70-271: Desktop Support Challenge
This exam tests your work with XP installations, gaining access to resources, hardware, the desktop and user environments and network protocols and services.
Exam 70-271 gives you the chance to prove your operating system support
knowledge of Windows XP. It is one of two tests you need to pass in order
to achieve your Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician credential
(the other being 70-272, reviewed
). Its questions focus on all aspects of supporting XP users
both in the corporate and home network in these key areas: installation,
managing and troubleshooting: resources, devices, drivers, desktop and
user environments, protocols and services. In this article, I help you
prepare by covering some of the objectives as listed in the exam preparation
guide that you'll find here: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/exams/70-271.asp
I took the exam in beta form. I received 85 questions and was given 205
minutes to complete them. The final version of the exam will probably
have only 50 to 60 questions and you'll have somewhere around 90 to 120
minutes to finish. You'll be able to move forward and backward through
the question set. Very often, a later question can help you answer an
earlier one for which you may not have been absolutely certain of your
answer. However, you should always choose an answer for each and every
question before moving forward since you may run out of time, and any
unanswered questions are scored incorrect. You can mark questions you're
unsure of and return using the back button or by using the review screen
at the end prior to scoring.
First Base for Study
My first recommendation for study material falls under the category of
basic networking. If you're relatively new to the world of computers and
networks, you'll need to have a firm grasp of the networking reference
model called the OSI model. In spite of its venerable age (it was drawn
up in the early '80s!), the Open System Interconnection model is known
and used by anyone who supports networked computers and devices such as
routers, switches and hubs. One of the best online resources I know of
to study and understand the OSI model and networking in general is the
"Internetworking Technology Handbook" by Cisco Systems (the
leader in networking technologies). You can get it free by clicking
. Concentrate on the first seven chapters and chapter 31 (Internet
Another resource I highly recommend is the book,
Microsoft Windows XP Professional Resource Kit Documentation,
from Microsoft Press. If you were to sit down, read and memorize this
volume's 1,700-plus pages, you'd be ready for the exam! However, it doesn't
exactly flow like a novel, so you might want to take it in pieces.
There are also many self-study guides — published by Microsoft Press,
Exam Cram, Sybex, Syngress, Osborne and others — for the XP Professional
exam, 70-270, that cover the same material you need to understand in order
to pass 70-271.
You can also take the courses listed in the box at your local training
center. You'll learn more about those at the Web page linked to each.
You might also consider starting your certification quest with CompTIA
exams such as A+ and Network+. These tests will introduce you to the support
role of XP, PC hardware, and basic networking.
Tip: The Microsoft exam writers love to create questions from the
resource kits and study guides published on the Microsoft Web site. Keep
this in mind as you decide what's worth reading during your studies. Here's
a great place to start: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itsolutions/howto/winxphow.mspx.
If this is your first IT exam or at least your first
Microsoft exam, there are some things you should know.
- The price for Microsoft exams in the US is $125.
- You're allowed to take any exam as many times as
needed to pass.
- You must pay the $125 for each and every attempt
at the exam.
- You'll receive an onscreen pass or fail indicator
at the completion of the exam.
- You'll also receive a printed score report upon
exiting the exam booth.
- You'll receive a certificate, wallet card, congratulations
letter and MCP number after requesting the certification
package from Microsoft's Web site. (Don't forget to
give a valid e-mail address when registering for your
- You can take any IT exam at any testing center sponsored
by Thomson Prometric or VUE.
- You can contact Prometric at 1-800-755-EXAM or www.2test.com.
- You can contact VUE at 1-888-837-8616 or www.vue.com.
The first set of skills you'll need to demonstrate for this exam falls
under the general heading, "Installing a Windows Desktop Operating
System." On the exam, you can expect to find questions in several
- Troubleshooting failed installations of XP done in both attended and
- Performing post-installation configuration.
- Answering users' questions regarding upgrade choices and paths to
- Verifying hardware and software compatibility.
- Migrating user state data from one PC to another.
There are three installation types available for the XP operating system:
clean install, upgrade over an existing Windows installation and a multiboot
installation. A clean install overwrites any existing files and partitions
and can be started by booting directly from the XP CD. The upgrade over
an existing Windows installation preserves any user files, installed applications
and partitions. A multiboot configured PC provides the user a choice upon
startup and allows operating system or application compatibility testing
in a lab or classroom. XP installed in a multiboot configuration should
always be installed on a separate disk partition.
Tip: You can upgrade to XP Home or Professional from Windows 98 first
and second edition, Windows Millennium, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation with
service pack 6, or Windows 2000 Professional. Upgrading from Windows 3.x
or 95 isn't supported. You can also upgrade XP Home to XP Professional.
There are three methods available for installing XP: standard or attended,
from a network share and unattended. During a standard installation, the
user or technician provides all answers to the setup prompts. Using the
network share type of installation, there's usually no need for a local
floppy disk drive or CDROM, and multiple systems can be installed at once.
During an unattended install, an answer file is prepared beforehand and
used to supply all the answers to the setup prompts. This method is often
chosen by original equipment manufacturers such as Dell or HP or users
and technicians who frequently install Windows on one or many PCs.
XP minimum hardware requirements include the following:
- 233MHz CPU
- 64MB RAM memory
- 1.5GB of disk space
- SVGA adaptor and monitor
Tip: The Microsoft Windows Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) is available
for viewing and download at http://www.microsoft.com/hcl.
It should be used to check compatibility of existing software and hardware
when choosing to upgrade to or install XP.
The Windows XP Upgrade Advisor (available at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/howtobuy/upgrading/advisor.asp)
will detect and report software and hardware compatibility before you
upgrade a machine to XP Professional.
Tip: Manual upgrade compatibility checks can be made prior to upgrading
to or installing XP by inserting the XP CDROM disc into the drive and
typing d:\i386\winnt32 -checkupgradeonly at
the command prompt where d: represents your actual CDROM drive letter.
A PC's BIOS code may need to updated prior to upgrading to or installing
XP. The best source of information and updates is the PC manufacturer's
Web site. While you're there, it's smart to check for updates for any
installed hardware such as video, network, modem, and CDROM and DVD drives.
Such devices require device drivers, a set of code for the operating system
to communicate with the hardware, which must be compatible with XP.
When performing a clean installation of XP, users and technicians need
to be familiar with disk types, partitions, volumes and file systems.
Here's a knowledge base article, titled, "HOW TO: Partition and Format
a Hard Disk in Windows XP," (click
here) that can give you some pointers regarding disk partitions
and formatting operations.
Tip: XP supports the FAT, FAT32, and NTFS file systems. FAT and FAT32
offer prior Windows version compatibility but only NTFS offers file system
security and encryption!
When configuring a PC to multiboot between XP and a previous version
of Windows, the XP boot.ini file on the system partition holds the key
to where Windows is installed on the PCs disk by partition.
Tip: Partitioning and formatting disks for an XP installation requires
knowledge of the FDISK and Format commands. For an interesting resource
that is admittedly slightly dated, I suggest you browse on over to http://www.fdisk.com.
Access to Resources
The next area of expertise you'll need to demonstrate for this exam falls
under the general heading, "Managing and Troubleshooting Access to
Resources." Be prepared to answer questions on these kinds of topics:
- Managing and troubleshooting access to files and folders.
- NTFS file permissions.
- Simple file sharing.
- File encryption.
- Local and network-based printing.
- Synchronization for offline files.
This is where you need to think like a network administrator! And a little
bit of administrator experience will go a long way.
There are three types of files and folders available with XP: local,
shared and offline. Local represents the data stored on the local PC's
hard disk. Shared folders are those that can be accessed from across the
network. Offline represents files and folders that have been cached to
the local disk of the previously accessed shared file and folders from
Tip: Offline files and folders are available only on XP Professional.
File name extensions such as .exe or .doc indicate the type of file and
very often which application can be used to open the file. You can change
the file name extension association using Windows Explorer, selecting
the Tools menu, then Folder Options, and finally the File Types tab. Make
sure you're familiar with this change process for the exam. But be careful
when you make changes as you can really cause problems for a user if all
the .doc documents open with Microsoft Paint!
Tip: XP Professional allows you to audit a user's access to files
and folders using the Event Viewer console | Security log | View menu
XP offers file compression. This saves disk space but can cause a slowdown
for the user when accessing a large file. File compression isn't intended
for already compressed files such as .zip, .pdf or mp3.
XP also offers disk quotas. These allow network administrators to define
a maximum amount of disk space a user can access when storing files locally
or on the network. File sizes are calculated uncompressed for the purpose
of disk quotas. This means a user can't compress all their files and circumvent
the imposed storage quota. To compress or encrypt a file (the file system
must be NTFS for encryption), using Windows Explorer, select the folder
and file Properties, and then on the General tab select Advanced. There
you'll see the options for compression and encryption.
Tip: Compressed files can't be encrypted.
NTFS file and folder permissions allow a user, technician or administrator
to control and manage access to a particular file and folder. NTFS permissions
apply locally when using the NT File System and remotely as well when
accessing files across the network. By right-clicking a file or folder
and selecting Security, you can view, change and manage NTFS permissions.
There are standard and extended NTFS permissions in XP Professional, which
apply to both user and group accounts (a collection of user accounts).
You probably won't see many detailed permission questions on this exam
— unlike on the typical MCSE-level exam — but you should be
familiar and comfortable with the different levels and rules that apply.
I recommend you spend some time reading and practicing the steps in this
Microsoft article, "HOW TO: Control NTFS Permissions Inheritance
in Windows" (click
Tip: A user who creates a file or folder on an NTFS drive becomes
the owner of that file or folder and has full access, including the ability
to view, modify and manage others' access to the file or folder.
Simple file sharing is a default option enabled in both XP Professional
and Home. It removes access to the Security tab for NTFS permissions and
offers the user a much simpler file and folder permission screen. To disable
simple file sharing, you can use the Tools menu in Windows Explorer and
select Folder Options | View tab — or use Appearance and Themes in
Control Panel and follow the same steps.
Tip: Effective permissions are the combination of user and group permissions.
If a user has read access and belongs to a group that has write access,
the user has read and write access!
Offline files allow a user to take a cached copy of networked-files away
from the network connection. Offline files can't be used with XP fast
user switching. When you reconnect to the network, XP automatically compares
the differences and merges any changes. A user, technician or administrator
can designate shared files and folders that can be cached for offline
use. As well, the local XP user must select the option to enable Offline
files using the Offline Files tab in the Folder Options of the Tools drop-down
menu in Windows Explorer.
Tip: Offline files may attempt to synchronize during scheduled times
even when the user is disconnected from the wired network by using dial-up
networking or a VPN.
Microsoft Windows uses specific terms when it comes to printing. The
print device is where the paper exits from; the print spooler is a temporary
location on the hard disk; the print queue is used to access and manage
the print spooler; the printer port can be locally connected or networked;
the printer driver, like most drivers, is the code interface between the
operating system and the hardware device; and the print job is what the
user submits by using the print button!
XP can print to a variety of print devices using several different connection
types or printer ports such as: LPT, USB, infrared and even TCP/IP.
A local printer is a print device connected to or managed by the local
PC. This is the most common installation in a home network but even this
is rapidly changing. Most users want to share their printer at home or
work with other users for a variety of reasons. A network-based printer
device is either directly attached to or managed by another PC. Connecting
to a network-based printer is sometimes even easier than setting-up and
connecting to a local print device. If both PCs are using XP, the print
driver is readily available from the print server (the PC connected directly
to or managing the print device), and installation can be seamless to
the user connecting to the shared printer.
Configuring an XP PC to connect to a TCP/IP-based network printer requires
only a few more steps when using the Add Printer wizard. Select Local
Printer but deselect the Detect my printer button. Click Next and create
a New port | Standard TCP/IP port. This brings up a new wizard that asks
you to type the IP address of the network printer and click Next. After
this wizard is complete, you're back to the Add Printer wizard, where
you specify the usual information such as printer manufacturer, model
Tip: Corrupt print drivers are a common problem when it comes to troubleshooting
printing issues. Always check for a newer driver from the print device
manufacturer's Web site.
The next set of objectives is, "Configure and Troubleshoot Hardware
Devices and Drivers." You can expect to find questions relating to:
- Disk partitions
- CDROM, CDRW, DVD and DVDRW
- Display settings
- General hardware I/O (Input/Output) configuration.
There are a number of things to know about PC hardware to be successful
as a certified technician! I mentioned earlier that you may want to explore
the CompTIA A+ certification prior to this one, and I'm sticking to it!
At the very least, you should read a copy of Scott Mueller's Upgrading
and Repairing PCs, the classic on the topic. I'd also recommend spending
some time at Tom's Hardware Guide.
Tip: Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) supports XP's
ability to use hibernate and standby, power-down disks and monitors. The
PC's BIOS must be updated in many cases to support ACPI!
The Desktop and User Environments
Next up is "Configuring and Troubleshooting the Desktop and User
Environments." This area of the exam tests your knowledge on:
- Task and toolbar settings.
- Accessibility options.
- Pointing devices and fast-user switching.
- Regional and language settings.
- Security policies.
- User and group account management.
- Analyzing system performance.
There's certainly a lot to learn here. Most of what's tested in this
area will be easily answered by those who have used XP for six months
or more. So what are you waiting for? Get a copy of XP and explore! There
are no evaluation versions of XP (in other words free) that I'm aware
of. Bite the bullet and buy the upgrade.
Use the following Windows XP Professional How-to resources to learn and
understand the objectives for this area of the exam: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itsolutions/howto/winxphow.mspx
Network Protocols and Services
The final area of review falls under the category, "Troubleshoot
Network Protocols and Services." Here you'll find all sorts of questions
relating to XP networking and networking in general! Remember to read
the Cisco document I referred you to earlier.
Tip: PING is a network connectivity testing tool used at the command
line in XP to test a connection to either a Fully Qualified Domain Name
(FQDN) such as www.microsoft.com or an IP address such as 22.214.171.124.
Understanding the OSI model is crucial to understanding how to troubleshoot
networks. Within the OSI model, there are all sorts of resolution types
that take place, such as: Service to host, FQDN to IP address, IP address
to MAC address and so on. When a user calls for XP help and says the Internet
is down, has the world really come to an end? No. It simply means the
person can't connect to the local Internet Service Provider and has some
type of general networking or resolution issue.
Tip: When an XP PC has been assigned the IP address 169.254.x.x, there's
either no Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server available
to the PC or the network cable is broken!
The OSI model layer Physical (which defines the cables, connectors, cards
and so on) is the weakest link in any network. Have you ever seen a user
who constantly rolls his or her chair over a wire only to discover later
it was the PC's network cable?!
A Last Reminder
Nothing beats hands-on experience when taking an exam. Divide your time
preparing for this test by reading, reviewing and practicing what you've
read. There are no real shortcuts to success. Good luck!