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.

Upgrade to Windows 7 step 1

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.

Upgrade to Windows 7 step 2

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