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:
- The F500's wi-fi would sometimes be unable to reconnect with an access
point after it had been hibernated, and even a reboot would not rectify this.
The only consistent way I found to get reconnected when this happened
was to reboot the router -- or more specifically, restart its DHCP server --
or to force another computer on the LAN to have the same IP address,
causing Vista to renegotiate its IP. (This problem was observed both on my
home network, and on a different brand router at the beach house.)
- With multiple user accounts being used regularly, I found Vista would
eventually hang when logging off of one in order to get onto
another. This required a hard powerdown and reboot to correct.
- Some programs (e.g., Rosetta Stone) would not install, or Vista
had to be tricked into installing them.
- Other programs (my access point's control program) did not work
properly once installed.
- Some optional software packages offered by Microsoft Update (e.g., a new
set of Nvidia drivers) did not install successfully, but instead ground the
machine to a halt during the install, necessitating a hard powerdown and reboot.
(Luckily, there were no apparent adverse affects after the reboot, and a
subsequent attempt to install these drivers proved successful.)
- In general, video players (DivX, VLC) had problems, some of which were
resolvable through arcane work-arounds found by tediously searching the
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.)
- After loading Windows XP, we next brought the system up to some
semblence of the latest Microsoft patches using the prepackaged patches
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
- 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
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
looking for XP drivers for the various subsystems on the F500.
We found and installed drivers for
the Synaptics Touchpad,
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
- 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
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
and the expanded INF file
- 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
Specifically, near the bottom:
To install the power control drivers, grab the amdcpusetup.exe file from
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.
Mobile AMD Sempron. Processor Driver for Windows XP and Windows
Server 2003 Version (x86 and x64 exe) 184.108.40.206 - 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.
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!