An very nasty gotcha exists with Windows XP backup. If the original backup is done from Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1a, it can only be restored into Windows XP with Service Pack 1a, not Windows XP original. If you are performing this procedure and you don't have an installation disk for Windows XP SP1a, then you must install the service pack after installing the original version of Windows XP.

The entire lengthy restore of an SP1 backup will work just fine from a fresh install of Windows XP original. It will fail only once the restore completes and computer restarted. What happens is that in the middle of Windows XP starting up, suddenly the hard drives click off and stop spinning, and the system reboots without any error or warning message. Subsequent reboots will face the same problem, possibly damaging the hard drives. This and the other problems with XP Backup and Restore are documented in obscure technical articles in the Microsoft Support center (328035, 298278, 314686, 818903).

Once the restore completes though, all your programs and settings are preserved. In some cases, some devices will no longer be recognized. This can be fixed from the Device Manager by clicking "Update Driver" and selecting "Automatically locate the driver." All the driver files will still be on the hard drive, so Windows should find all the files it needs. Also, Windows XP may ask for reactivation, which can be done with a simple phone call. Though time-consuming and difficult to get right, this procedure is much preferred to a complete reinstallation of all programs and settings.