Microsoft has released the beta of Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor - a free app that helps you determine whether your PC is powerful enough to run the upcoming operating system.

Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor gives your PC a pass/fail grade in four areas and checks to see whether there are any compatibility problems with hardware devices such as mice or printers or with applications.

The Advisor, which is available for download, requires PCs running Windows XP SP2 (with .Net 2.0), Vista or release candidate versions of Windows 7.

The Advisor software can also be run on Intel-based Macs under virtualisation to test for Windows 7 compatibility.

It tests whether users' PCs meet the minimum requirements of:

* A 1GHz CPU
* 1GB of RAM for a 32-bit Windows 7 and 2 GB for 64-bit Windows 7
* 16GB free space for 32-bit Windows 7 (20 GB for 64-bit)
* and a graphics card/chip powerful enough to run the Windows Aero graphical user interface.

Microsoft says users should plug in all of the external devices that they want to check for Windows 7 compatibility.

Unlike the Vista Upgrade Advisor, the Windows 7 Advisor does not recommend a specific version of Windows 7 to users based on the results of the scan. Windows 7 comes in six versions in the UK, though Microsoft is emphasising two main ones: Home Premium for consumers and Professional for companies.

The Advisor also does not tell users whether their computer can handle Windows 7's new XP Mode.

That compatibility feature requires PCs equipped with hardware virtualisation. Intel and AMD slowly began releasing CPUs equipped with hardware virtualisation more than three years ago. But some PCs shipping today, including many netbooks, lack either Intel VT or AMD-V.

Users wanting to check compatibility with XP Mode can download a free third-party utility called Securable.

Intel users can download a different free utility, while AMD users can download yet another one.

XP users whose PCs pass can buy upgrades to Windows 7, though they will still need to do a clean install of Windows 7. Vista users can buy and do an in-place upgrade to 7 that does not require a clean install. Generally, any PC that can run Vista should be able to run Windows 7, too, according to Microsoft.

Indeed, pre-release versions of Windows 7 have been widely praised for running faster and requiring less powerful hardware than Vista.

See also:

Windows 7 review

Windows 7 forum

Computerworld US