The Windows Learning Center

Upgrading Windows XP to Windows 7

When to upgrade a Windows XP system to Windows 7 and when to consider an entirely new system is discussed. Upgrade system requirements are considered.

Although many PC users still have Windows XP systems, Windows 7 is proving to be a popular operating system and will soon predominate. That means that the question of upgrading an existing XP system has to be considered by many. In this article we will discuss when an upgrade is a feasible alternative to a new computer and which versions of Windows 7 should be considered.

Actually, the term "upgrade" is misleading when considering the path from Windows XP to Windows 7. No actual direct upgrade path exists and a clean install of Windows 7 is required. This means that the settings and program installations from Windows XP will be lost and will have to be done from the beginning in a fresh Windows 7 installation. All the personal and data files from the old system will have to be backed up to an external source and recopied.

In point of fact, many older Windows XP systems lack the necessary hardware to run Windows 7. The table below gives the minimum requirements stated by Microsoft. Note that these may not provide satisfactory performance for many users. For example, I would personally suggest 2 GB of RAM for 32-bit systems and 4 GB of RAM for 64-bit systems. I also think a heftier graphics processor with at least 256 MB of memory would be preferable.

Table I. Windows 7 Minimum Hardware Requirements
Component Minimum Requirement
CPU 1 GHz
Memory 1 GB for 32-bit system, 2 GB for 64-bit system
Graphics processor 128 MB with support for DirectX 9 with WDDM 1.0 driver
Hard drive 16 GB free space to install 32-bit, 20 GB to install 64-bit

If the minimum requirements are met, the next step is to check your existing applications and hardware drivers.

Run compatibility check with Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor

Many software programs as well as a variety of hardware that work just fine in Windows XP won't work properly or at all in Windows 7. Before attempting any upgrade from Windows XP, download and run the free Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to check for problematical components on your system. Note that this software should be run with all your peripherals turned on so that the drivers can be checked.

Microsoft also has a site called the Windows 7 Compatibility Center where you can check lists of both software and hardware that works with Windows 7.

Upgrade, new PC, or stay with XP?

Since many, if not the majority, of older Windows XP systems will run Windows 7 poorly or not at all, a better alternative for most home users wishing to switch from Windows XP is probably to buy a new PC with Windows 7 already installed. The fact that no direct upgrade path exists means that any switch, whether it be upgrade or new PC, will mean reinstalling programs and recreating settings. If you have programs that you need that will run only in XP, consider getting the professional version of Windows 7. It contains the facility to run Windows XP in a virtual machine. You would have to obtain a copy of Windows XP to install in the virtual machine, however. Another option is dual-booting.

Given the hassle and expense of switching from Windows XP to Windows 7, some may wonder if the transition is really necessary. Although Windows 7 is clearly an improved operating system compared to Windows XP, the truth is that the improvements are probably of marginal interest to many home PC users. In fact, from a home user's point of view the Windows operating system is quite mature and Windows XP with service pack 3 is a very serviceable system. The technorati will insist that Windows 7 is considerably safer and that is technically true. However, from a practical standpoint, Windows XP with regular security updates and one of the recent Internet browsers can be made just about as safe for ordinary users. As long as the latest web browsers are used properly, the extra safety of Windows 7 can probably be approximated by using available security software and sandboxing. In any event, the major security problems these days rely on social engineering and user gullibility.

Those who are happy with Windows XP and whose existing PC does what they want, have no pressing need to switch. Sooner or later, of course, a new PC will be needed or Windows XP will stop getting security updates (that happens in 2014). That will be the time to say goodbye to Windows XP.

Windows Easy Transfer

Microsoft provides a free program that can help transfer some of your personal files (but not programs) from the old XP system to a new Windows 7 machine. It is called Windows Easy Transfer and can be downloaded at this Microsoft link.

Transferring directly to a new PC requires a special cable and the easiest method may be to transfer to an external USB drive and from there to the new system (figure 1). If you are upgrading on the same computer, transferring to an external drive is necessary.

Figure 1. Transfer options for Windows Easy Transfer
Different transfer methods for Windows Easy Transfer

Windows Easy Transfer doesn't move programs, only personal files and settings. Programs have to be reinstalled after Windows 7 installation is complete. Windows Easy Transfer provides a list of programs that are currently installed on Windows XP. Figure 2 shows the Windows Easy Transfer screen listing what can be moved.

Figure 2. Windows Easy Transfer dialog Easy Transfer dialog

A detailed explanation of how to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 is given at this Microsoft link.