Dangers Lurk Along Windows 64-Bit Upgrade Path

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-05-03

Dangers Lurk Along Windows 64-Bit Upgrade Path

Microsoft Corp. is encouraging PC owners to make the move to 64-bit software with a cut-price upgrade offer for its Windows XP Professional Edition x64 operating system, which came out last week. But theres a catch.

Those who take advantage of the $12 upgrade and move from the 32-bit version of Windows XP Professional that was factory-installed on their PCs to Windows XP Professional x64, risk voiding the factory warranty on their PCs, the software giant has warned.

The new OS, which allows Windows PCs that have shipped to consumers over the last two years with 64-bit processors to switch on their 64-bit capabilities, arrived with great fanfare at Microsofts WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) last week.

Bill Gates says the 64-bit transition will happen rapidly. Click here to read more.

Microsoft launched the cut-rate upgrade at the same time. But a disclaimer on Microsofts Window x64 Technology Advancement Program Web site cautions installing the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition upgrade will "void any support with your PC manufacturer."

Indeed, "most PC manufacturers will not support customers if they change their PCs in any way. Thats been a long-standing tradition, I think," said Josh Cooley, a Microsoft spokesman.

But the disclaimer appears to serve more as a warning to those who might not know that upgrading their OS or any other part could nullify their PCs warranties. Whether or not PCs warranties will be voided by the upgrade depends more on the policies set by its manufacturers, which might also need to provide specific 64-bit drivers to support the normal operating of the PC with the OS upgrade, than on Microsoft.

But the policies set by different manufacturers vary widely, highlighting the sometimes tricky-to-navigate gray area that exists where warranty service and support for a PCs hardware, covered by its manufacturer, ends and support for its operating system and other software begins. For its part, Microsoft will include one tech support call to help troubleshoot installation problems at no extra charge. It will, however, prevent customers from returning to their old 32-bit version of Windows XP Professional and assess fees for subsequent support calls, if needed, the companys site says.

Underscoring that its not really up to Microsoft whether or not a PC maker will continue to support its hardware after the OS update, Dell Inc. continues the hardware warranty on upgraded systems such as its Precision workstations, a company spokesperson said, provided its customers work with it to perform the upgrade.

Gateway Inc. is taking the opposite tact. The company, which does not have any current plans to offer Windows XP Professional x64 on its PCs, will void the warranty of any of its PCs that is upgraded to the new OS.

"Gateway is not currently supporting Windows XP Pro x64, so its true that installing a new OS would void the Gateway warranty," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail.

The company continues to evaluate its customers needs for the 64-bit version of Windows XP Professional, but most of its business and institutional customers intend to wait to for Longhorn, the next version of Windows due next year, before they make the jump to a 64-bit OS, she said in the e-mail.

Thus, its really best for customers to check with their PCs maker before they take Microsoft up on its offer.

Like Dell, "I think that for other PC manufacturers it will be [treated] on a case by case basis … it will be at their discretion on whether to support x64," Cooley said.

Next Page: More hoops to jump through.

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But even customers who get the go-ahead from their PC makers may still find that there are some hoops to jump through.

Dell, which is the worlds largest computer maker, will continue supporting hardware on upgraded workstations as well as certain servers only if customers abide by its Dell Technology Advancement Program, which allows customers to exchange a license for Windows XP Professional 32-bit editions for the equivalent Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. Dell charges $40 to cover shipping and handling of its upgrade. The upgrade applies to systems ordered between June 20, 2004, and June 30 of this year.

"The warranty is definitely still valid for customers who upgrade through the Dell Technology Advancement program," said Rachael Lyon, a Dell spokesperson.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is promoting the Windows XP Professional x64 upgrade on appropriate systems, including its personal workstations and its newest business desktop—the HP dx5150, which can be ordered with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Athlon 64 chip—using an online upgrade program thats similar to Dells.

"This [HP-sponsored upgrade] by no means voids any of our hardware-based warranties," said Jeff Wood, director of product marketing for personal workstations at HP. "In fact, were actively promoting the upgrades on our systems ... across both our Intel-based [workstation] products and our new AMD Opteron-based xw9300."

At WinHEC, Microsofts Bob Muglia offered attendees a look at the benefits of 64-bit computing. Click here to read more.

Others are still evaluating their stances on warranty support for PC owners who install 64-bit XP. HPs consumer PC group, for one, was still investigating the upgrade issue on Tuesday, a spokesperson said.

Microsofts Windows XP Professional x64 upgrade is available to PC owners who ordered their PCs with 32-bit Windows XP Professional factory-installed, starting on March 31, 2003. It will be available for machines ordered until July 31, Microsoft says on its Web site.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include information about HPs update policy.

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