If you use a Windows XP PC but would like to upgrade to Windows 7, our Helproom Expert has some advice.

QUESTION I regularly play Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Lock-on, Falcon 4.0: Allied Force and Call of Duty on my XP PC. I'd like to upgrade to Windows 7 but I'm concerned about program compatibility. Alternatively, could I buy a Window 7 PC and use disk-cloning software to continue using my existing setup on the new hardware? I'm aware of the advantages of running Windows 7, but I really just use this PC for gaming. Michael B Smith

HELPROOM ANSWER The issue of compatibility is one of the biggest potential problems facing anyone contemplating a change of OS. However, Microsoft provides plenty of tools and guidelines to help you.

Visit the Windows 7 Compatibility Centre and download the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. This tool will scan your PC and flag up any incompatible software or hardware. Make sure any external devices, such as USB printers or drives, are plugged in and turned on.

You can also browse for reports on any particular software or hardware you may have installed. Links are provided to the Microsoft Answers forums, where users discuss their experiences of running various applications within Windows 7.

See also: Laplink PCmover Windows 7 Upgrade Assistant download

Another important consideration is whether you should go for the 32- or 64bit version of Windows 7. The latter is necessary if you want to make use of more than 3GB of system memory, but brings with it yet more compatibility issues – some software is specifically designed for 32bit Windows.

Some users have reported issues with the games you mention in Windows 7, although many have got around them with driver updates and by tweaking settings.

If you find yourself having to buy a new PC, cloning your hard drive can be problematic – the new system will have different hardware to your old system, so the OS may not run. Furthermore, your copy of Windows will have been activated on the old hardware and you may not be able to transfer the licence to the new system.

You would be better off instead buying a new PC running XP, then reinstalling your software and transferring your files and settings using Window's Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. Alternatively, a third-party migration tool, such as Orlogix Transfer MyPC or Laplink PCmover, can offer additional capabilities.

You can still buy a new PC running XP, although you may need to customise the spec of a Windows 7 machine to achieve this. Also note that not all hardware configurations will support the OS, so it's worth explaining what you want to use the PC for to your chosen vendor.

Of course, unless there's something wrong with your current PC, you may not have to upgrade at all. Support for XP ends in a few years, but we're a long way from being in a situation where XP-compatible hardware can no longer be purchased.

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