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What’s Done is Done: Rolling Update Changes to CompTIA’s A+ Certification

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While major updates occur in CompTIA certification exams every three years, they still apply “rolling updates” between new editions. In this article, Emmett Dulaney reviews some of the recent updates that affect the operating systems and networking sections of the A+ Certification exam.
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Approximately every three years, CompTIA updates the A+ certification exams with a new edition. There are usually a large number of changes in editions as the exams reflect the changes in hardware and software that have occurred in the interim.

In between editions, CompTIA reserves the right to make changes to the exams and still keep the edition designation—just adding a “version” to it. Referred to as “rolling updates,” the exact wording governing this that appears with the domain/objective lists and reads in part: “CompTIA is constantly reviewing the content of our exams and updating test questions to be sure our exams are current and the security of the questions is protected. When necessary, we will publish updated exams based on existing exam objectives.”

It is this version change which has happened to both of the A+ exams: 220-701 (A+ Essentials) and 220-702 (A+ Practical Applications). Each is still in the “2009 Edition” but are currently in “Version 2.0.” Why does this matter? Because there are some rather significant additions to what you now need to know to pass the A+ exams and become certified that you did not need to know just a short while ago.

The biggest changes are lumped beneath operating systems and networking, and we’ll examine those individually. Following that, there is a miscellaneous change that we will also look at, but it does not amount to much. It is important to note that all changes currently apply only to the English version of the exams; the Spanish versions have not been updated since their original release.

Operating System Changes

When the 2009 editions of the A+ exams first came out, the operating systems were defined as the various editions of Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. With version 2.0 of the exams, the existing list stayed but was appended to include: “Windows 7 Starter, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate.” This makes 4 different operating systems (and a total of 12 editions) that the candidate is now expected to know.

With Windows 7 added to the mix, Windows OS Upgrade Advisor and Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit also were added to the Essentials exam (220-701). The libraries in Windows 7 and the User State Migration Tool (USMT) rounded out the additions.

The additions to the Practical Application exam (220-702) now ask that you know user profile and program file differences between the operating systems and know FAT64 (exFAT)—further elaborated to include external hard drives and flash drives on file system types. Windows 7 was also added to the requirement to understand for UAC (User Account Control) joining Vista.

For this area of study, you should know the following:

If you are installing an operating system on more than one computer, then it is always worth the effort to master an automated tool that can simplify this process. It the case of Windows 7, Microsoft has released the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center. Using this tool, you can get an inventory of computers on your network and plan a rollout of the new operating system. The current version of MAP (5.5) requires a 1.6GHz or faster processor, 1.5GB of RAM, a network adapter card, and a graphics adapter that supports 1024x768 or higher resolution.

Microsoft also created the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to help with the upgrade to this operating system. It will scan your hardware, devices, and installed programs for any known compatibility issues. Once it is finished, it will gives you advice on how to resolve the issues found and recommendations on what to do before you upgrade. The reports are divided into three categories: System Requirements, Devices, and Programs.

After all incompatibilities have been addressed, the upgrade can be started from an installation disc, or from a download (preferably to a USB drive). If the setup routine does not begin immediately on boot, look for the setup.exe file and run it. When the Install Windows page appears, click on Install now. You’ll be asked if you want to get any updates (recommended) and to agree to the license agreement. After you’ve done so, choose Upgrade for the installation type and follow the steps to walk through the remainder of the installation. It is highly recommended that after the installation is complete, you run Windows Update to get the latest drivers.

New to Windows 7 is the ability at any time to upgrade from one edition of the operating system to a higher one (for example from Home Premium to Professional) using the Windows Anytime Upgrade utility in the Control Panel. Table 1 shows the upgrade options:

Table 1: Upgrade Options

Existing Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Windows 7 Professional 32-bit

Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Windows XP

No

No

No

No

No

No

Windows Vista Starter 32-bit

No

No

No

No

No

No

Windows Vista Starter 64-bit

No

No

No

No

No

No

Windows Vista Home Basic 32-bit

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

No

Windows Vista Home Basic 64-bit

No

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

No

Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit

No

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Windows Vista Business 32-bit

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Windows Vista Business 64-bit

No

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit

No

No

No

No

Yes

No

Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

Those operating systems not listed in Table 1 (Windows 2000), do not include any upgrade options to Windows 7 and cannot be done with upgrade package (you must buy the full version of Windows 7).

Installing an operating system would be simple if it weren’t for users and the data that they want to bring with them. To simplify this task, Microsoft has offered a free tool for a number of years: Microsoft Windows User State Migration Tool (USMT). It allows you to migrate user files settings related to the applications, desktop configuration, and accounts.

Version 4.0 works with Windows 7, and can be downloaded from here. Version 3.0 works with Windows Vista and XP, while previous versions—such as 2.6—also worked with Windows 2000. You can download this tool from here. If all you are doing is a simple migration from one OS to another, you do not need this tool, but it is invaluable during large deployments.

If you are only migrating a few accounts, Microsoft recommends Windows Easy Transfer instead of USMT. When transferring to Windows 7, a version of Windows Easy Transfer can be downloaded in either 32-bit or 64-bit versions for Windows Vista or Windows XP.

Networking Changes

As with the operating system changes, nothing that existed in the original 2009 version of the A+ exams was removed, but a significant addition was added: IPv6 vs. IPv4. This is further broken into two key areas:

  • Address length differences
  • Address conventions

For this area of study, you need to know the following:

Whereas IPv4 uses a dotted-decimal format—8 bits converted to its decimal equivalent and separated by periods—IPv6 uses a 128-bit structure divided along 16-bit boundaries, and each 16-bit block is converted into a four-digit hexadecimal number and separated by colons. An IPv6 address can be simplified by removing the leading 0s within each 16-bit block (not all the 0s can be removed—each address block must have at least a single digit).

Another difference between IPv4 and IPv6 is in the address types - IPv6 offers several types of addresses (excerpted from the Network+ Exam Cram):

  • Unicast IPv6 addresses: As you might deduce from the name, a unicast address specifies a single interface. Data packets sent to a unicast destination travel from the sending host to the destination host. It is a direct line of communication. A few types of addresses fall under the unicast banner:
  • Global unicast addresses: Global unicast addresses are the equivalent of IPv4 public addresses. These addresses are routable and travel throughout the network.
  • Link-local addresses: Link-local addresses are designated for use on a single local network. Link-local addresses are automatically configured on all interfaces. This automatic configuration is comparable to the 169.254.0.0/16 APIPA automatically assigned IPv4 addressing scheme. The prefix used for a link-local address is fe80::/64. On a single-link IPv6 network with no router, link-local addresses are used to communicate between devices on the link.
  • Site-local addresses: Site-local addresses are equivalent to the IPv4 private address space (10.0.0.0/8, 172.16.0.0/12, and 192.168.0.0/16). As with IPv4, in which private address ranges are used in private networks, IPv6 uses site-local addresses that do not interfere with global unicast addresses. In addition, routers do not forward site-local traffic outside the site. Unlike link-local addresses, site-local addresses are not automatically configured and must be assigned through either stateless or stateful address configuration processes. The prefix used for the site-local address is FEC0::/10.
  • Multicast addresses: As with IPv4 addresses, multicasting sends and receives data between groups of nodes. It sends IP messages to that group rather than to every node on the LAN (broadcast) or just one other node (unicast).
  • Anycast addresses: Anycast addresses represent the middle ground between unicast addresses and multicast addresses. Anycast delivers messages to any one node in the multicast group.

Table 2 compares IPv4 and IPv6 addressing:

Table 2: Comparison of IPv4 and IPv6 Addressing

Address Feature

IPv4 Address

IPv6 Address

Loopback address

127.0.0.1

0:0:0:0:0:0:0:1 (::1)

Network-wide addresses

IPv4 public address ranges

Global unicast IPv6 addresses

Private network addresses

10.0.0.0

172.16.0.0

192.168.0.0

Site-local address ranges (FEC0::)

Autoconfigured addresses

IPv4 automatic private IP addressing (169.254.0.0)

Link-local addresses of the FE80:: prefix

Minor Matters

Every list of objectives published by CompTIA now includes a catalog of relevant acronyms as well. With the one exception noted below, the acronym list for both 220-701 and 220-702 is identical, and there were no additions to their roll with the move to Version 2.0. Surprisingly, however, there were a number of deletions. The following no longer appear in the list of acronyms candidates are encouraged to have a working knowledge of:

  • AT—advanced technology
  • DPMS—display power management signaling
  • LPT1—line printer terminal 1 (but LPT still makes the list, and LPT1 could not have been removed just to save space since it still seems necessary to list every possible service pack combination). Oddly, LPT1 does still make the 220-702 list.
  • MLI—multiple link interface

While I wouldn’t argue in favor of keeping any of these four acronyms, it is ironic that they were removed between versions and some obvious new ones (such as USMT) were not added.

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