Pentium 150 Pentium II 266 Celeron 300 Pentium II 400 Pentium III 550 Pentium III 733
Motherboard Chipset IBM IBM TX VIA Intel LX Intel BX Intel 840
Memory 32MB EDO 32 MB EDO 32MB PC100 SDRAM 32MB PC100 SDRAM 64MB PC100 SDRAM 128MB PC133 SDRAM 256MB Rambus DRDRAM
Video Std VGA Cirrus Logic on board #9 Imagine ATI Mach 64 Matrox G400 S3-3500 ATI AIW 32MB
IDE Bus Add-in card Daughter Card On-board IDE ATA 33 On-board IDE ATA 33 On-board IDE ATA 33 On-board IDE ATA 66 On-board IDE ATA 66
SCSI Card No No No No No Yes
29160 USB No No Yes-early Yes Yes Yes Yes Sound Card Early SB-16 w/IDE Bus for CD-Rom drive Integrated into motherboard SB AWE-32 SB-16 SB AWE-64 Value SB AWE-64 Gold SB-Live Full Modem Supra 14.4 Integrated into motherboard USR 33.6 Supra 28.8 USR 56k v.90 Lucent 56k v.90 USR 56K v.90 Ext. Hard Drive West Dig 1.2G Quantum 1.2G Maxtor 3.2G West Dig 2.5G Maxtor 5.4G Maxtor 10.1G Maxtor 20.4G CD-Rom Creative Acer Panasonic Panasonic Panasonic Plextor
SCSI HP 9200i
SCSI Base OS Windows 95 First Edition Windows 95 First Edition Windows 95 First Edition Windows 95 OSR2b Windows 98 First Edition Windows 98SE Windows 98SE

The total number of computers tested were 21, 3 for each category listed above. The 7 computers shown above represent the actual base machines, with the difference, 14, being variants used to validate the testing.

486 DX/120 & Pentium 150

We had anticipated that installing the Millennium Edition on legacy 486 and early Pentium computers would be a problem given Microsoft’s announced minimum hardware requirements, and indeed it was. There were more than a few difficulties that we ran into that would easily stop an inexperienced user in their tracks.

Upgrade from first retail version of Windows ® 95:

We initially attempted to perform the upgrade on the 486 and the early Pentium computers, both of which had to be upgraded to 32MB of RAM. Both had the first retail version of Windows 95 installed. Although the upgrade initially started, it did eventually stall and then failed completely due to insufficient processor power that not even the increased amount of memory and disk space could adjust for. We had anticipated this, however, based upon the minimum system requirements of the Millennium Edition. We decided to return Windows 95 back to its original state, add another 16MB of RAM (total of 48MB), remove some programs and try again. This time, the upgrade went a little better, but 2 hours into the process it finally locked up hard. We came to the immediate conclusion that the combination of legacy hardware, insufficient processor power,  memory, lack of hard disk space and the total amount of existing software installed prevented what should have been at least a basic installation.

We were about ready to give up on these two computers, and then decided to give it one more try. Although you might ask why someone would want to install the Millennium Edition on old 486 or early Pentium computer in the first place, but keep in mind that there are allot of 486 DX/120 based computers still in use today, right along with the Pentium 150’s and 180’s. After stripping down the existing installation, and customizing the Windows ME installation by removing the media additions, we were finally able to load this operating system. We didn’t bother with an attempt to install the Millennium Edition on a freshly formatted hard drive in either machine as we felt it would serve no useful purpose.

In summary, we wouldn’t advise installing the new Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition on early 486 and Pentium computers unless you have a better than average understanding of how to enable a CD-Rom drive in DOS as well as having all of the drivers at hand for any early hardware components installed in the computer. It can be done, but at a substantial cost in time, and frankly there’s not much you can do with these machines after getting Windows ME loaded, as it demands so much CPU power that there’s little left for anything else. Too make matters worse, if the bios for the motherboard is pre-1998, in all probability the installation will fail, regardless of whether it is an upgrade or fresh installation.

Pentium II-266 with Intel TX Motherboard Chipset:

For the most part, both the upgrade from Windows 95 as well as an installation on a freshly formatted hard drive went without a hitch. We recommend that anyone trying to do a fresh installation first download a Windows 98 boot disk from our web site to enable use of their CD-Rom drive. Creating MS-DOS files and loading DOS CD-Rom drivers in order to enable access to your CD-Rom drive can be both time consuming and aggravating.

Upgrade from first retail version of Windows® 95:

Essentially the existing Windows 95 installation had no flaws and worked perfectly. The registry was clean as far as we could determine, even though it had been a test machine since the original release of Windows 95. All the settings were correct as were the drivers. This particular system came from the days when you had to manually load the motherboard’s (TX) driver sets as well as the USB hub drivers when they were finally released in order to take full advantage of the computers hardware capabilities. Everything was working perfectly! We decided that before attempting the upgrade to Windows ME we would use PowerQuest’s Drive Image Pro and create an image of the Windows installation so we could reverse the upgrade process in the event we needed to make an adjustment or do further testing.

After creating the image, we started the upgrade, and quite the opposite of our earlier experience, the upgrade went without a hitch. We went looking for problems, such as video, sound and modem issues, the normal targets of failed upgrades and installations, and much to our surprise, there were none. One nice feature about this new installer is that as it began examining the existing installation, it politely informed us that it could not start the actual upgrade as long as some of the programs that were running in the background continued to run. It requested a restart in order to shut them down and continue, and we agreed. This added procedure of stopping all background programs, especially anti-virus programs, will go a long way in preventing failed upgrades. After the reboot, the Windows installer proceeded through the entire process without so much as a hiccup, returning us yet again to a flawless desktop with everything working.

Okay, so the upgrade worked over an existing, relatively clean, installation of Windows 95 that had all the right drivers and files installed, but is that real world? We returned the original Windows 95 image to the drive in this machine and decided to make the upgrade a little more of a challenge this time.

To up the ante so to speak, we decided to install video drivers that were known to be incorrect, and in the middle of the install process, we shut the machine off. This gave us a failed installation of the wrong drivers for the video card. Now, to make things a little more difficult for Windows ME, we decided to make several changes to the existing Windows registry that we knew would produce errors. Along the way we made extensive notes of all the registry changes that we had made. When we restarted this computer, the results were obvious, as Windows immediately informed us that there were registry errors! After it settled down and we started clicking on the desktop icons, we began receiving general protection faults (GPF) because of the video drivers. Now things were getting interesting!

We decided to continue with this upgrade test in two ways. The first would be by trying to work around the problems on the impaired machine in order to get to a desktop and then start the upgrade. The second would be to use a Windows 98 Startup Boot Disk to start the installation from a DOS prompt. Before going any further, we decided to use Drive Image Pro and create a second image of the hard drive with all of its impairments to Windows 95, so that we could legitimately start over after the first test.

Upon putting the Millennium Edition CD-Rom into the drive, the upgrade process started without a problem. As had occurred earlier, the installer examined the present installation and then informed us that there were too many programs running and that it would need a restart in order to continue the upgrade. We agreed, and after the restart the upgrade proceeded normally. We sat in front of this machine anticipating that something was about to go wrong, given the fact we had intentionally made a mess of the Windows 95 registry and trashed the video drivers, but nothing happened! At the conclusion of the installation, we went through the entire machine and not only did everything work, it worked better than it ever had in Windows 95. As mentioned earlier, when we trashed the registry and the video drivers, we had made notes of all of the changes. We used these notes to examine the Windows ME registry to see what had transpired. Amazingly, the installer had rewritten the entire registry and corrected all of the problems we created along with some that we hadn’t noticed. The installer had removed and deleted all of the old video card drivers and installed new one’s! This alone deserves a solid “well done”.

In the next step, we reinstalled the impaired Windows 95 image on the drive, but this time we really trashed the registry to the point that we knew that Windows 95 would have no possibility of booting. We were correct, Windows 95 attempted to start, the band began to move on the screen and then locked up completely. Just for kicks we decided to boot the computer into safe mode and try the upgrade from there. Much to our surprise, the upgrade went smoothly again, with Windows ME correcting all of the problems we had created with the exception of some icons for programs that had been installed Windows 95. Since we had removed those registry keys, the installer had no place to start. This was easy enough to fix by just creating new shortcuts to the programs.

Clean installation on the Pentium II-266:

There really isn’t really too much to be said about a clean installation of Windows Millennium Edition on this machine, as once it began, it handled the installation perfectly. Not only did the installer handle and load the now ancient TX and USB drivers perfectly, it even installed the most current drivers for all of the other motherboard features. We had anticipated that the Creative Labs AWE 32 sound card might present a problem, as these cards have created allot of headaches when installed in certain machines, but no, the installation was perfect. Even the video drivers for our old #9 Imagine video card were right on the money! We do have one recommendation should you choose to use a Windows ME upgrade CD to perform an installation on a freshly formatted hard drive. You will need a startup boot floppy to enable access to your CD-Rom drive, and you will need your original Windows 95/98 installation disks or CD.

We upped the ante considerably during the rest of our tests!

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