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Tips to Upgrade to Windows 7

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Windows 7: How to Upgrade
Saturday, 03 October 2009
With Windows 7's release date coming quickly, it's important to understand how to update your existing computer to Windows 7, if that's what you elect to do. In performing an update from either XP or Vista, make sure you know the process in order to prevent data loss or any other critical errors. You must also make sure your computer is compatible with Windows 7 and our quick guide to upgrading will show you the way.

Before You Begin

Be sure to read our article titled "Windows 7: Should You Upgrade?" for an overview of your options and some basic information to decide if in fact you should upgrade your current computer to Windows 7.

Next, you'll want to use Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to scan your computer in search of compatible and incompatible hardware and software associated with the computer in question. To use this simple program, just visit the site and download it to your computer. Before you run it, be sure to plug in all hardware to your computer in order to provide an accurate estimate of compatibility. After the scan runs, it will display your results showing you a list of compatible and incompatible hardware and software on your computer.

In general, if your computer runs Windows Vista and came installed with Vista from the manufacturer, you will be able to upgrade to Windows 7 without any issues. You may have issues with external hardware connected to your computer, like an older scanner, but at least the core components of your computer will be good to go. Microsoft recommends that if you are running Windows Vista, you should install the latest service pack before you perform an upgrade to 7.

With Windows Vista, you have a choice of how you want to upgrade. You can either perform a clean "custom" install or a in-place upgrade. A clean install is the best choice to make as long as you have access to all of your applications and drivers as well as a back up of your data (more on that later). Going the clean install path will completely erase your hard drive of all its data and install a clean install of Windows 7. This will ensure the installation is clean, as the name suggests, and will be free of any incompatibilities or issues that may arise down the road. The other option, an in-place upgrade, preserves all of your data and applications and installs Windows 7 on top of Windows Vista. This is a good choice for a novice user or anyone who doesn't have access to applications installation media or drivers for hardware. For more information on which upgrade path to choose, see our article about Windows 7 Upgrade Paths.

If you are using Windows XP, you only have one choice: a clean "custom" installation.

Prepare & Preserve Your Computer

Before you insert the Windows 7 installation DVD, you still have a few more tasks to perform to ensure a smooth transition to Windows 7.

Users of Windows Vista doing an in-place upgrade will probably have no issues at all because any hardware drivers that worked in Vista will work in Windows 7.

XP users will want to visit hardware manufacturers Web sites to download the appropriate driver for crucial hardware before doing the upgrade. Vista users may also want to do this just in case. If you are unsure of some of the components of your computer, visit the Device Manger for a detailed list of hardware installed. In XP, right-click My Computer, click Properties, Hardware tab, and click Device Manager. For Vista users, right-click Computer, click Manage (say OK to any UAC prompts), and Device Manager in the left-column list.

You will want to download drivers for major hardware, like your video card, network adapters, wireless keyboard/mice, and audio cards. To do this, go to the manufacturer's Web site and search for your device and download either a driver for Windows 7 (if available) or Windows Vista. Windows XP drivers will most likely not work and should be avoided at all costs for stability reasons. Put these drivers onto a CD of USB thumbdrive in case the Windows 7 installation doesn't install them itself. The most important driver to have is your network adapter because any other necessary drivers, like printers, can be obtained online after Windows 7 is installed.

You may also want to check out Microsoft's Windows 7 Compatibility Center, which lists many hardware components and their compatibility with Windows 7. At the time of writing this, Microsoft hasn't launched this site yet, but it will be up and running soon.

The last thing to do is perform a complete backup of your system. If something goes wrong (or if you do a clean install) you will have all of your data safely stored on an external device, whether that be a DVD or an external drive. Even if you are doing an in-place upgrade, it is highly recommended that you perform a data backup beforehand because sometimes things don't go as planned. Remember, you cannot backup applications and expect to reload them after Windows 7 is installed from your backup because it won't work that way. But if you wish, you can perform an "image backup" and it will take a complete snapshot of your computer's data (including Windows & applications) and you can re-image your disc back to the way it was if you have to abandon the Windows 7 installation.

Another note worth mentioning is to make sure you have product keys for any applicable applications that you want to reinstall in Windows 7. Programs like Adobe Photoshop require a unique product key to install, so make sure you have them.

Do the Upgrade!

Once you're sure you've done all the necessary steps above and have a backup of all your data, you can now install Windows 7! You have another choice to make, but it depends on your intentions. If you are doing an in-place upgrade, you have to insert the disc while booted into your current operating system and run the install from there. A clean install can be started from within an existing OS or from booting off the DVD during bootup.

Once the installation starts, you will be prompted with a setup wizard that will walk you through the whole process. Click on Install Now since you've already run the Upgrade Advisor and accept the license agreement at your own risk and then you have the choice, upgrade or custom ("clean") install. By now you should know which you want to do, so select the corresponding option. It will ask you to choose a partition, so unless you're creating a multiboot system, choose your existing partition that Windows XP/Vista is installed onto now.

The installation will now install Windows 7 and this process could take as short as 15 minutes (for a clean install) or a few hours (for an in-place upgrade) and will reboot several times on its own, so just leave it be for now. Once it's done, however, you'll be prompted to enter your Windows 7 product key, which is located inside the Windows 7 package you bought. The last wizard page will ask you to choose what level of product updates you want, I recommend the one to "automatically install updates" as the best option to keep you safe in the future.

After you've gone through these last steps of the wizard, your PC will reboot one last time and then be prompted to create a user account and then you'll be whisked away into the Windows 7 desktop. Congrats on making it this far!

Finish Up

The task now comes to install any missing drivers, which will probably include your video card and other less-important components. If you're missing a video card driver, your screen resolution will be quite small and of low-quality. To fix this, go back to the Device Manager by right-clicking the Computer icon on the desktop, click Manage (accept any UAC prompts), and click on Device Manager in the left-column. If you see any devices with a yellow question mark next to them, that means a driver is missing. To fix this, just right-click it and choose "install driver" and a wizard will come up to guide your way. This would be the time to insert that driver backup you made earlier and tell the wizard to search your backup for the driver. If it doesn't find it, you can tell it to find a driver online or you can go online yourself and find one. Also, you may have your old Windows files in a directory located at C:\Windows.old depending upon how you upgraded your computer. Old drivers may be located here, so consider telling the driver search to look in this folder if all else fails.

If you upgraded from a previous installation of Windows, all of your data and applications should still be installed and working correctly. If any programs aren't working as they should, try uninstalling them, rebooting, and then reinstalling.

Remember, you will not be running any antivirus protection program if you did a clean install, so make sure to install one as soon as possible. We recommend using Microsoft's free Security Essentials.
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