How to Downgrade from Vista to XP

July 7, 2009 at 12:00 am Leave a comment


Downgrading a Vista PC to Windows XP can be a chore, and doubly so if you want to do it without reformatting your hard disk. The main roadblock is Windows Setup, which wont let you install an older version on top of a newer one; you are left with the tedious task of fooling Setup into thinking that theres no Windows at all on your PC Of the two approaches to downgrading Windows, the first is more convenient, as it doesnt require you to wipe your hard drive. You will need a genuine Windows XP installation CD; if all you have is a recovery disc, use the “Start from Scratch” process that follows.

Before you proceed, make sure you have several gigabytes of free space on your boot drive (usually C:). Take a moment to back up your entire hard drive; if you have Vista Business or Ultimate, you can do so with the Complete PC Backup and Restore tool, making it easy to get back into Windows should this process hit a snag.

Start by booting to your XP disc: Just insert the disc into your drive and turn on your PC, then press the spacebar when it says Press any key to boot from CD… If you dont see this message, youll have to enter your PCs BIOS setup screen and change the boot options so that your CD drive appears above your hard drive in the boot sequence list. Consult your PCs manual for details. (If you cant boot from your CD, you can download free XP Setup boot disk files by searching for Q310994 at

When XP Setup starts, press R on the first page to open the Recovery Console. If you are asked to choose a Windows installation, type a number (usually 1) and press Enter.

In some cases, you may be asked for the Administrator password at this point. If you dont know it, youll have to boot back into Windows Vista, open the Start menu, type lusrmgr.msc, and press Enter. Open the C:Users folder, double-click on the Administrator account, and turn off the Account is disabled option. Open the Start menu again, type Control userpasswords2 into the Search box, and press Enter. Next, click the Reset Password button, choose a new password, and start over.

Now. at the Recovery Console command prompt, type the following commands to prep your hard disk for XP:

ren windows winvista

When your PC restarts, boot onto your XP CD once again, and then proceed with setup normally.

When setup is finished, youll have to move everything manually. This includes your documents, the contents of your desktop, and any other personal data that youll need from Vistas now-defunct C:Users folder into XPs C:Documents and Settings folder. Youll also need to reinstall all your applications and device drivers, and eventually delete the abandoned C:Winvista folder

Without a true XP Setup disc, you wont have the luxury of the Recovery Console. Your other option is to use your PCs recovery disc, applicable, of course, only if your PC originally shipped with Windows XP.

Before you begin, youll need to back up any files you want to keep. Unfortunately, you cant use any of Vistas built-in backup software for this, because XP doesnt include any tools that can read Vista backups—understandable but a shame. Your best bet is to copy your data onto an external hard disk manually (via a USB or eSATA connection) so that you can easily get it back once XP is up and running. Make sure you back up the entire C:Users folder, which will catch your Documents directory, anything on your desktop, and application data such as stored e-mail.

Recovery procedures vary widely, so consult your PCs manual for details. Typically, the recovery software wipes the hard drive clean and then places a preinstalled copy of Windows onto the drive, complete with all the drivers and demo software that you got with your PC when it was new. When its done, hook up your backup drive and copy your files back into position


Entry filed under: Windows XP.

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