Notes on Installing Windows XP on a Compaq F500 Series Laptop

The F500 and Vista

In May, 2007, I purchased a Compaq Presario F500 series laptop computer, or more specifically, a model F557US marketed by Circuit City. I paid $400 for the laptop after rebates. It is truly amazing what $400 will buy nowadays.

Of course, like virtually all new PCs sold then, the F550 came preloaded with Microsoft Vista, in this case, Vista Home Basic. Because Vista seems happier with lots of memory, I elected to add an additional 512 MB of memory, bringing the onboard memory up to an even 1 GB. (This machine has integrated graphics -- the videocard steals 64 MB of this memory, leaving about 950 MB for the OS.)

After playing with the laptop and Vista for several weeks (including a week spent at the beach where the laptop was used extensively by a number of folks) I found I was happy overall with the performance of the F500, but unimpressed and growing increasingly weary of Vista. Aside from its general slowness, the system exhibited the following problems:

Because of these shortcomings, I made the decision to attempt to "upgrade" the machine from Vista to Windows XP. Although doing so proved to be far from a trival undertaking, I found the eventual results quite satisfactory and worth the effort. Windows XP runs quite competently on the F500, yields superior battery life, and is both robust and snappy unlike its successor, and has no significant shortcomings that I could discern. What follows is a synopsis of the steps I went through to install Windows XP, and the results obtained.

Installing XP on the F500

Installing the initial Windows XP
The first hurdle, of course, is installing Windows XP itself. This is left as an exercise for the reader. However, a couple suggestions: First, strongly consider swapping out the hard drive before you undertake the task of loading XP, or at least make sure you carefully back up both the Vista Recovery and Active partitions using Norton Ghost or a similar program. The F500 has a SATA drive. It comes out easily, although there is a small metal caddy and special electrical connector that must be transferred to the new unit. (Actually, if you are careful, the caddy is not essential for workbench operations, but it is no doubt beneficial for heat dissipation as well as for holdingthe drive securely in its bay, so it should be reinstalled before the F500 is placed in normal use.)
Patching
After loading Windows XP, we next brought the system up to some semblence of the latest Microsoft patches using the prepackaged patches from www.autopatcher.com. This is not essential, but it is faster than letting Microsoft Update download and install all the requisite patches itself, and it also has the advantage that it can be done without placing the new machine on the internet. We downloaded the executables from the above site, burned them onto a CD, transferred them from there to the F500's hard drive (I've been told this is faster than trying to install the material directly from the CD), and finally invoked the patch programs in order to install the critical and recommended patches.
Getting Connected (via Wi-Fi)
At this point, we decided to make a consolidated effort to get the machine on the local LAN. To do this, one must either get the wired Nvidia ethernet or the built-in Broadcom Wi-Fi hardware working. As we had Wi-Fi, we elected to do the latter. Using the PCI ID for the Broadcom wireless LAN adapter**, we located a generic XP driver for the Broadcom, which we downloaded, put on a memory stick, and then installed on the laptop. This permitted us to get the Wi-Fi working well enough to connect to the internet.

** Start -> My Computer -> View System Information -> Hardware -> Device Manager -> Network adapters -> Broadcom WLAN -> Details. The PCI ID is comprised of the four digits following the first two underscores, in this case 14E4 4311.
Getting Connected (via the hardwired Ethernet connection)
Since we got the Wi-Fi card working during our conversion, we didn't attempt to perform this step until after we loaded the Nvidia video drivers. However, if you do not have access to a wireless network, it may be useful to do it now. We found the following driver on the Nvidia website. We simply pulled the driver down and ran its install script and the hardwired LAN port became functional. (We had hoped these drivers would also provide the software to make the audio start working, but alas, no joy.)
Next... Microsoft Update
Now that we are connected, we ran the official Microsoft Update. Interestingly, it found a more specific driver for the Broadcom Wi-Fi card, which caused it to work better.
Rounding Up the Usual Suspects
Next, we visited the Compaq website, looking for XP drivers for the various subsystems on the F500. We found and installed drivers for the Synaptics Touchpad, HP Quicklaunch, and the HP Wireless Assistant (which allows the Wi-Fi to be controlled from the front panel switch and which also controls the Wi-Fi LED). If you can't find these on the web, you can download the versions that worked for us here, here, and here.
Nvidia Video Drivers
Perhaps the most vexing problem we had was finding the Nvidia drivers for XP to allow the onboard video to be fully functional. This particular version of the F500 uses the Nvidia 6100 chipset, although I understand other versions have Nvidia 6150 hardware. Nvidia releases excellent generic drivers for their desktop videocards, but expects laptop manufacturers to provide their own specific drivers, based on the Nvidia Go software. Unfortunately, Compaq does not appear to offer the Nvidia XP drivers for this machine on their website, most likely because they never intended XP to be run on it. So, we resorted to using laptopvideo2go.com instead. This site serves as the repository of Nvidia software for laptops. We simply grabbed the latest set of Nvidia Go drivers for XP, and downloaded the site's expanded .inf file, which opens the installer up to recognize a wide range Nvidia hardware found on laptops. We then unpacked the software into a directory, copied the expanded .inf file over the official version, and ran the setup.exe in that directory. And, viola -- when we were done, we suddenly had Vista quality video, along with a better-than-Vista-quality feature set! If you want to use the exact version we used, you can download the ZIP file here and the expanded INF file here.
The Microsoft Universal Audio Driver
Up to this point, the only sound produced by the machine was the whir of the fan and the whine of the disk. However, we did have several hardware devices that Windows didn't recognize. After some research, we discovered a reference to the Microsoft Universal Audio Driver (or, you can download the version we used here. Installing this driver worked wonders: The unknown hardware suddenly morphed into the audio subsystem and the modem, and running Windows Update once again resulted in Windows finding the correct hardware and offering up drivers to accomodate both the Altec Lansing sound system and the Win-modem, and both started working.
Sempron Power Management
By now, the empirical evidence suggested we were already getting longer battery life on XP than we did under Vista. However, Vista proved capable of adjusting the speed of the mobile Sempron under changing processor loads so as to conserve power when the load permitted it, whereas under XP, the processor always ran at its full bore 1.8 GHz design maximum. Investigating this, we found we needed to load the Sempron power control driver, which turned out to be something not automatically offered up by Microsoft. For more information, see this page. Specifically, near the bottom:

Mobile AMD Sempron. Processor Driver for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 Version (x86 and x64 exe) 1.3.2.16 - Allows the system to automatically adjust the CPU speed, voltage and power combination that match the instantaneous user performance need. Download this Setup Installation program (EXE) to automatically update all the files necessary for installation. This package is recommended for users whom desire a graphical user interface for installation. This .EXE driver is a user friendly localized software installation of the driver designed for end-users. This driver supports Mobile AMD Sempron™ processors on Windows XP SP2, Windows 2003 SP1 x84 and x64 Editions.

To install the power control drivers, grab the amdcpusetup.exe file from this page and run it, or use this version which worked for us. One observation: it appears that with power control, the fan runs less frequently and the processor is allowed to get closer to its thermal maximums, probably a conscious decision designed to further reduce the processor's power budget.

Observations and Conclusions

As stated above, the F500 is now running Windows XP quite competently. It is stable and fast, and under XP has gobs of available memory. In short, we are quite satisfied with the results.

The only observed problem is that one device in the hardware device table remains unresolved and in the Unknown state. This is believed to be a SM Bus, which I understand is used by certain programs to identify the particular machine a piece of software is being run on. We've noted no problems associated with this bus/hardware not being activated under Windows XP.

As with any free advice, we make no warranties about its correctness or fitness of purpose for your application. We do not assume any responsibilities for any problems that may arise from attempting to follow these directions. We also have no idea if attempting this software downgrade will void your warranty with Compaq. We have tried to accurately represent what we did to install XP on our F500 laptop, and we can only state it works for us and we're quite satisfied with the results. Good luck and good hacking!


Valid HTML 4.01!
cboh webmaster