FAQ: How to upgrade XP to Windows 7

You skipped Vista for all the right reasons, but are you ready for 7?

If Microsoft wants Windows 7 to succeed, to do better than limp like Vista, it has to convince the majority of users to ditch their comfortable-as-an-old-shoe -- older than an old shoe, actually -- OS.

Microsoft has to beat itself by one-upping its most successful OS edition of all time: Windows XP.

That's going to be tough. Even Microsoft knows that. Last month it conceded to critics, including Gartner's Michael Silver, who had complained that the company's policy for continuing XP "downgrades" was a "real mess." In response, Microsoft actually extended the availability of XP until April 2011.

So the pressure's on to make an XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade as painless as possible. But is a pain-free process what you'll face if you make the move? Not exactly.

Where are the bumps in the upgrade road? How difficult will the migration really be? Excellent questions.

We'll try to answer them.

Can I upgrade from Windows XP straight to Windows 7?

You betcha. And no, you don't have make Vista a middleman.

There's always a catch. What's the catch this time?

Unlike people running Vista, you can't do an "in-place" upgrade from XP to Windows 7 (even though that was offered as an upgrade choice to Vista, and Microsoft's bragged numerous times about how Windows 7 "is Vista, a lot better."

Presumably, Microsoft doesn't want to repeat the drama -- and complaints -- that XP users generated when they threw up their hands over in-place upgrades to Vista. It hinted as much in an April post to the "Engineering Windows 7"blog: "We realized at the start of this project that the 'upgrade' from XP would not be an experience we think would yield the best results. There are simply too many changes in how PCs have been configured (applets, hardware support, driver model, etc.) that having all of that support carry forth to Windows 7 would not be nearly as high quality as a clean install."

Whatever the reasons, you'll have to do what's called a "clean" install of Windows 7, which means you'll need to restore backed up data, recreate settings throughout Windows and reinstall all applications. ("Clean install" isn't a choice on the Windows 7 install-type selection screen; you'll pick "Custom" from the two-option list.)

What are the system requirements for Windows 7?

They're very similar to those for Vista. According to Microsoft, here's what you need:

  • 1GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor

  • 1GB RAM (32-bit) or 2GB RAM (64-bit)

  • 16GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)

  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Take those with a grain of salt. Vista runs slowly on a PC with just 1GB of memory; Windows 7 may do better, but you're still likely to be disappointed.

How do I know if my XP machine can handle Windows 7?

Run the "Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor," which as of July, was in beta. Start here, download and install the advisor, then run it.

The advisor will give you a bottom-line appraisal of your XP-based hardware and give you the green light, tell you the machine won't make it as is or spell out what you need to beef up.

Can I buy the cheaper Upgrade edition of Windows 7, or do I have to fork over a small fortune for the "full" version?

Yes to the first, no to the second.

Windows 7's Upgrade editions, such as Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade -- $120 suggested list -- check to see if there's a legitimate, activated copy of Windows on the PC before it lets you proceed. At the least, Windows XP and Windows 2000 qualify here. (Even older editions, such as Windows 98 may be eligible -- Microsoft's not been clear -- but it's very unlikely that hardware that old will take the Windows 7 strain.)

I'm running XP Home now. What are my Windows 7 choices?

You can upgrade to Home Premium ($120), Professional ($200) or even Ultimate ($220) if you want.

If you were smart, you bought your upgrade during the two-week sale that Microsoft ran from June 26 through July 11, when Home Premium was priced at $50, Professional at $100. Unfortunately, those discounts are done.

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