Working out the kinks

Are you ready to bite the bullet and install Windows 2000 (Win2K) beta 3? I believe software vendors release beta versions of their product so that you better appreciate the final release. Using beta software reminds me of the old joke about banging your head against a brick wall—it feels great when you stop. But in this column, I am happy to bang my head and share my experiences installing the beta versions of Win2K Professional (Win2K Pro) and Win2K Server.

The First Test Platform
I used two systems to test Win2K. My first test system was my trusty Micron Millennia TransPort notebook, which boasts only a 133MHz Pentium processor and maxes out at 48MB of RAM. The notebook is one of the first TransPorts that Micron made. Of course, a month after I bought the TransPort, Micron released a new version that supported 144MB, but my 3-year-old computer is still a workhorse. I won't trade it in for a while, at least until the dust settles on Win2K's support for power management, PC cards, and other features that interest mobile users. Also, I wanted to see how well Win2K runs on a relatively slow computer. My computer does not comply with the latest mobile specifications. In fact, the notebook's 133MHz processor is below Win2K Pro's recommended 166MHz minimum. I used the original 2GB IBM hard disk for testing. The PC Card slots hold a 3Com Megahertz 574 10/100Base-T network card and a Zoom 56Kbps modem.

The Second Test Platform
The second computer I used is a system I built. (I build my own computers so that I have more control over what goes into them.) I ran into problems when I tried to upgrade one of my 200MHz Pentium systems. These problems are worth mentioning because I suspect you will encounter them.

I tested Win2K Server on my custom-built system. The system's 64MB of RAM did not seem sufficient, so I upgraded to 128MB. I knew that the Tyan 1571 motherboard would cache only the first 64MB of RAM, but I figured I could live without caching on the extra memory. However, the manual failed to mention that if you add more than 64MB of RAM, you must disable the external cache for all the memory. I discovered this anomaly after some major crashes under Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 95. I decided that I didn't need external caching on the test system.

Memory pricing caused another problem. The system's 64MB of RAM comprised two 32MB SIMMs. I could have added two more SIMMs for about $150, which is about $2.50 per megabyte—not bad compared with what I used to pay. However, I later found that I could get a 128MB P100 DIMM for that price from Crucial Technology—just over $1 per megabyte. I made the purchase. But when I tried to install the DIMM, I discovered that the DIMM was about one-eighth of an inch taller than the SIMMs. The DIMM would not fit in the motherboard and clear the 3.5" drive cage. So before you start buying memory to upgrade your systems, check to make sure that what you are buying will fit. You can also reduce incompatibility problems by checking out the Win2K Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) before you begin your upgrade.

To accommodate the Win2K Server installation, I built the equivalent of a new system that used a BIOSTAR Pentium motherboard, a 233MHz Pentium MMX chip, and a 128MB DIMM. I like the design of the BIOSTAR, which is an ATX form factor motherboard. The memory does not interfere with the drive mounts, and the cables are easy to route. This system also has a Diamond Viper V550 video card, a 3Com 10/100 3C509B Fast Etherlink XL netword card, a SCSI CD-ROM drive, and an old Future Domain 1610 SCSI card, which should be fast enough to keep up with a CD-ROM. The hard disk is a Maxtor 8GB disk.

First Impressions
Win2K's installation begins with four 3.5" disks. Four disks are an increase from the 3 disks that NT 4.0 requires but a decrease from the 28 disks I had to feed my old 386 when I installed NT 3.1 in 1993. You might wonder why Win2K requires four disks, because by the time you get to the last disk, the system can read the CD-ROM drive. So why doesn't Microsoft place the CD-ROM drivers on the first disk, then launch the installation from the CD-ROM drive? I suppose a technical reason exists, but I prefer to boot from a DOS disk—with the DOS-based CD-ROM drivers—and start the installation from the CD-ROM.

Real NT administrators don't read README files. However, perusing the README files that show up on a beta CD-ROM is often entertaining. On the Win2K beta 3 CD-ROM, watch for the section titled "Upgrading from Windows NT 5.0."

Setup
The Setup program on the CD-ROM's root directory does not work under DOS. You need to run Setup under Windows. However, most people— including Microsoft representatives— recommend a clean installation, not an upgrade. (I agree with this recommendation, unless you have already installed NT on a multiprocessor system. Win2K Server supports two processors, unless you upgrade from a 4-way SMTP NT 4.0 installation. In that case, Win2K will support the four processors.) So I switched to the i386 directory and looked for the winnt.exe file. Sure enough, there it was. Not wishing to generate more 3.5" disks, I tried typing

winnt/b

which the system did not recognize. (NT's installation requires the /b parameter; otherwise, NT creates copies of the installation disks. Apparently, Win2K does not follow that pattern.) So I typed

winnt

which seemed to work—the command copied numerous files from my CD-ROM, then suggested that I reboot. Then, the setup continued.

The few choices that Win2K Pro installation offered me were personal options such as time and date formats. After the file-copy phase, I found that I could install Win2K on my C or D drives; in fact, 320MB of installation files already occupied the C drive. (Be thankful that hard disks are cheaper now than they have ever been.) Then, the installation process copied files to installation folders, making me wonder what the 320MB of installation files were— preinstallation folders?

The installation took about 10 minutes to identify my system devices. This wait was a little scary; the computer just sat there identifying devices such as the keyboard and mouse—although considering the amount of hard disk activity, a more comprehensive search must have occurred.

Windows 2000 Pro
After the final reboot, Win2K Pro was up and running. The OS did not find the drivers for the 3Com 574 network card, but it identified the card. I opened the Control Panel Add/Remove Hardware applet and stepped through the troubleshooting process.

In moments, Win2K found the drivers, loaded them, and started the network card. However, one of the questions the installation process failed to ask me was whether I was using DHCP—it assumed I was, although I was not. So I manually assigned an IP address and could see my network.

I was pleased that the PC Card software appeared to be working and had recognized my modem. And I had sound. In NT 4.0, I had to buy a third-party package to configure the modem and sound card to work simultaneously. A few minutes after the installation completed, I could dial out and check Microsoft Outlook Express email. That quick capability is impressive, especially considering that the interface has changed considerably and nothing is where you expect it to be.

Subjectively, I would not say that Win2K Pro was fast on the notebook, but neither was it painfully slow. Of course, when I start loading the system with applications, the memory limitation will be a major factor. Windows Task Manager, which Screen 1 shows, reports that Win2K Pro takes up most of the 48MB of memory. Screen 2 shows the memory allocation breakdown.

Windows 2000 Server
The Win2K Server installation asked me more questions than the Win2K Pro installation asked me. I instructed the system to load almost all the options, and it loaded several that I had not anticipated. For example, the installation told me that I could not remove NWLink because it had loaded Gateway Services for NetWare. When I tried to remove Gateway Services, I discovered that it's part of the migration software, so I left it. This installation detected my network card and asked about DHCP, so I could connect to the network.

I had one problem that could have been a showstopper. When the system rebooted after the installation process, the Starting Up message appeared, then the screen went black. After 2 or 3 minutes, a blue screen appeared, along with an error message that told me The Windows Logon Process was interrupted. The system rebooted.

Although this problem appeared to be related to logon, I suspected that video might be the cause. Win2K's boot process does not include NT 4.0's VGA Mode option, but you can press F8 to see a list of boot options. I tried the VGA Mode option and could boot and log on. When I changed the video settings to SVGA, the problem recurred.

I checked the newsgroups on msnews.microsoft.com for an answer to my video problem. I found messages about the Viper V550 in the win2000 .beta.hardware.video_card group. One of the messages gave me the information I needed: In the system BIOS, I had turned off the option to assign an interrupt to the VGA card. I always turn this option off in NT 4.0 and Win98 because interrupts are in short supply and I do not like to assign one if I do not need to. The Intel Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) video card needs that interrupt. I changed the BIOS setting, and my problem disappeared. I was able to configure the video with the settings I prefer.

Although you might not run into the same problem, I suggest you frequent newsgroups. They are a great source of information—possibly too much information. Searching for answers to your specific problem can be tricky. But you'll find newsgroups well worth your time.

Memory Hogs
I thought 128MB of RAM would be enough memory to test Win2K Server. But as you can see in Screen 3, Task Manager shows that the OS uses almost all 128MB. Screen 4 shows a list of services and how much memory each is using—and Task Manager reported these results with no desktop applications running, only the services that start up with Win2K. No matter how much memory I put in my computers, Windows seems determined to use it up. However, I recommend a minimum of 64MB for Win2K Pro (128MB if possible) and a minimum of 256MB for Win2K Server.

Judging the Beta Behemoth
My Win2K installations were fairly smooth. The Win2K Pro notebook installation proceeded better than I expected, and the Win2K Server installation proved only somewhat rougher, presenting problems with video and a misleading error message. However, because I tested a beta product, I am hopeful that Microsoft will work out some of these kinks in the final release.