Upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7 (custom installation)

We highly recommend that you print this tutorial. Your computer will restart during the Windows 7 installation process, so having a printed copy will help you follow the steps if you can't return to this webpage.

Illustration of the process of performing a custom installation of Windows 7
Overview of the process of performing a custom installation of Windows 7


Depending on your hardware and your current edition of Windows Vista, you might be able to use the Upgrade option during Windows 7 installation. For more information, see Upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7.

If you can't upgrade your computer running Windows Vista to Windows 7, you'll need to select the Custom option during Windows 7 installation. A custom installation doesn't preserve your programs, files, or settings. It's sometimes called a "clean" installation for that reason.

A custom installation is more complex, and it can sometimes take a couple of hours to complete. We created this five-step tutorial to help guide you through the entire process each step of the way.

What you need

  • An external hard disk. You'll need to move your files off of your PC before you install Windows 7. To make this easier, we recommend a free download called Windows Easy Transfer, which will require an external hard disk. They're readily available at electronics and office supply stores, and they provide an easy way to add additional storage space to your computer.

  • The original installation discs or setup files for the programs that you want to use with Windows 7. You'll need to reinstall your programs by hand after installing Windows 7. When you run Windows Easy Transfer you will get a report that lists the programs that you are currently using with Windows XP.

32-bit or 64-bit: Which version of Windows 7 to install?

Both 32-bit and 64-bit installation discs are included in the Windows 7 package. 64-bit operating systems can handle large amounts of memory—typically 4 gigabytes (GB) of random access memory (RAM) or more—more efficiently than 32-bit operating systems. However, not all computers are 64-bit capable. For more information, see 32-bit and 64-bit Windows: frequently asked questions.

To find out which Windows 7 installation disc you can use, click the Start button, right-click Computer, and then click Properties.

  • Next to System type you should see either "32-bit Operating System" or "64-bit Operating System." If you see "32-bit Operating System" listed, then you're running the 32-bit version of Windows Vista. Step 1 of this tutorial will show you how to run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, which can tell you if your computer is capable of running the 64-bit version of Windows 7.

  • If "64-bit Operating System" is listed next to System type, then you're running the 64-bit version of Windows Vista and can run the 64-bit version of Windows 7.

Next: Download and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.

Article ID: MSW700066