I’ll show you how Windows XP users can safely upgrade to Windows 7 without performing a “Clean Install”. For this article I picked a typical mid range ($1600) PC that was commonly sold around the 2004/2005 time frame.
The object of an “In-Place Upgrade” is to keep all your XP applications, user accounts, data files and not be forced to start with a clean install of Windows 7. Keep in mind a lot of XP applications are not Vista compatible and it will take time for patches or application upgrades become available after the official release of Windows 7.
Strange as it may seem a Google to find articles on how Windows XP users can “Upgrade” and not “Migrate” turned up nothing useful. For clarification the term “Migrate” generally means to move your files, documents and photos from one computer or OS to another. After performing a “Migration” you have a “Clean Install” of the Windows OS you have migrated to and therefore must start from scratch by re-installing all your applications and customizations you installed or created over the years.
Baseline: Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 3 (32Bit) 3.0GHz P4 HT. 2GB DDR400 Dual Channel memory. NVIDIA GeForce TI-4200 Video Card. 160GB ATA-100 Hard Drive. 16x SATA DVD-RW drive + IDE DVD-R drive 3.5” Floppy
The computer’s strong point is the 2GB of Dual Channel memory, the weak point is a low end video card (NVIDIA TI-4200). A PC that’s has more than enough computer power for the average Windows XP user but somewhat limited for VISTA. So how well will this system perform with Windows 7 after the upgrade is the question.
As expected the Video card was the weak point as it could not support Aero so the Upgrade Advisor suggested Vista Business. Since the end goal was to migrate to the Windows 7 Ultimate Public Beta I replaced the Video card with a GeForce 5600 Ultra which will support Aero. Note: The video card did require that I uninstall the old card’s driver and install the 5600 drivers.
Rerunning the Upgrade Advisor now showed Aero was supported so I could install Vista Ultimate which has all the same supported features as the Business edition plus some additional features.
Before performing any major upgrade it’s always wise to backup your current operating system. If anything should go wrong you can always use the backup to get your computer back up and running with Windows XP as if nothing has happened. The best backup solution is an “Image Backup” of your hard drive with the Image file stored on external media. I choose Acronis True Image 2009 for reasons mentioned below.
Acronis True Image 2009: http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/ Available with a 15 day free trial, user’s manual (.pdf) and the trial version provides the ability to create a Rescue/Recovery CD which is important if you need to perform a restore. After creating a Rescue CD I then created and stored the image backup file to an external USB hard drive. Now I could start the migration process.
For the record I’m a long time Norton Ghost user but the trial version does not allow you to create a Recovery CD. But it was not all that hard to learn how to use Acronis as long as you have the User’s Guide as a handy reference.
In-Place Upgrade from Windows XP to Vista: I used the following article to perform the upgrade to Vista Ultimate SP1. Windows Vista Migration Step-by-Step Guide: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc748915.aspx (Specifically you will be using the three step “Upgrade to Windows Vista” part of this article and not the “Migrating to Windows Vista” section”). Step #3 has seven sub steps to perform the actual upgrade. Although no mention of disabling your Anti-Virus software is mentioned I would suggest you do so, but keep the firewall enabled. I did forget to disable the Norton 360 AV software but had not problems with the upgrade, however you never can tell so disable your AV software.
During the upgrade process you are asked to “Automatically activate Windows when I’m online”, I unchecked this option since the end goal is to migrate to Windows 7 and there is no need to activate Vista. The install process did identify some issues such as Video card drive and Raid Controller. But I’m not running a raid configuration and the Video driver can be taken care of after the upgrade completes. In the “Upgrading Windows …” progress box you will see a notice to the effect that the upgrade may take several hours to complete. If fact the actual upgrade time took about 1Hr and 10 minutes. The upgrade process is fairly disk intensive so users who have SATA-I or SATA-II drives should expect a reduction in migration times.
Warning: During the Upgrade process the computer will reboot five times, there is no user action required. Do not press any keys on the keyboard during the reboot, just stand back and let the computer reboot to allow the upgrade process to continue. The forth and fifth reboots take longer than most and the display will remain black for a minute or two, After which the “Completing upgrade” continues.
After the final reboot you will be asked to configure “Windows Updates”, I picked the “Ask me later” option, verified the Date and Time zone settings, clicked “Next”, picked “Home” as the current location and at the “Thank you” window clicked “Start” and waited for the completion of the upgrade process which is the performance assessment process and takes about another 5 minutes of staring at the progress bar at the bottom of the screen. Next you will be asked to log on using your Account name which is the same as it was in XP. A few minutes of “Setting up your desktop” activity and then you are greeted with the “Welcome” screen.
Vista Upgrade Results: After you close the “Welcome” window you may or may not see a “Found New Hardware” window. In my case Vista was looking for SCSI drivers (which I don’t use) so I picked the “Don’t show this message again for this device” option.
Everything looked normal as far as my desktop icons. My documents where all there. I checked my AV software for updates which worked. Running “Belarc Advisor” tripped UAC which is one of the love hate relationships with Vista users. Belarc downloaded the latest updates and then displayed it’s usual analysis report for my computer. I also checked “Device Manager”, no unpleasant surprises in the form of Yellow question marks.
Then I downloaded and installed the NVIDIA Vista driver for my video card. Don’t know if Windows 7 would be happy with a Vista driver (suspect not) but we will see during the upgrade to Windows 7. Checked “Disk Management” and at this point you may see a small 9MB unallocated located at the end of the drive. Finally I created another Image backup to capture the Vista installation.
In-Place Upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7: Now it’s time to upgrade Vista to Windows 7. I used the following article to perform the upgrade to the Windows 7 Ultimate public beta: Step-by-Step: Windows 7 Upgrade and Migration for Beta http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd446674.aspx (Specifically the section titled: Upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7)
The upgrade process starts in the same manner as the XP to Vista upgrade did, again expect the computer to reboot several times during the upgrade process, but the total time to complete the upgrade took less time than it did to upgrade to Vista, most likely because I accidentally forgot to turn off my external USB drive and I’m certain that during the upgrade process some temporary file where created on the external drive as opposed to the single internal drive in the computer. After entering the Windows 7 key code the upgrade completed.
Windows 7 Upgrade Results: Again everything looked normal as far as my desktop icons. My documents where still all there. I checked my AV software for updates which worked. Running “Belarc Advisor” tripped UAC again as it did in Vista. Belarc Advisor downloaded the latest updates and then displayed its usual analysis report for my computer. However Belarc still listed Vista as the Windows OS but at least the keycode was the correct Windows 7 code. Once again I checked “Device Manager”, with no unpleasant surprises in the form of Yellow question marks.
Since Windows 7 is a beta I did not expect that any of the applications to run but the few I had installed appeared to function without any problems. Windows 7 used the built in Video card driver and a check of NVIDIA’s web site showed no Windows 7 driver available for the GeForce 5600 Ultra.
Conclusion: Yes you can succesfully perform an In-Place Upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 and keep most if not all of your applications, data files and settings. But you will need a Vista CD, however since activation is not required you can borrow it from a friend if you don’t have one on hand.
Follow Up: After the completion of upgrade to Windows 7 I decided to see if Acronis would restore the computer using the Windows XP image backup I created at the beginning of this article. It did, which is a good test of both the Rescue CD and the Image backup recovery process.