Exam Reviews

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 here). 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.
70-271: Supporting Users and Troubleshooting XP

Supporting Users and Troubleshooting a Microsoft Windows XP Operating System.

Reviewer's rating
"This exam is a great place to start your standing as a certified IT professional, particularly if your support work focuses on Windows XP. It's a tough but reasonable test of skills and knowledge."

Who Should Take It
Core exam for MCDST. Intended for those wishing to prove their support knowledge of Windows XP, including technicians who support corporate and home users.

Preparation Guide

2261: Supporting Users Running the Microsoft Windows XP Operating System (3 days)

2262: Supporting Users Running Applications on a Microsoft Windows XP Operating System (2 days)

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 here. Concentrate on the first seven chapters and chapter 31 (Internet Protocols (IP)).

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.

First Time?

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 exam.)

  • 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 areas:

  • Troubleshooting failed installations of XP done in both attended and unattended mode.
  • Performing post-installation configuration.
  • Answering users' questions regarding upgrade choices and paths to XP.
  • 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 the network.

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 | Filter.

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 here).

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 and driver.

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.

Hardware Matters
The next set of objectives is, "Configure and Troubleshoot Hardware Devices and Drivers." You can expect to find questions relating to:

  • Disk partitions
  • Display settings
  • ACPI
  • 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.
  • Logons.
  • 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

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!


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