Upgrading to Windows 7: frequently asked questions

Here are answers to some common questions about Windows 7—including info about buying, installing, and upgrading.

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How do I get Windows 7?

You can buy Windows 7 from a retail store. If you have a netbook or other PC that doesn't have an external DVD drive, go to Installing Windows 7 on a netbook for more info.

Will my software and devices work with Windows 7?

Almost all programs compatible with Windows Vista, and the majority of Windows XP programs, run well in Windows 7. If a program written for an earlier version of Windows doesn't run correctly, you can try changing the compatibility settings for the program. For more info, see Make older programs run in this version of Windows.

Many devices that work with Windows XP or Windows Vista will also work with Windows 7. To see if a program or device will work with Windows 7, visit the Windows Compatibility Center.

What's the difference between the upgrade and full editions of Windows 7?

When purchasing Windows 7, you can choose either an upgrade edition or full edition. Both upgrade and full editions include the same features. Upgrade editions require that Windows XP or Windows Vista are installed on your computer before installing Windows 7. Full editions don't require a previous version of Windows to be installed on your computer.

Note

  • To upgrade an earlier operating system than Windows XP (for example, Windows 95 or Windows 2000), you'll need to buy a full edition of Windows 7 and perform a custom installation.

What is an upgrade installation?

An upgrade installation replaces your current version of Windows with Windows 7 and your files, settings, and programs are kept in place on your PC. You can perform an upgrade installation using either the upgrade or full edition of Windows 7.

What is a custom (clean) installation?

A custom installation replaces your current version of Windows with Windows 7 but doesn't preserve your files, settings, and programs (it's often referred to as a clean installation for this reason). For installation instructions, see Upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7 (custom installation). You can perform a custom installation using either the upgrade or full edition of Windows 7.

Will I lose files, programs, or settings when I install Windows 7?

An upgrade installation of Windows 7 will keep your files, programs, and settings in place. A custom (clean) installation doesn't preserve your files, programs, or settings. If you plan to do a custom installation of Windows 7, be sure to back up your files and other info first. You'll also need to manually reinstall your programs. For more info, see Installing and reinstalling Windows 7.

I'm running Windows XP on my PC. Can I buy the upgrade edition of Windows 7?

Yes, you can buy the upgrade edition of Windows 7, but you'll need to perform a custom installation. This means that you should back up all of your files to an external location and gather the installation discs or setup files for programs that you want to use with Windows 7. For detailed instructions, see Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7.

I'm running Windows Vista on my PC. Can I buy the upgrade edition of Windows 7?

Yes, you can buy the upgrade edition of Windows 7. In some cases you can upgrade directly to Windows 7, but in other cases you'll need to perform a custom installation.

If you're running Windows Vista, you can choose the Upgrade option if you're installing a corresponding or higher edition of Windows 7. The following table shows which editions of Windows Vista can be directly upgraded to Windows 7:

If you're running this edition of Windows Vista
You can upgrade to this edition of Windows 7

Windows Vista Home Basic

Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Ultimate

Windows Vista Home Premium

Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Ultimate

Windows Vista Business

Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate

Windows Vista Ultimate

Windows 7 Ultimate

Notes

  • If you're currently running a 32-bit version of Windows Vista and want to install a 64-bit version of Windows 7, you'll need to perform a custom installation. Also, if you're currently running a 64-bit version of Windows Vista and want to install a 32-bit version of Windows 7 (less common), you'll need to perform a custom installation. For detailed instructions on performing a custom installation, see Upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7 (custom installation).

  • To upgrade an earlier operating system than Windows XP (for example, Windows 95 or Windows 2000), you'll need to buy a full edition of Windows 7 and perform a custom installation.

  • In the European Union (including Croatia and Switzerland) and Korea, Microsoft will release Windows 7 editions that don't include certain features such as Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center. Upgrading to these editions requires a custom installation.

  • Upgrading Windows Vista in one language to Windows 7 in a different language requires a custom installation.

How can I upgrade from one edition of Windows 7 to another edition of Windows 7?

You can add more features to Windows 7 by upgrading to another edition (for example, upgrading from Windows 7 Starter to Windows 7 Home Premium). You can buy an upgrade key in a retail store (where available), then use Windows Anytime Upgrade to perform the upgrade. For more info, see Upgrade to another edition of Windows 7 by using Windows Anytime Upgrade.

Can I use upgrade media to install Windows 7 on a computer that doesn't currently have Windows installed on it?

Windows 7 upgrade media was designed to be used on a computer that has Windows XP or Windows Vista installed on it. You can use upgrade media to install Windows 7 on a computer that doesn't have Windows XP, Windows Vista, or any version of Windows installed on it by starting (or booting) your computer from the Windows 7 upgrade installation disc or a USB flash drive and performing a custom installation. However, you won't be able to activate Windows 7, which validates that you have a genuine copy of Windows and allows you use all the features. For more info, see Genuine Windows

For more info about activation errors, see Windows 7 activation error: invalid product key and Windows 7 activation error: 0xC004F061. You can also get general info about how to activate at the Windows website.

We recommend that you install Windows XP or Windows Vista before installing Windows 7 using upgrade media. Before you try to install Windows 7 using upgrade media on a computer that doesn't have Windows on it, see Installing and reinstalling Windows 7.

Can I format my hard drive, and then install Windows 7?

If you buy the full edition of Windows 7, you can format your hard drive, and then install Windows 7. If you buy the upgrade edition of Windows 7 and want to format your hard drive, you'll need to start (or boot) your computer from the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive, and then perform a custom installation. You can click Drive options (advanced), and then format your hard drive. Don't use a program from another software manufacturer to format your hard drive before installing Windows 7. If you're using upgrade media and format the drive before starting the installation process, you won't be able to use the upgrade product key to activate Windows 7. For more info, see Installing and reinstalling Windows 7.

What is the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit?

64-bit operating systems can use more RAM—4 GB and up—than 32-bit operating systems. That can make them more responsive when you're running lots of programs at once. All packaged retail editions of Windows 7 (except for Home Basic) include both 32-bit and 64-bit installation discs. To see if your PC is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, download and install the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. To read more about the 64-bit version of Windows, see Taking the mystery out of 64-bit Windows.

Can I upgrade from a 32-bit version of Windows to a 64-bit version?

If your PC has a 64-bit capable processor (CPU), you can install a 64-bit version of Windows 7, even if you're currently running a 32-bit version. However, to install a 64-bit version of Windows 7 on a computer already running a 32-bit version, you'll need to back up your files and choose the Custom option during installation. Then, you'll need to restore your files and reinstall your programs. For more info see 32-bit and 64-bit Windows: frequently asked questions.