Upgrade to Windows 7

Use Windows Easy Transfer to minimise hassle

As Windows 7 celebrates its first birthday, we think it's the perfect time to enter the world of 64bit computing. Here, we use Microsoft's free Windows Easy Transfer utility to upgrade from XP to Windows 7.

In the year or so since Windows 7 was launched, power PC users have embraced the operating system (OS). A survey by gaming service Steam found that 42.4 percent of its players are using either 32bit or 64bit Windows 7.

It replaces Windows XP (32.1 percent) as the Windows platform of choice. The survey also reveals a move from 32bit to 64bit computing. The migration from 32bit XP to 64bit Windows 7 makes sense. This mode of operation future-proofs our computers and lets Windows take advantage of RAM allocations larger than 4GB.

In the past you could upgrade from, say, Windows 98 to XP, simply by running the CD and crossing your fingers. The upgrade process to Windows 7 64bit throws all that in the bin. The only way to install Windows 7 is by performing what Microsoft calls a 'custom' installation. Also known as a 'clean' installation, a custom installation won't preserve your programs, files or settings.

Before you can run a Windows 7 upgrade, Microsoft will verify that your current Windows licence is genuine. It then wipes your hard drive and begins the installation on a clean slate.

Provided that you aren't switching from a 32bit to a 64bit OS, it's possible to run an in-place upgrade from Vista to Windows 7. For most scenarios, however, you'll need to reinstall your applications and transfer your program files, emails and browser bookmarks.

Microsoft's free Easy Transfer utility helps ease this task. Install Easy Transfer, let it scan your PC, tell it where it should store your files - an external hard drive is ideal - and then let it work its magic. When it's finished, disconnect the external drive, install Windows 7, plug in the drive and the software will transfer your files to the correct locations within your new OS.

With Windows 7 installed, you can begin the simple but time-consuming task of installing your applications. Reckon on at least half a day's work to install the OS and get your software, email and documents back to where you expect to find them.

That's Microsoft's recommendation, anyway. We'd rather not leave it to chance that the Easy Transfer software will pick up every last file and setting we want to port to the new OS. And we reckon the £40 or so spent on an external hard drive is far better spent on a second internal drive (provided you have the space available). For the same money, you could get a larger-capacity, faster drive. You could even add in a quick-booting solid-state disk (SSD).

Buy some hardware at the same time as Windows 7 and you'll qualify for the £75 original equipment manufacturer (OEM) version, rather than paying £119 for the full version of Windows 7 Home Premium or £85 for an Upgrade version. This could be the perfect time to buy a speedy SSD to run Windows and your applications from, and begin using your old drive as a secondary data drive.

Over the following pages, we explain how to upgrade from an older version of Windows (in our case XP) to Windows 7 using the Easy Transfer utility, and get your PC back to how you want it.

Step 1. Run the Windows Upgrade Advisor to check your current hardware is capable of running Windows 7. This tool does a good job, but note that it isn't perfect: the software queried our graphics card and chipset, yet both work perfectly under Windows 7.

Step 2. Install Windows Easy Transfer and let it scan your PC. Three options are offered: if you're moving to a new machine rather than upgrading your current OS, Easy Transfer lets you join the two with a special cable. You can also opt to transfer items to a network device or a USB drive - we chose the latter.

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As Windows 7 celebrates its first birthday, we think it's the perfect time to enter the world of 64bit computing. Here, we use Microsoft's free Windows Easy Transfer utility to upgrade from XP to Windows 7

Step 3. Allow Windows Easy Transfer to save your data. It decided that 22GB of the 76GB of data on our Windows XP PC should be transferred, although it gave us no indication of what those files were. Our external drive uses the FAT32 system, meaning the files were saved in 4GB chunks.

Step 4. Set the Bios to boot up from disc (rather than the PC's internal hard drive) so it triggers the installation from your Windows 7 disc. If the PC doesn't automatically offer to run the installation, restart, press F8 to enter the Bios, choose Advanced Bios features and tell Windows to boot from the DVD.

Step 5. Microsoft asks a series of questions about the installation, such as your preferred language. Naturally we want English (UK) rather than English (US), but the process is otherwise fairly pain-free. You will also need to restart the PC during the process, which is an ideal time to reset the Bios to boot up from the hard drive.

Step 6. Next, Windows will format your hard drive. This is the point of no return. If you have any doubts, pause here, buy a second hard drive and install Windows 7 on that. You may need to switch over to SATA from IDE but you won't need to format the new drive. Doing so will make the process tidier and save space, however.

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Step 7. The installation should take around 15 minutes. Your next priority is drivers. Windows 7's default drivers for most current hardware are impressive, but we recommend using dedicated drivers. The latest versions can be found at your motherboard and graphics card makers' websites. Also check online for any Windows updates.

Step 8. You're now ready to let Easy Transfer copy over your old files. Plug in the external hard drive and browse its contents using Windows Explorer. The main Windows Easy Transfer file has a distinctive icon. Double-click it to set the installation process rolling. Our 22GB collection of files took 15 minutes to transfer.

Step 9. Once it's finished, Easy Transfer can produce a report of what it has accomplished. If any software has been lost in transit and you have already formatted your old hard drive, you'll need to reinstall it from the original CD. Luckily, we opted to use a second drive in step 6 and still have the software on our older drive.

Step 10. If you've also used a second hard drive, use the older one for backup. Start with the My Documents folder, which is simply named 'Documents' in Windows 7. Create a new folder in the root of your older drive and name it 'Stuff' or something equally memorable. Now copy the files over to the new folder.

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Step 11. Copy over your Outlook email and address book. In Office 2003 use the File, Import and Export menu to export a .PST file that can be saved on your backup drive. Use the same process to copy across your contacts. In Outlook 2007 and 2010 go to File, Data File Management and copy the .PST files from there.

Step 12. Export your Favorites and cookies in Internet Explorer using the File, Import and Export menu. In Firefox, head to Bookmarks, Organise Bookmarks, Import and Backup, Export HTML. Whichever browser you use, keep a list of your logins and passwords somewhere safe.

Step 13. To continue using the older drive as a secondary data drive, you should check in the Bios that the machine will boot into the newer drive rather than this one. If Windows Easy Transfer has missed any settings or applications that you need, you will still be able to find them on this drive.

Step 14. Your new Windows 7 PC should be up and running with all of your data present and correct. Run Windows Experience Index (Control Panel, System Properties) to check that all is well. You can also use Windows Experience Index to test your processor, RAM, graphics card and hard disk(s).

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This story, "Upgrade to Windows 7" was originally published by PC Advisor (UK) .

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