Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Windows Vista comes preinstalled on most new computers these days. You can typically revert to Windows XP if you like, but not without a little pain.

I bought a Gateway Laptop for my daughter, who is going overseas to study and do some type of research through her university. The laptop came with Windows Vista which is totally unfamiliar to her. My daughter's desktop came with Windows XP Professional 4 years ago, and it's still going and she loves it.

Can I switch from Windows Vista to Windows XP Pro? Am I going to have problems with drivers, signatures, or certifications?

The most likely answer is that no, you shouldn't have any problems. But the real answer is more like "it depends".

Let's look at the process, and the things that success will depend on.

My first recommendation is actually to consider sticking with Windows Vista. 80% of the most common complaints with Vista can be removed by turning off user access control. That'll disable one of Vista's security features, but it'll be just as secure as XP was.

Other than that and some UI fluff and rearranging, Vista really is just an incremental change on top of XP. There's not really that much to learn for most common usage.

But I certainly get that one person's "not much to learn" can be someone else's "no way do I want to deal with all that".

"My first recommendation is actually to consider sticking with Windows Vista."

I would first contact your computer manufacturer and see if they offer Windows XP for your daughter's laptop. If they can provide it, then the chances of success are very high, since it'll naturally come with all the manufacturer specific drivers that you might need.

If that's not an option, then your next best alternative is to purchase a retail copy of Windows XP from any of the vendors still selling it (Amazon, for example). This will get you a working copy of Windows XP for the laptop.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that any manufacturer-specific drivers and software will not be included. So, for example, if Gateway includes Gateway-specific drivers for Gateway-specific hardware you won't have those. Chances are your hardware will still operate, but some of the non-standard features may not be enabled.

The good news here is that those drivers are typically still available from the manufacturer. You'll need to check with them when you discover what's missing. The bad news, of course, is that you have to go through this and do the research after you've installed Windows XP and find out what isn't working quite the way you expected.

But chances are good that the things missing might not be things you'd even notice. It all depends on your computer, and what you're used to doing with it.

Warning

Switching from Vista to XP is considered a downgrade. That means that the Windows XP setup program will see that you have a newer version of Windows already on your machine. As a result it will refuse to overwrite it.

There are two approaches, neither of them ideal:

  • If Windows XP Setup allows you to, install Windows XP "along side" Windows Vista. That is, Vista is not removed and XP is installed separately. You might even end up with dual-boot to allow you to choose at boot time which one you want.

    Unfortunately, you'll still have to reinstall all your applications. Applications that were installed on Vista, even though Vista remains, will not be "installed" and setup properly for your new Windows XP installation. Even worse, switching between XP and Vista, if you choose to do so, may get confusing as configuration changes will need to be made in both places.

  • My recommendation is that you instead backup, reformat and reinstall from scratch. This will remove everything from your system hard disk, including Vista, all applications and data. Then you can reinstall Windows XP cleanly from scratch, reinstall all your applications (which we saw we'd have to do anyway), and restore any data you might need from other disks or your backup.

Reverting from Vista to XP is no small task. By and large it should work, and work well, but depending on the support of your computer's vendor, there may be niggling little issues that remain after the "downgrade".

That's why my honest recommendation, particularly for a machine with Vista pre-installed, is to simply bite the bullet and give Vista a chance.

Article C3304 - February 28, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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12 Comments
kenny whyte
March 1, 2008 3:44 AM

I'd say the biggest complaint about Vista is not UAC, but speed.

Most of the laptops we see coming into my office have a gig or less of RAM. Vista on 512MB RAM is not good - my vista machine boots using 600MB, with Aero off!

Manufacturer's should be obliged to provide XP if they sell Vista on sub-spec machines.

don smith
March 1, 2008 4:46 AM

What is the easiest way to reformat the Hard drive?
I do not know how to re-format the C drive (where Vista is instaled) as that is the active partition.

Bob Radel
March 1, 2008 6:04 AM

Leo, You say bite the bullet on Vista. The ones that need to be biting the bullet is Microsoft. I certainly hope that the Vista project team has all been fired, and they are now working for Apple. I suspect this team was the same one that gave us 'ME'. Maybe they will fix everything in the next version OS. Until then, will keep XP running.

Pagangirl
March 1, 2008 7:08 AM

Before you do anything I would advise you to image your C: drive using something like Acronis True Image or Paragon Drive Backup; then as Leo suggests, format and reinstall OR setup a dual-boot. I'm unsure whether or not there are some hardware components that only have Vista drivers; if that it the case it'll cause big problems: If you have an image of the original installation you can just pop that back in if all else fails.

To format your C: drive you need to boot off the XP CD - for the information of the poster who asked.

Eli Coten
March 1, 2008 11:59 AM

I think Vista includes some sort of downgrade license. Which means that if you have a license for Vista, you can legally install XP (possibly using the same product key - check the license agreement carefully to be sure) as long as you remove Vista but do double check the license very carefully. Just because one edition allows this doesn't mean that every edition of Vista allows this.

Ponyroper
March 1, 2008 8:13 PM

Another suggestion that might work is something I did several years ago when XP came out and I didn't want to switch from 98SE because some of my software was too old to work on XP so I installed a second hard drive and a little item called Nick-Lock. Nick-Lock fit into a 3.5 bay and had wires that plugged into the jumpers on the two drives. A key in front of the bay could be turned to one side or the other and depending on which way the key was turned that hard drive became the C: drive and the other drive became the slave drive. I installed XP on one drive and 98SE on the other drive and could use both OS's whenever I wanted. By leaving the key in the middle setting it could be removed and the system would not boot up. I don't know why Nick-Lock didn't catch on more than it did but it was very handy for keeping an old OS available for use. It also gave one another slave drive to store files on. The stored files did not affect the other OS when it booted up. I thought it was the best of both worlds and will use it to keep my old XP OS when I eventually have to switch to Vista.

mark schneider
April 8, 2008 10:59 PM

I'm supporting several people who are running Vista. I've seen issues, especially early last year with video drivers. The drivers are getting much better, especially from Nvidia who was really slow at resolving issues. I found that Vista needs a decent dual core processor and the more ram the better. I recently upgraded my home desktop from 2GBs to 4. I know 32 bit Vista only sees 3.25GBs but the difference was surprising. It's $100 well spent. When I see these cheap AMD powered laptops with 1Gb of ram at Best Buy I cringe. To add to that they are loaded with trialware which doesn't help at all. There's no way people buying these will get a decent computing experience.
The first thing I do when preparing a Vista machine for someone is get rid of all the trialware and make sure it's running at least 2GBs of ram. I always encourage people to learn to run as a limited user and only disable UAC in the admin account, if at all. It's much easier than fixing an infected machine or doing a re-install.
Xp was fine in it's day but downgrading from Vista can be a hassle. Some of the new laptops with new generation video don't have XP drivers. Be careful before you buy XP you may not be able to downgrade successfully. Definitely verify that the drivers you need exists. And if you can't afford a reasonably powered machine, wait or get a refurbished machine off the manufacturers website.
I've had great luck over the years buying refurbished or returned machines, and you can find XP if you want it. You can dual boot a machine with Vista and XP, it's much easier if you start with XP though, if you add XP to machine with Vista pre-installed you will need a Vista install DVD to repair the boot manager to boot into Vista.

norma
April 12, 2008 12:11 AM

will microsoft ever fix vista so my microphone and webcam will work...I like talking to family/friends rather than typing and i like seeing them on cam..i have been waiting for 5 months now..if they dont fix it soon im going back to xp...I been reading your articals about maybe not getting all the rite drivers when switching from vista to xp so i went to the pc manufacture website and typed in the model number of this machine then went to driver downloads...when they asked which windows i was using i clicked xp and then saved all the xp drivers in a folder and burned them to a cd..will this work if i ever do have to wipe out vista

David Jacobs
October 25, 2008 9:09 PM

Let me make it very clear. I absolutely detest Vista. I bought two new units with Vista, one of which I have not turned on in two months, the other is just as sorry. My solution-- I have carried my old machine to get XP upgraded as much as possible. I went to your site to see if downgrading to XP is possible. At my skill level it isn't logical. I can only hope Microsoft doesn't help us any more by coming out with a "new, improved system" Second hope is my old XP keeps on working.

John Cyr
March 31, 2009 2:20 PM

I bought a new computer (Acer)with Vista on it and have been using XP. I have office XP Pro and VB 6 Pro I want to continue using. Can I install them on Vista and have them run O.K.?

I believe so, yes.
- Leo
01-Apr-2009

Donna
July 23, 2009 7:56 AM

I have an acer that came with windows vista.I have an work at home on line position that requires windows xp that vista does not have.How do I go about getting xp for my acer.

Peanut
April 20, 2010 8:19 PM

You said that reverting from XP to Vista would be no easy task. I'm simply wondering where I could get the technical support that would help me step by step in this, because in all actuality, I'm horrible with computers.

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