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Most often the OS that came with the system is usually optomized fot the hardware.
However if the notebook came with say Win 98, ME, or XP you should be able to upgrade to the latest XP SP-3.
I would be surprised if Vista would work on a machine that wasn't already equipped in running at least XP SP-2
Its true. the Bios or HDD driver wont allow you to install Win XP on it.. This BIOS is compatible with only Win Vista. The only easy way to do it is by creating 2 partitions while installing vista. once vista is installed- install XP with Dual boot and than format the vista partition.
I haven't heard of not being able to delete a partition before. You could go to the manufacturer of the hard drives website and find the software to do a low level format or you could download a linux distribution and use the installer to remove the ESIA partition.
I would need to know the model of hard drive and laptop if you need any further assistance.
you need to have internet connection first then go to the website http://www.windowsupdate.com and you need to update the operating system from that site. in the process of updating it there will be an option there to update it to service pack 2 already.. sometimes you need to update other things first in the same website before that option comes up.