A Stable and Performant Windows XP Pro Laptop or Desktop

Malcolm Carlock / http://malcolm.carlock.com

Update - Upgrading XP to Windows 7
Update - Why I switched to Ubuntu for my laptop
At Work - Still using Vista
Windows Tips, Tricks and Useful Software


I have had three personal Windows XP Pro machines since 2002, one desktop and two laptops.

I have never once had to rebuild Windows on any of them, despite frequent and heavy use.  One of them is used by my teenage son.  They have almost never crashed or bluescreened (I can count the number of times on my fingers).

I believe the two key reasons they have been stable are:

I think it has also helped that:
  • I have rarely installed any games on these PCs.  For games, there has usually been a "sacrificial" PC (less stable long-term but with various speed modifications) on which the kids have not minded reinstalling Windows from time to time.
  • I don't do any hardcore software development on my Windows machines, reserving that for Solaris and Linux.  I use my Windows machines as network clients to the software I am developing and running on separate servers (usually Solaris, Linux or other Unix).
  • I don't run server software on my Windows desktop or laptop machines.  I run such software on Unix or Windows servers, and connect over the network.
  • I installed XP Pro and not XP Home Edition.  XP Pro permits more flexibility in security configuration and in overall control.
The desktop was a handbuilt box with parts obtained from CCL Computers and Newegg (converted to a Linux server a few years ago, for reasons unrelated to XP stability); the laptop has been an IBM Thinkpad T42.  Several years ago, I built XP Pro on a VAIO laptop for my son, based on the principles mentioned here.  At the time, he was 11 years old.  That laptop never had to have XP rebuilt on it either.  We finally converted it successfully to Windows 7, which (finally!) follows the nonadmin principle by default.

I have also performed regular backups, for the past few years using Cygwin rsync for automated backups to a Linux server.

For more general thoughts on keeping Windows PCs (and therefore, just possibly, one's self) happy and stable, click here.

Update - Upgrading from XP to Windows 7

Last year I updated my son's Vaio laptop from XP Pro to Windows 7.  It was a completely smooth upgrade. 

After backing up all files to a removable disk, I used the "Clean Reinstall" option from the Windows 7 upgrade CDs.  Supposedly, this removes all of your old user files, but in fact, the upgrade leaves them in an obviously-named folder on the disk, whence they can be retrieved after the upgrade.  I'd still recommend the prior backup, however.

The "nonadmin" and other principles above have been observed in the new Windows 7 setup.

Update - Why I switched to Ubuntu for my laptop

In 2009, I converted my T42 laptop from XP to Ubuntu, and have never looked back.  The reason was NOT because of any inherent deficiency in XP, which was still running with no issues.  You can read about my Ubuntu setup here.

The reason I finally turned my back on Microsoft for my personal laptop needs was their asinine management of the IE8 upgrade (a continuation of asinine approaches I've seen from them for the past 20 years), and their backward ideas on software architecture and overall priorities, which destroyed my perfectly-functional XP installation for no good reason.

Memo to Microsoft:  A browser such as IE8 is a user-level program, not something that should have any impact at the OS/system level.  And if you've determined that IE8 has crashing problems if my particular Intel wireless driver is installed, then the solution is to FIX YOUR SILLY BROKEN BROWSER, and NOT TO DISABLE MY WIRELESS DRIVER!

Sheesh.  If someone had appendicitis, I guess Microsoft would remove their intestine and leave the appendix in there.

Worse, their act of disabling the wireless driver also damaged the Windows authentication stack, so that after a few days I could no longer even log into the laptop.  It turns out that this was a known problem.

Having had enough of Microsoft's lousy attitude toward its customers, and a software upgrade that was either designed by morons or meant to force me to Windows 7 by deliberately breaking my XP, I finally went to Ubuntu for this laptop.  It boots faster, runs all my Windows software (under Crossover), and I don't need to run a darn antivirus.  For the most part, I like using it more than I did XP.

Sorry Microsoft.  I tried to be nice.  Enough is enough

At Work - Still on Vista

At work, I still use Windows on the desktop - Vista in this case.  In order to get decent performance out of it, an ungodly amount of CPU power is required, and compared to XP or Windows 7 it is ridculously klunky in some ways, most notably in how it handles "waiting" applications at logout/shutdown time, and noticeably slow in others.

I did insist on the nonadmin model for my desktop Vista machine, having local admin rights only on a second, lesser XP machine I use for development.  As with my home Windows machines, it's been quite stable.  I still follow the practices above, which include developing and running software only on separate server-class machines, mostly Unix, to which I connect remotely.