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Upgrading from Vista to Windows 7

12 November 2009

For those still running Windows Vista and who may be interested in upgrading to Windows 7, I thought I’d document my experience for you. Short version: success, with minor caveats.

Long version…

It was with great… well perhaps some… okay, mild excitement that I arrived home on Tuesday to discover that my “free” copy of Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Upgrade had arrived in the post. By “free” I mean that my purchase of Vista Home Premium (64-bit) a few months ago came with an upgrade voucher included in the price. Every online retailer’s idea of pre-order is delivery on the doorstep on the day of release or the next day at worst; Microsoft’s idea of pre-order seems to mean 2-3 weeks after release in the stores. Still… gift horse, and all that.

Below I have shown the times to give you an idea of how long it all takes. My recently-built PC is an Intel Core i7 920 with 6GB DDR3 RAM and 1TB SATA2 HDD. Your mileage will almost certainly vary in terms of time.

Prior to sticking in the DVD — and praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that Microsoft hadn’t royally cocked up — I took a few steps to cover myself. This involved the following:

  • My C: drive contains the operating system and programs only. All my data is on another drive, and I have important C: data backed up elsewhere.
  • Downloaded the Windows 7 version of my network card driver to my desktop.
  • Downloaded the Windows 7 version of my video card driver to my desktop.
  • Disable all third-party software that start automatically.
  • Disable antivirus software, as the install program recommends.*

That was it, really.

Note: I dual-boot between Windows and Wubi Ubuntu Linux, so that’s worth considering below when I mention Windows boot menus, as it’s likely most Windows-only installations won’t show a menu most of the time. It also shows that the process will work if you multi-boot your PC.

First Run – Compatibility Check
Upon inserting the DVD and running setup.exe, I told it to install Windows 7 which, among other things, got it to run a compatibility check.

It flagged a number of devices and programs that “might not work after installing Windows 7”:

  • Devices: IDE storage controller and Canon scanner (purchased in 2000 and only usable via VueScan‘s generic driver).
  • Programs: iTunes (reminded me to de-authorise it first), DaemonTools, and the ATI Catalyst software for my graphics CrossfireX cards.

The install software automatically removed the driver software, but this caused some issues for my SATA DVD-RW drive until I made a BIOS change (to force ACHI emulation instead of IDE), then I removed the programs as recommended.

Now for the install process, as I experienced it:

  • 20:25: Ran setup.exe on the Windows 7 upgrade DVD. It performed and passed the compatibility checks, then started the installation proper (“copying Windows files”).
  • 20:30: Step 2: Gathering information.
  • 20:50: Step 3: Expanding Windows files.
  • 20:55: System rebooted, Windows boot menu showed a “Windows 7 Installation” option which was automatically selected.
  • 21:05: Continuation of file expansion.
  • 21:15: Step 4: Installing features and updates, screen flickered a few times (video drivers, etc).
  • 21:18: Reboot. Same boot menu option automatically selected.
  • 21:20: Step 5: Transferring files, settings and programs.
  • 21:40: Reboot. Boot menu now showed Windows 7 (rather than Windows Vista).
  • 21:52: Reboot. Came up doing video performance checks. It made me enter my licence key at this point,** and then began the Windows post-install setup process (update installation schedule, clock and timezone, network and firewall settings, etc).
  • 21:57: The Windows 7 login screen appeared. Once I logged in with my existing username and password it followed by preparing the desktop, personal settings, etc.
  • 22:03: Finally at the new Windows 7 desktop. Windows Update ran at this point and downloaded 65MB of updates. It included driver updates for my motherboard and peripherals (NIC, audio, video, etc). I let it do all of them, figuring Microsoft had screwed up third-party driver updates for so long now that they must have got it right by now. Want to bet?
  • 22:11: When updates were all installed, machine wanted to be rebooted so I did.
  • 22:25: Upon coming back up I realised that my network connection was no longer working. Windows Update had screwed up my NIC driver update (this is why I downloaded the Windows 7 version of the driver before starting the upgrade process). Ran the software to install the driver manually, and everything began working correctly. Did a manual installation of the video card drivers as well. This required another reboot.
  • 22:50: All done.

The compatibility check run was first performed at 19:10, so — including the preparatory work of downloading drivers and removing incompatible drivers and programs — the whole process took about 4 hours. It fair to say that you should be able to do it in an evening after work, providing you have second-guessed Microsoft’s track record and know what you’re doing.

With the exception of the ever-so-helpful third-party driver updates screwing things up, it all worked perfectly well after a bunch of installations and 6 reboots. The rest of the work to be done was adding the removed software, re-enabling software for automatic startup, and general customisation. Everything seems to be working fine.

The Aero Peek and the new taskbar are going to take some getting used to, but I’m happy.

It seems it’s true when they say that Windows 7 has unbroken Vista in the same way that Snow Leopard has unbroken Leopard. Time will tell, I suppose.

* If not for the inbuilt firewall in my ADSL router, I would be seriously concerned about Microsoft’s decades-old requirement to disable antivirus software when installing or uninstalling their operating systems. Not so much an issue anymore, but was a critical problem back in the dialup PSTN days.

** It asked me for the licence key almost 3 hours after beginning the installation process. Why on earth didn’t it do this at the start?

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