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Tech Tip of the Week – Windows 7: Upgrade or custom install?

Microsoft's new operating system Windows 7 is now on sale and the marketing campaign is in full swing. If you have watched any TV over the last two weeks, you will surely have seen the "I'm a PC campaign" extolling its virtues…and the competing campaign from Apple trying to persuade you to switch to a Mac!

From early reviews, it's clear that Windows 7 represents a major leap forward in terms of what's possible with a PC. The media handling and networking features alone will make it worthwhile for most home PC users to make the switch. And the rigorous testing program this time around appears to have minimized the chances of the bugs and the security flaws that plagued the early versions of Windows Vista.

But as with any change of operating system, there are concerns. How compatible is it with your current set-up and how complicated will the transfer be?

Basically there are three choices when it comes to installing Windows 7: you can upgrade from your existing operating system (which Microsoft naturally calls an upgrade); you can go for a completely fresh install (a "custom install" in Microsoft parlance) or you can buy a replacement PC or laptop that already has Windows 7 pre-installed.

Let's assume you would like to avoid the expense of a new computer. How do you decide whether you can upgrade or whether you need a custom install? If you are currently running Windows XP or an earlier version of Windows, then the choice has been made for you: you will need a custom install. If you are currently running Vista, then there is a good chance that you can upgrade.

(How can you tell what system you are running? Click Start. Click Run or if you see a Start Search field, click the box. Type winver and press Enter. You will get a window like the one below. The Windows logo will tell you what version you are running.)

Once you have determined what system you are running, you still need to do a hardware check to see if your equipment is compatible with Windows 7. Luckily, Microsoft can help you with this. Download the free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. This will tell you if there are any potential issues with your computer hardware, other devices or installed programs. (Before you run the download, you will need to plug in and power up all the devices you regularly use with your computer, including printers, scanners, external hard drives, wireless keyboard, mouse, etc.)

The results of this Upgrade Advisor check will go a long way to determining whether your current system can support Windows 7 and all its features. If you have space issues (you will need at least 16GB of free space to install Windows 7) or other hardware problems, then you will probably be better off replacing your current computer and buying a machine with Windows 7 pre-installed.

If you have no space or other hardware issues and are running XP or an earlier version of Windows, then you are clear for a custom install. Remember, with a custom install you will need to back-up all your data and eventually re-load it, along with your user settings, networks and all other programs.

If you are running Vista and the Upgrade Advisor gives you a relatively clean bill of health, then you are ready for an upgrade!

Next: Which version of Windows 7 is right for you?       

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