Planning a Windows Installation – CompTIA A+ 220-802: 1.2

| February 25, 2013


Upgrading Windows requires that you consider a number of different options. In this video, you’ll learn about different installation types, disk partitioning options, file systems, and other Windows installation options.
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Review Quiz: Planning a Windows Installation

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There are a number of different ways to install the Windows operating system. One is with the in-place upgrade where you simply start the installation inside of your existing operating system. It recognizes that an OS already exists, and it upgrades to the newest version of this operating system and makes sure that it keeps all of your applications in place, and all of your files exactly the way they are.

This is compared, of course, to a clean install, where you’re booting with the installation media, and you’re wiping everything off of that computer. If you’re performing a clean install, you’ll obviously want to back up everything that’s on that computer, and Microsoft makes some really useful migration programs that will take all of your personal settings, all of your documents, and everything that’s specific to your installation, and it will move it to a different drive so that after you perform the clean install, you can move everything back and have the operating system environment very similar to what it was prior to the installation of the new version.

In large organizations where you have a lot of computers that are absolutely identical, you will have the IT folks make a clone of the Windows operating system. They’ll take an already-built version of Windows, and simply make a sector by sector copy of everything that’s on that computer.

And if they need another machine deployed, they simply clone that particular image to another computer. And when they start it up, it has exactly the same Windows information as the old system. So they don’t have to step through that installation program every single time they want to bring up a new computer on the network.

Large organizations that aren’t using images might use something like an unattended installation. If you go through a normal Windows installation, there are a lot of prompts. It wants to know what time zone you’re in. You have to put in your license key information. You have to answer questions about where you’re going to store information on the operating system to what storage device.

And instead of going through those prompts, you can create a file called unattend.xml that will go through this process. And the unattend file already has the answers to all of these questions.

So you simply put the installation media in the computer. That Installation media already has the XML file on it that you’ve customized. You turn on your computer, and you walk away. And when you come back, Windows has already installed itself without you needing to do any type of human intervention.

If you’re installing Windows on your computer, it’s very common to get installation media that’s on a DVD-ROM or CD-ROM. And of course, the computer you’re installing this to has to have a DVD-ROM reader on it somewhere, or else obviously you can’t install using that media.

That’s why some folks will use a USB drive instead of a CD or a DVD to install the operating system. You create a bootable version of a USB, and this will have the operating system. It also allows you to update the information on that USB. If you’re installing on a lot of different computers over time, you may want to update the operating system as you go along.

Obviously, the machine that you’re using has to support in the BIOS the capability to boot from a USB drive. Not all systems will allow this, so you have to check with your configuration on your computer and make sure that it can boot from a USB flash drive.

In some environments, you don’t need any type of physical media at all. You can put all of the configurations of your Windows installation, all of your automated installation files, and any customizations on a network drive. And your computer has a capability inside of it called a Preboot Execution Environment.

This is an environment that gets your system up and running enough to get onto the network and automatically access where this installation may be located. So instead of having physical media on our local machine, the physical media can be referenced across the network.

That way, you can bring up an entire room full of computers with no media. They can simply access that centralized server to do all of the installation processes.

You may run into a situation where the Windows operating system files themselves have been damaged or corrupted. Maybe it was a bad section of the hard drive, maybe you had a virus outbreak, or something else that caused a problem.

When you start up your Windows installation, there are a number of options to perform a repair installation where you effectively install Windows again. But the only thing that you’re installing are just the Windows operating system files. You aren’t making any changes to configurations, you’re not modifying anything else that may be on the hard drive. You’re simply repairing all of the operating system files on that version of Windows.

Sometimes, you’d like to install a new version of an operating system, but you’d like to keep the old one there just in case. And certainly, you can support a multiboot configuration, or a dual boot configuration, where you have not only one operating system on one part of the hard drive, but a completely separate operating system on another part of the hard drive, or even on a different partition somewhere else.

And when your system starts up, it gives you the option– would you like to start the old operating system or the new operating system? And you can simply restart your computer any time you’d like to move between one operating system and the other.

One of the first things you’re asked when you’re installing a new version of the operating system is which partition you would like to install it. And if your computer hard drive or storage device has no partitions on it, then the operating system installation will ask you to create a partition. You have to have a partition in place if you plan on putting any data on that particular computer.

You may already have a partition there, maybe from a different operating system for instance. And if you’re installing this new operating system, and the partition is incompatible, then you either need to create a new partition from available space on that storage device, or you’ll need to remove the existing partition so that you can create and install the data on a brand new partition.

Most of the computers that you’ll run into these days will be running something called a Master Boot Record Partition Table. That Master Boot Record style hard drive, or MBR-style hard drive, can support up to four partitions on a single physical disk. If you’re running a newer style called the GUID partition tables style– that stands for Globally Unique Identifier– that GUID partition table can support up to 128 partitions on a single physical disk.

You want to be very careful when you get to this part of the Windows installation, because changing around partitions has the capability for losing all of the data that might be on your computer. If you are creating new partitions, you’re removing old partitions, you want to be very careful that you’re not disturbing any of the existing data.

Because once you remove a partition, all of the data that was inside of that partition is absolutely gone. And that’s why I always recommend prior to doing such a big installation, such a major change to the operating system, that you always, always, always have a backup.

In many cases though, you’ll find that the entire operating system, the user files, and everything else is simply put on a single partition. And you’ll see everything, for instance, on the C drive. On other people’s computers where they’re separating it out, they might have a C drive, a D drive, and an E drive. It’s really up to how that user likes to work. But in most places, you usually find that everybody puts everything on one big partition.

One place where you do commonly see multiple partitions on a single physical drive are when you’re installing multiple operating systems. You might be running Windows 7, Windows XP, a version of Linux. You can have multiple operating systems on the same physical disk. And when you start up your computer, you can decide which one of those you’d like to run today.

In those situations, it makes a lot of sense to keep the operating systems within their own partitions. That way, if you wanted to change or remove an entire operating system, you simply move or delete that entire partition.

As you start working a lot in the Windows operating system, you see a lot of references to volumes. A volume in the Microsoft world is a partition that you have formatted with a file system. So don’t be thrown that you’re not seeing the word “partition,” because Microsoft likes to use the word “volume” to refer to a partition that is ready to have data stored on it.

As you start building partitions onto these hard drives, you may be prompted as to the type of partition that you would like to create. You can choose between a primary partition and an extended partition. A primary partition is one that you can boot from.

So if you are installing operating systems that you would like to perform that multiboot capability, they will need to be installed onto a primary partition. There can be up to four separate primary partitions per Master Boot Record hard drive. One of these primary partitions can be set as the active partition. That will be the one that launches automatically whenever you power on your computer.

This can sometimes also have a boot loader on it that will give you a list of all of the operating systems that you have installed into these primary partitions. And then, you can choose from that list which one of those operating systems you’d like to start.

If you wanted to have more than four partitions per disk, you can add one extended partition to a physical drive. And inside of this extended partition, you can have as many partitions as you’d like inside of that. This would allow you to have many, many different partitions on this physical disk. And you don’t fall into that restriction of only four partitions per drive.

But of course, an extended partition doesn’t have the flexibility of a primary partition. We can boot from a primary partition, but we cannot boot from any of the logical partitions that might be within this extended partition.

Here’s an example of what a primary partition and an extended partition might look like on a single drive. Let’s look down at this Disk 1. This is inside of my disk management program that’s inside of Windows 7. And I can see all of the different partitions that I have on this drive.

In fact, there’s one, two, three, four, five separate partitions. Now, we know that there can only be four primary partitions per disk. So we must be doing something with the extended partitions. And you can see at the bottom what these different colors are.

These dark blue colors are associated with the primary partitions. So this is a primary partition called E colon, primary partition F colon, primary partition G. And because I wanted more than one partition additional on this, I wanted more than four, I wanted to add an additional extended partition on this disk.

And inside of the extended partition, I created logical drives within those as well. One of those has been formatted and given a drive letter. One of those has been formatted and I haven’t even assigned a drive letter to that disk yet.

And then, I’ve got some more free space down here at the end that I could split up into other partitions as well. So by using both primary partitions and extended partitions, I could start to arrange exactly how I want to store information on my hard drive.

Microsoft takes this idea of partitions and disks, and takes it one step further. Microsoft has also created a type of disc called a basic disk, and another type called a dynamic disk. A basic disk is one that either has DOS or Windows installed on it. You can have primary partitions and extended partitions on it with logical drives inside of that extended partition.

What you cannot do in Windows is take data and span it across multiple partitions using these basic disks. If you wanted to, for instance, increase the size of a basic disk volume, the only way you could do that would be to remove the data, create a new larger partition, and put the data back. You could not add a new drive and simply span data from that basic partition all the way across to this new drive this you’ve installed.

That capability is one that’s available in dynamic disks. And you can see here, Windows 2000, XP, 2003 Server, 2008 Server, Vista Enterprise and Ultimate, Vista Business, Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 7 Professional, and Windows 7 Ultimate are the operating systems that can support a dynamic disk.

You can do things like put multiple drives inside of a computer and span across them to make it look like one big volume. You can also split data across physical disks. This is called striping. Or if you wanted to duplicate data across multiple disks, which is of course drive mirroring, you would need dynamic disks to enable that functionality within Microsoft Windows.

Just keep in mind that not all versions of Windows support all of those features. But if you wanted to perform any of them in the operating system where it was supported, it would have to be done on a dynamic disk.

Once you create a partition, you then must format that partition with a file system so that you can then store files on that particular drive. The file system is something that has to be created before anything can be written to the drive. You just can’t partition and then store data. There has to be a standard file format that is also formatted into that partition.

Operating systems have to be written to understand the file system that you plan to use. If you’re using something like Microsoft Windows, and you’re using Linux, you might want to choose a file system that is common to both of those. Things like FAT or FAT32 are file systems that both of those operating systems understand.

Some operating systems can read and write multiple file system types. For instance, you may have Windows able to read and write from FAT, FAT32, and NTFS. Other operating systems may be able to read from an NTFS volume, but not write information into NTFS. So before you choose the file system for your operating system, keep all of those things in mind. You may need to interoperate between different operating systems on that same computer.

One of the very first file system types on PCs was the File Allocation Table, the FAT file system type. This file system type has been updated through the years. And the one we commonly hear about is one called FAT32.

This was something that was native to Windows 2000 and all later Windows versions. You can even find it very large volume sizes with FAT32. This allowed you to have two terabyte volume sizes, and you could have files that maxed out at about four gigabytes in size.

Since Windows NT, Microsoft has allowed us to use the NTFS file system type for our drives. These have amazing improvements in there compared to the FAT32 days. We can do things like compress files as part of the file system, encrypt files as part of the file system itself. You don’t need third party software. It’s just built into the functionality of the file system and how it interoperates with the operating system itself.

There’s additional security and recoverability features, and extensive amount of improvements when you talk about using the NTFS file system. There are many different versions of the NTFS file system. It started off as version 1.0 once upon a time. And then, they’ve improved and added to that standard throughout the years.

With all the talk of interoperability between file systems, one type of media you’ll notice is very common and works on almost any operating system. And that’s your compact disc, or your DVD ROMs that you use. Those can be put into a Unix system, a Linux system, a Macintosh system, a Microsoft Windows system.

And all of those systems can read those disks without any problem at all. That’s because it’s a standardized format called the CDFS, the Compact Disk File System. And it’s an ISO standard number 9660. This is a standard that everybody is using. And it makes it very simple if you wanted to write information to a CD. You can be assured that that CD will work in all of those different operating systems.

When you’re installing Windows XP, one of the options you get when you’re formatting the disk with your file system is, you can do a quick format, or you can do a full format. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, you don’t get this option. You actually have to go to the command line and go into the disk part program and tell Windows what type of formatting you’d like to do. Otherwise it simply does a quick format.

The quick format is one that wipes data from the drive, it’s formatted with the file system that you specified, and it happens very, very quickly. That’s because it doesn’t go through the drive and check for any bad sectors.

A full format is one that, of course, is putting the new file system on. So it’s wiping data and is putting that file system in place. But then, it goes sector by sector through the entire storage device to check all of the sectors and make sure that the entire storage device is ready to have data written to it.

This is obviously a good idea if you’re planning to put an operating system and start storing files and you’re concerned there may be sectors that aren’t good on that drive– running a test is a good idea. But it does take time, and the larger drives take a longer amount of time. So if you’re planning on doing formatting, and you’re planning to do a full format on that drive, make sure you allocate enough time to have it run through its entire test of every sector.

Another consideration to keep in mind when you’re installing an operating system is, you may have some disk controllers inside of your computer that don’t have drivers built into the installation program. So the installation program can’t access that drive. There are options when you’re starting up the install programs to install a third party driver. And so it’s important to have that available so that you can access the disks that are inside of your system.

In the networking part of the operating system installation, it usually asks if you would like this machine to be part of a domain, or if it will be part of a work group. In the Windows world, this means that will either be in a domain, which is an Active Directory domain at a business. But if you’re just running things at home, you’ll simply have your computer become part of your local workgroup.

Another interacter prompt you’ll get is to make sure that the time is set correctly, that you’re in the right time zone, that the settings are proper for the country you happen to be a part of. If this is something you’re doing at your house, you probably have the answers for all of that. But if you’re at a work, and this machine happens to be going to a different office, you may want to double check before installing that you know exactly the way it should be configured for that particular location.

And of course, a normal Windows configuration needs extra drivers loaded. You need to make sure you get all of the latest Windows updates on that device, make sure you get the latest video drivers installed so that machine is updated with all of the most recent drivers and all of the latest security patches.

And one extra step that might help you later is to either make sure that the operating system has created a recovery partition when it installed the OS, or you may want to build one yourself. Especially if this machine is going to be used in a production environment, or if it’s going to be going to remote site, you may want to give the user of that computer an option to reset everything back to the very first factory default state that you’ve created by building out a special recovery partition in that Windows environment.

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Category: CompTIA A+ 220-802

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