Page 1 902 Windows Operating Systems Study Guide for the CompTIA® A+ exam

How to Prepare for the Windows Operating Systems Questions on the CompTIA A+ 902 Test

General Information

About 29% of the questions on the CompTIA A+ 902 certification test concern Windows Operating Systems. Of these Windows questions, about 70% ask you to make a decision based on a given situation or scenario.

While we cannot be your only source for test preparation, this study guide will give you an idea of what you have to know if you want to do well on this portion of the test. You should also consult other sources to round out your study program. Be aware that test producers continually revise and totally revamp the test content about every 3 years. This study guide contains the latest information that is available.

Features and Requirements


Be sure you can describe any new features that have been introduced with each new operating system since Vista. Pay close attention to security features; for example, Windows Defender on Vista and the anti-malware protection provided on Windows 7. Windows Defender on Windows 8 and 8.1 provides not only anti-malware, but anti-virus as well. If users want anti-virus and anti-malware for Vista or Windows 7, they would use Windows Security Defender, which when installed disables Windows Defender. Be sure you understand why it is important to maintain current updates and patches on Windows systems. Knowledge on Windows 10 features is not included on the 902 certification exam.

Memory Requirements

All versions of Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 and 8.1 support a maximum of 4GB of RAM on a 32-bit platform, excluding Windows 7 Starter edition, which supports a maximum of 2GB of RAM. All versions of Vista support a maximum of 128GB of RAM on a 64-bit platform, except Home Premium, which only supports 16GB of RAM on a 64-bit platform. All versions of Windows 7 support a maximum of 192GB of RAM on a 64-bit platform, except Basic and Home Premium, which only support 8GB and 16GB of RAM, respectively, on a 64-bit platform. All versions of Windows 8 and 8.1 support a maximum of 512GB of RAM on a 64-bit platform, except the Basic Core version that only supports 128GB on a 64-bit platform.

New Features Added to Windows

This list enumerates newer features added with Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 and 8.1. You must be familiar with these terms and how they apply to the various Windows systems:

  • Aero: added in Vista, removed in Windows 8; shows transparency on the edges of open applications; also known as Aero Glass
  • Gadgets: added in Windows 7; removed in Windows 8 for security reasons; miniature apps running in sidebar
  • User Account Control: security feature of Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 to help prevent unauthorized changes to a system
  • BitLocker: Vista, limited use; Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate; Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise
  • Shadow Copy: used in backing up when files may still be open
  • System Restore: provided by system manufacturer, establishes restore points for ease of recovery
  • ReadyBoost: used with thumb drives to allow use as more efficient virtual memory
  • Sidebar: added with Vista, removed for security purposes in Windows 8; space to the side of Windows background used for housing gadgets
  • Compatibility Mode: for running older programs on newer hardware platforms
  • Virtual XP Mode: discontinued 4/14
  • Easy Transfer: moving files and setting on systems being upgraded
  • Administrative tools: control panel/administrative tools; single location for all computer management
  • Defender: anti-malware in Vista and Windows 7, anti-malware and anti-virus on Windows 8
  • Windows Firewall: allow or block traffic; built into operating system
  • Security Center: single point of reference for security on Windows 7, 8, and 8.1
  • Event Viewer: tool available primarily for central administration of events and logs
  • File structure and paths: basic navigation from command line prompts
  • Category View vs. Classic View: Control Panel allows for different views; Category View is default; Classic View is preferred for technicians
Features Unique to Windows 8 and 8.1

Windows 8 and 8.1 added new unique features and functionality. It will be necessary for you to understand the role of all of these in the various Windows operating systems:

  • Side-by-side apps: allows users to view two applications side by side on the same screen
  • Metro UI: added with Windows 8; designed primarily for touch screens, using tiles to make applications more accessible; has subsequently been changed to Modern UI
  • Pinning: allows applications to be pinned to the taskbar for quick access
  • OneDrive: cloud-based storage included with the operating system
  • Windows Store: provides a location where users can obtain free and paid applications
  • Multi-monitor taskbars: has been improved with Windows 8 in that each monitor can have a specific task bar assigned to it
  • Charms: a Charms bar that allows immediate access to five specific features: Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings; accessible using the mouse, specific commands, or touch screen access
  • Start screen: as used on Windows 8 replaces the one used on Windows Vista and Windows 7; initially called Metro UI and changed to Modern UI; now standardized across Windows 8, the Windows Phone, Xbox, and now on Windows 10
  • PowerShell: comes standard with Windows 8; provides an enhanced command line shell to simplify administrative tasks
  • Live signin: provides users with a centralized login to their system using Outlook, MSN, or Hotmail account
  • Action Center: location where urgent messages regarding system events that have occurred on the system; helpful when troubleshooting system problems

Upgrade Paths

Be certain you know the upgrade paths between the various operating systems, as well as the difference between a clean install and an upgrade. When moving from Windows XP to Windows 7, you would need to migrate which requires a backup of data from XP followed by a clean install and migrating the data to the new platform since Microsoft does not support upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7. Also, XP and Vista cannot be upgraded to Windows 8. No 32-bit operating system can be upgraded to a 64-bit operating system and vice versa.


Be certain to know the system requirements for loading software on the various systems. Given a system running the Vista releases, know the upgrade paths to comparable Windows 7 releases. For example, Windows Vista Home Basic allows upgrades to Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, and Windows 7 Home Ultimate. Remember there is no path to upgrade Windows Vista to Windows 8. Know the functionality of Windows Upgrade Advisor when attempting to upgrade a system. Given a real-world scenario, you should be able to explain the proper procedure for installing an operating system.

Boot Methods

Know the correct method to boot a system using either CD-ROM, DVD, USB, PXE, Solid state flash drives, as well as netboot. Understand how system BIOS needs to be set to allow for any of the said methods. Many of the newer smaller tablets do not include CD/DVD drives and can only be loaded using a USB thumb drive. Understand Windows To Go for Windows 8 as well as the difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, and their corresponding benefits, when incorporating this feature. Know the various options available when partitioning a hard drive when preparing to load a new operating system. Understand external/hot swappable drive configurations as well as hard drive partitioning schemes.

Installation Types

Understand the reason for various types of installations; for example, when to utilize an unattended installation versus a clean installation. Understand the difference between an upgrade and a clean installation and when to use each one. An upgrade maintains consistency and is considerably faster than a clean install. Applications and data remain when you upgrade. Microsoft does not support upgrading a 32-bit operating system to a 64-bit operating system, or vice versa. If you have a 32-bit operating system, you would have to migrate it to a 64-bit operating system. Before attempting an upgrade, be sure the existing system has all the necessary updates and security patches necessary. Know the function of a recovery partition, how to utilize it in the event the system needs to be restored, and how to hide partitions. You need to know when a repair installation is an appropriate method to recover a corrupted system. Understand how to implement a multiboot system, how to perform remote network installations, when to perform refresh/restore.


Hard drives can contain up to four partitions; each can be formatted to create a volume. If you require more than four partitions, you can create numerous extended partitions. Extended partitions allow you to create more than four partitions; however, you cannot boot from an extended partition. A new partitioning scheme, GPT (GUID Partition Table) is a special type of partition that allows up to 128 additional partitions. GPT will eventually replace the MBR partitioning scheme. Know the difference between dynamic disks and basic disks and the role dynamic disks play in setting up RAID. Be familiar with the various partitioning schemes: dynamic, basic, primary, extended, logical, and GPT.

File System Types and Formatting

Understand the various file systems used on PCs and how they have progressed. A file system is the method used by the operating system to store and retrieve data. It also specifies the naming convention of files and determines the overall size of any volume. The latest of the progression of FAT file systems was FAT32, which has a size limitation of 32 GB. The NTFS file system, which has a maximum limitation of 2 TB, has been around since the early 90s. The newest version has a theoretical limit of 16 EiB (Exbibyte). Linux file system uses ext3, ext4, and can also utilize many of the Microsoft file systems. You will be expected to know the benefits and features of exFAT, CDFS, and NFS.

Third-Party Drivers

Drivers used in Windows installations that have been tested and approved by Microsoft are referred to as “Signed Drivers”. When installing device drivers, signed drivers should always be used; however, you may find situations where the driver is an unsigned driver (Third-Party Driver). Before installing an unsigned driver, verify the source to ensure that it is valid.

Workgroup vs. Domain Setup

You will need to know how to set up a workgroup and set up a system as part of a domain. A workgroup could be a small department in a larger organization, or more likely a home user. Setting up a home workgroup is an easy way to allow printer sharing and file sharing with family. Businesses would more than likely use a Domain Controller that would provide secure, centralized logins to a very large group. This centralized facility simplifies managing a large network.


Settings that are normally established when the system is first installed would include date, time, location, user name, etc. Know the proper procedure for adding, deleting, and managing users.

Driver Installation and Updates

Understand the importance of keeping your system up to date specifically relating to security. Know the procedures for installing drivers, using 32-bit drivers on x86 system and 64-bit drivers on x64 systems. Be familiar with the function of the Device Manager and how it relates to drivers.

Factory Recovery Partition

For systems that come with a recovery partition you are expected to know how to use this to implement a system recovery. Also understand how partitions can be hidden.

Boot Drive Formatting

For each operating system, understand the procedure for partitioning and formatting drives. Know how to determine which partition is the active partition.