The complete guide to Windows 7 upgrades and versions


Windows 7 Versions and Upgrades

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past eighteen months you are probably aware that Microsoft has a hit with their newest Operating System, Windows 7. Windows 7 has been the topic of network news reports, slightly funny commercials, and general internet buzz! Many die hard XP users are considering upgrading, and buying a new computer almost certainly guarantees Windows 7. If you are looking to upgrade, or buy a new computer, you need to be aware that Windows 7 comes in both 64-bit and 32-bit, as well as 6 different versions. Should you buy a new PC? Full version, Upgrade, or OEM? Should you get Windows 7 32bit or 64bit? Should you upgrade? Can you upgrade? How much does it cost? Which version is right for You? What features are included in the different versions? How many Windows 7 versions are there? Is Windows 7 stable?

WOW! You sure do have a lot of questions! Let’s look at each question and we’ll start with the last one.

Is Windows 7 stable?

Yes! Windows 7 is rock solid! I’ve been running Windows 7 since the RC (Release Candidate), and installed the final shipping version on October 22, 2009 with not one hitch related to Windows 7. The only issue I’ve encountered was with a fingerprint reader driver, whose manufacturer hasn’t released proper Windows 7 drivers. I’ve found a working driver and everything has been smooth sailing! I will go out on a limb and say that Windows 7 is Microsoft’s best operating system ever!

What versions of Windows 7 are available?

Windows 7 is available in 6 different versions – Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, and Windows 7 Enterprise. Of these you, as a consumer, will only have contact with four. Windows 7 Basic should only be seen in ’emerging markets’ and Windows 7 Enterprise is only available to businesses, though it’s features are identical to Windows 7 Ultimate. Of the remaining 4 versions only Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate are available for sale to the public. Windows 7 Starter may only be purchased and installed by OEM’s (HP, Dell, etc). I know it is a tad bit confusing. I’ve created a chart below showing which features are available in each consumer version of Windows 7 along with the cost associated with the various purchases options.

Which Windows 7 version is right for you and what is the cost?

 
Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
Windows Basic yes yes yes yes
Windows Standard (Classic) no yes yes yes
Windows Aero (Glass and transparency) no yes yes yes
Aero Background no yes yes yes
Areo Peek no yes yes yes
Aero Shake no yes yes yes
Aero Snap yes yes yes yes
Changeable Desktop Wallpaper no yes yes yes
Desktop Gadgets yes yes yes yes
Jump Lists (Start Menu and Taskbar) yes yes yes yes
Multi-Touch no yes yes yes
Multilingual User Interface no no no yes
Multiple Monitors no yes yes yes
Preview in Explorer no yes yes yes
Taskbar Program Previews no yes yes yes
Windows Flip yes yes yes yes
Windows Flip 3D no yes yes yes
  Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
AppLocker no no no yes
BitLocker no no no yes
BitLocker To Go no no no yes
Calculator (updated) yes yes yes yes
Games (standard) yes yes yes yes
Games (premium) no yes yes yes
Internet Explorer 8 yes yes yes yes
NotePad yes yes yes yes
Paint (updated) yes yes yes yes
Snipping Tool no yes yes yes
Sticky Notes no yes yes yes
Windows DVD Maker no yes yes yes
Windows Fax and Scan yes yes yes yes
Windows Journal no yes yes yes
Windows Media Center no yes yes yes
Windows Media Player 12 yes yes yes yes
Windows Mobility Center yes yes yes yes
Windows Photo Viewer yes yes yes yes
Windows PowerShell yes yes yes yes
Windows XP Mode no no yes yes
WordPad yes yes yes yes
XPS Viewer yes yes yes yes
  Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
Automatic Drive Defragmentation yes yes yes yes
Encrypted File System no no yes yes
File Based Backup yes yes yes yes
Previous File Versions yes yes yes yes
ReadyBoost yes yes yes yes
ReadyDrive yes yes yes yes
Reliability Monitor yes yes yes yes
SuperFetch yes yes yes yes
Sync Center yes yes yes yes
System Image yes yes yes yes
System Image to Network no no yes yes
Troubleshooting Help yes yes yes yes
  Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
AAC Decoding yes yes yes yes
Dolby Digital Compatible no yes yes yes
DVD Playback Possible yes yes yes yes
DVD (MPEG-2) Decoding Included no yes yes yes
DVD (MPEG-2) Decoding by Download yes N/A N/A N/A
H.264 Decoding yes yes yes yes
Windows Media Center no yes yes yes
Windows Media Player 12 yes yes yes yes
TV Tuner Support no yes yes yes
  Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
Boot from VHD (Virtual Hard Drive) no no no yes
Connect to a Projector yes yes yes yes
HomeGroup Networking Join Only yes yes yes
IIS Web Server no yes yes yes
Internet Connection Sharing no yes yes yes
Join a Domain (business network) no no yes yes
Location Aware Printing no no yes yes
Network Bridge no yes yes yes
Network and Sharing Center yes yes yes yes
Offline Files no no yes yes
Presentation Mode no no yes yes
Remote Desktop Client yes yes yes yes
Remote Desktop Host no no yes yes
Software Restriction Policies no no yes yes
Windows XP Mode no no yes yes
  Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
Action Center (improved Security Center) yes yes yes yes
BitLocker no no no yes
Encrypted File System no no yes yes
Fast User Switching no yes yes yes
Parental Controls yes yes yes yes
Windows Defender yes yes yes yes
Windows Firewall yes yes yes yes
Windows Update yes yes yes yes
User Account Control (UAC improved) yes yes yes yes
  Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
32 bit Version Available yes yes yes yes
64 bit Version Available no yes yes yes
64 bit CPU Support no yes yes yes
Maximum Supported RAM (32 bit version) 2GB 4GB 4GB 4GB
Maximum Supported RAM (64 bit version) no 16GB 192GB 192GB
Maximum Supported (physical) CPU 1 1 2 2
Maximum Supported Cores per CPU No Limit No Limit No Limit No Limit
  Feature Starter Home Premium Professional Ultimate
Available at Retail no yes yes yes
Available by Download no yes yes yes
Available with New PC yes yes yes yes
Full Version Price Retail DVD no
$183.49(US)

$274.49(US)

$291.99(US)
OEM System Builder DVD no
$104.99(US)

32bit

$104.99(US)

64bit

$139.99(US)

32bit

$139.99(US)

64bit

$174.99(US)

32bit

$174.99(US)

64bit
Upgrade Version Price Retail DVD no
$112.99(US)

$179.49(US)

$199.99(US)
Upgrade Family Pack (3 home Premium) no $149.99(US) no no
Windows Anytime Upgrade Available yes yes yes no
Windows Anytime Upgrade to Premium
   $75.99(US)
no no no
Windows Anytime Upgrade to Pro no
   $84.99(US)
no no
Windows Anytime Upgrade to Ultimate no
$130.99(US)
no no

Note: All prices are in US Dollars. Microsoft has offered a special called Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade Family Pack for roughly $149.99, which includes a license to upgrade three(3) computers from a previous version of Windows to Windows 7 Home Premium. This is currently the best value available to most consumers and hopefully will be offered again in the future.

Note: In several countries college level students are eligible for very special pricing on downloadable versions of Home Premium or Professional. See www.win741.com for more details.


Note: OEM Versions have very specific licensing requirements in the EULA. Purchasers of OEM versions must be a ‘system builder’ installing the OS on a computer with the intention of selling that computer to an end user. This is a gray area. As an example, If you build a computer and sell it to a friend for $1, who sells it back to you. Does this satisfy the EULA? This does not constitute legal advice. Use your best judgment.

The most welcome change between Vista and Windows 7 is that each version is a subset of the next higher version. With Vista if you bought the Professional version you missed out on features such as Media Center and DVD Maker. With Windows 7 Microsoft has included all features of Starter in Home Premium, all features of Home Premium in Professional, and all features of Professional in Ultimate. Now each higher version adds value (and cost of course) to the next lower version

If you look closely at the above chart you will see the major features present in Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate, but not in Home Premium are:

  • Ability to join a domain – A domain is a common computer network found in businesses. If you don’t use your computer at the office, or don’t telecommute then Home Premium is probably the version for you.
  • Create a system image to a network location – Windows 7 can create a disk image. Professional and Ultimate versions allow you to create an image directly to a network location. If you don’t have a home network, or don’t plan on using this feature then Home Premium is probably the version for you.
  • Encrypted File System – EFS encrypts the entire contents of a hard drive. This is more than likely overkill for most users, especially with software such as TrueCrypt available for free. If you see no reason to use EFS Home Premium is probably the version for you.
  • Multilingual User Interface – If your home communicates with family, friends, and business colleagues using one common language Home Premium is probably the version for you.
  • Remote Desktop Host – Remote Desktop allows you to control another computer over the local network, or internet, as if you were setting in front of it. You can access files, run programs, or use the computer as normal. The computer you connect to (the host) must be a Microsoft Professional OS or higher (XP Professional, Vista Business/Ultimate, and Windows 7 Professional/Ultimate). If you do not have a need to connect to the computer with Remote Desktop then Home Premium is probably the version for you.
  • Windows XP Mode – Allows Windows XP to run in a special virtual machine. Useful for programs that have difficulty running in Vista or Windows 7. Most programs will run fine in Windows 7, however there may be some legacy programs (and special circumstances) which require a program to run on Windows XP. This is a situation that will effect businesses much more than consumers. If you have programs that will NOT run correctly on Vista or Windows 7 then XP mode will benefit you. Home Premium is probably the version for the other 99.99% of users (most likely you).

I’m sure you will agree that Home Premium is the version what will provide the best ‘bang for the buck’ for nearly all home users. Microsoft did an excellent job packaging the correct feature set into Home Premium. As a result very few home users will need or require the added features available in the Professional or Ultimate versions, so why pay more if you aren’t going to use them?

Can you upgrade to Windows 7?

From a legal standpoint anyone who has a computer running a legal copy of Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista is eligible to upgrade to Windows 7. This includes those who have upgraded to those operating systems from a previous one. Microsoft recommends the following hardware for Windows 7:


  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Of course, Microsoft is notorious for making recommendations that are a little low for their new operating systems. If you truly wish to have an enjoyable experience with Windows 7 you should not upgrade unless your hardware is closer to the following:

  • 2.2 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor.
  • 2 gigabyte (GB) RAM. More is always better.

Generally Windows 7 will work on the same level hardware as Windows XP. If you have a computer that runs XP well it will also run Windows 7 well, assuming it has 2GB or more of RAM.

If you are considering an upgrade, and you should, you will want to download the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft. Running the Upgrade Advisor will scan your computer’s processor, memory, storage, and graphics subsystem for Windows 7 compatibility. It will also attempt to identify any known compatibility issues with currently installed programs or hardware. Finally, Upgrade Advisor will present you with a report noting any problems or conflicts. Another tool I suggest you use before upgrading is SecurAble. Securable will scan the processor and report whether it is 32bit or 64bit, as well as if it supports D.E.P. and Hardware Virtualization. For those with 64bit processors I highly recommend installing a 64bit version of Windows 7. Those opting for Windows 7 Professional with hopes of using XP Mode will benefit greatly from a CPU that supports hardware virtualization.

Should you upgrade to Windows 7?

My personal opinion? In all honesty – Yes. Windows 7 adds a new ‘stability’ to the Windows operating system while improving the interface is a way that simplifies the user experience, while reducing the system load of the operating system to Windows XP levels. The updated user interface is reason enough for me! That was an easy answer! (grin)

OK, it may not be that simple. Answer the following questions for yourself:

  1. Do you plan on keeping your present computer for a some time?
  2. Do you currently have a computer running XP or Vista in a manner that is acceptable to you?
  3. Do you plan on upgrading any hardware in the near future?
  4. Are you one who found Vista did not meet your expectations?
  5. Are you currently running a 32bit OS?
  6. Do you enjoy that ‘New OS Smell’?

If you answered YES to at least two of the above questions I believe you should look into upgrading. There was some humor there, but I do believe the questions are valid.

If you plan on keeping your present computer for some time there are several items to be aware of. Microsoft can only support an operating system for a finite amount of time. With XP now surpassed by two operating systems you will find hardware manufacturers making hardware that does not support Windows XP

If your present computer hardware runs XP or Vista at a level that is acceptable to you then Windows 7 will run just as well (Maybe better than Vista).

As stated above, newer hardware will begin to focus on Vista/Windows 7 compatibility and leave XP behind.

If you found Vista too much of a system hog you will be pleasantly surprised with Windows 7. I, personally, did not have that issue with Vista, but some did. Windows 7 has been optimized to a greater degree than Vista. As an example, I see almost 500MB more free RAM with Windows 7 than I did with Vista.

If you are currently running XP or Vista 32bit now is an excellent time to move to 64bit. A 64bit operating system will perform slightly faster on identical hardware and handle more RAM. While computing as a whole isn’t completely 64bit yet it certainly is moving that direction quickly.

I love the ‘New OS Smell’! I’m sure many of you do too. That lovely aroma lofting around the computer after installing a new OS gives me the same feeling as a warm cup of coffee on a chilly morning… OK, that may be an exaggeration, but if you like to tinker, get excited by new techy things to learn and investigate, or are just a big geek you will find Windows 7 a worthy upgrade.

Windows 7 32bit or 64bit?

If you are given a choice I highly recommend choosing a 64bit version of Windows 7. If your current CPU supports 64bit processing (SecurAble) you will notice slightly increased performance just from the use of a 64bit operating system. One modern day pitfall of 32bit operating systems is a hard memory limit of 4GB. 32bit operating systems can only address 4GB of memory total. You may be thinking that this isn’t a problem for you because you only have 4GB of RAM. The problem is the 4GB limit includes memory addresses the operating system must reserve for hardware. If you have 4GB of RAM and a 512MB video card your computer will only be able to use around 3.25GB of the 4GB of RAM (you probably paid extra for) because Windows will reserve 512MB of addressable area for the video card and a little more for your USB controller, network card, etc. This leaves just over 3GB of addressable area for Windows to use for RAM. Users of 64bit operating systems do not have this limit and in this instance would have the full use of all 4GB of RAM.

Two or three years ago running a 64bit OS was hit or miss due to difficulty finding reliable drivers. Today it is almost a no brainer! This is especially true if you have 4GB(or more) RAM, or plan to in the near future. Even companies like HP and Dell are including 64bit versions of Windows as the default choice on many new computers and as an option on most others.

Full, Upgrade, or OEM version?

Purchasing a Full, Upgrade, or OEM version of Windows 7 (and most other operating systems) boils down to licensing. Each version includes an End User License Agreement (EULA) which states the terms you agree to by installing the software. Even though the EULA specifically limits which version you qualify to purchase and use there are obvious work-around’s that are possible. Whether of not you use them will depend on your own personal moral compass. I do not condone installing any software outside the conditions set forth in the EULA! However, these work-around’s may be good to know in a pinch.

Windows 7 Full Version

  • Box contains both 32bit and 64bit installation media, but only one license key. You can install 32bit or 64bit.
  • Installation media contains all Windows 7 versions, but only the purchased version may be installed.
  • Can be used to perform both a clean (full) installation and an upgrade installation.
  • Does not require a previous legal Windows license to be in compliance with the EULA.
  • License is not tied to the computer – you may move the installation to another computer as long as you remove it from the first.
  • Microsoft will provide support.

Windows 7 Upgrade Version

  • Box contains both 32bit and 64bit installation media, but only one license key. You can install 32bit or 64bit.
  • Installation media contains all Windows 7 versions, but only the purchased version may be installed.
  • Can be used to perform both a clean (full) installation and an upgrade installation.
  • Does require a previous legal Windows license to be in compliance with the EULA.
  • License is not tied to the computer – you may move the installation to another computer as long as you remove it from the first.
  • Microsoft will provide support.
  • The Family Pack special mentioned above contains both 32bit and 64bit media, as well as a special key that can be used for up to 3 installations.

Windows 7 OEM Version

  • Box contains either 32bit or 64bit installation media and one license key depending on which version you purchase.
  • Installation media contains all Windows 7 versions, but only the purchased version may be installed.
  • Can only be used to perform a clean (full) installation.
  • Does NOT require a previous legal Windows license to be in compliance with the EULA.
  • License is tied to the computer (motherboard and CPU) – you may not move the installation to another computer.
  • There is some confusion, and much discussion, about the legality of installation by home users and what constitutes a ‘System Builder – See note under the above chart.
  • Microsoft will not provide support.

Should you buy a new computer?

Sure! Why not? Well, I really can’t tell you to buy a new computer. Not everyone has the same wants, needs, or financial ability. But, consider the costs above to that of a new PC before you decide. A new computer from the major OEM’s (HP, Dell, etc) will come with Windows 7 and with careful shopping can be had for under $300. If your hardware is older than 3 years don’t make a upgrade decision until you check the cost of a new computer. I’ve even found laptops in the sub $400 range with careful shopping.

Windows 7 Upgrade Tips

Plan Ahead

  • How does that old saying go? I believe it is, “Measure twice – cut once”. Get a plan together before you begin.
  • Backup! Backup your data. If you have the ability – create a disk image. At the very least backup anything you can copy to another location or medium.
  • Visit the manufacturer’s site for your computer and hardware for drivers. If Windows 7 drivers are available download 64bit drivers for 64bit Windows 7 or 32bit drivers for 32bit Windows 7.
  • If Windows 7 drivers are unavailable download Vista drivers, which will work in most (but not all) cases.
  • Try to find the latest version of your software and download it (Antivirus, DVD Player, Office, etc). If they have a 64bit version get it!
  • Copy any drivers and software you download to an external location (CD, DVD, flash drive, external hard drive, or network location)
  • If you have a 64bit Processor upgrade to a 64bit version if at all possible.
  • Gather any license keys or serial number necessary for your software. Write them down, or store them in a text file with your drivers.

The Cost

  • Almost everyone is eligible for the upgrade price.
  • ANY previous Windows version you own entitles you to upgrade to the Windows 7 version of your choice (example: XP home to Win7 Pro).
  • Purchase the Windows 7 upgrade version you want. If you want to run Windows 7 Professional, then that is the version to purchase.
  • Those who feel they quality as a ‘system builder’ can purchase the OEM version at a reduced cost.
  • If you are a student visit www.win741.com for special pricing. Windows 7 Professional is available also.
  • The Family Pack is a wonderful deal that allows you to upgrade 3 computers for only $149.99.

General Windows 7 Upgrade Information

  • Windows 7 license keys will work for both 32bit and 64bit versions.
  • Windows 7 license keys are versions specific. The key that comes with Windows 7 Home Premium will not activate an Ultimate installation.
  • Both the Full and Upgrade DVD’s are exactly alike. Each will do a clean or in place upgrade installation and contain all Windows 7 versions.
  • Both the Full and Upgrade versions of Windows 7 contain both a 32bit DVD and a 64bit DVD.
  • The OEM version contains only the bit version you purchase (buy 32bit – get 32bit DVD).
  • Microsoft provides NO support for OEM installations. You’re on your own, which doesn’t bother a lot of do-it-yourselfer’s.
  • The OEM version can not perform an in place upgrade.
  • In place upgrades can only be performed when going from Vista to Windows 7
  • In place upgrades must be from the same corresponding version of Vista to Windows 7 (Vista Business to Win7 Pro, Ultimate to Ultimate, etc).
  • in place upgrades must be from/to an operating system of the same bit (32bit Vista to 32bit Window 7).
  • This does not mean you can’t use an upgrade DVD to move from a previous Windows installation to a higher level version of Windows 7.

Windows 7 Upgrade Process

  • It is highly recommended that you do not perform an upgrade, or in place upgrade but rather a clean, or custom, installation.
  • Performing a clean, or custom, installation will let you install any Windows 7 version. Meaning you can install Win7 Ultimate (assuming that is the version you purchased) if your qualifying previous operating system was only XP Home.
  • A clean, or custom, installation will format the partition you choose. This will erase any installations contained there and install a clean copy of the Windows 7 version you choose.
  • Boot from the DVD to perform a clean, or custom installation even with upgrade DVD’s.
  • There is no need to install another operating system to a new hard drive before you install Windows 7. Simple boot to the DVD and perform a ‘custom’ installation.
  • If you have difficulty activating (not likely) type SLUI 4 from the Start Menu and hit Enter. You will be presented with a window with a few simple questions. Answer the questions and click Next to get the MS Activation number. Call Microsoft and they will give you a special phone activation key.
  • If all other activation attempts fail you can use the Vista trick. Install Windows 7 without entering the key. Reboot. Insert the Upgrade DVD and run the installation from the DVD within Windows, thereby performing an in place upgrade of the Windows 7 installation. This time enter the key. Reboot after installation and you should be activated.
  • After installation look for a folder labeled “Windows.old”. This should contain your documents, program files, and windows folder from the previous install, if there was one.
  • Don’t count on the “Windows.old” folder as your backup! It may not be there, but will make restoring programs and documents easier if it is.

Conclusion

Windows 7 is an excellent operating system. If you have a chance to upgrade, or purchase a new pc, I highly recommend it. Go with a 64bit version if at all possible. Plan ahead. Backup your data. Perform a clean install – I always suggest starting with a ‘clean slate’ when moving to a new OS!

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About the Author

David Hartsock

Executive Editor/Owner/Admin of Daves Computer Tips and all-around good guy – Dave’s interest in computers began in the early 1980’s during the Apple II era. In the early 1990’s the PC began to replace proprietary and mainframe devices in Dave’s industry so he began to learn and experiment with the PC. Through DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and now Windows 10. Dave became the “go to” guy for friends, family, and coworkers with computer problems. Daves Computer Tips was born in 2006 in an effort to share these experiences with others in an easy to understand, plain English, form.

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