Thursday, September 24, 2009

Prepare for your Windows 7 Upgrade after October 22, 2009

Here are a few tips to help prepare for your Windows 7 upgrade once it's released to the public on October 22nd.

- Run the Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor :

From Microsoft: In general, if your PC can run Windows Vista, it can run Windows 7. But if you're not running Windows Vista, or are just not sure if your system is ready to run Windows 7, there's a quick way to do a simple check.

Just download, install, and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Beta. You'll get a report telling you if your PC can run Windows 7 and if there are any known compatibility issues. If an issue can be resolved, you'll get suggestions for next steps. For example, it may let you know that you need an updated driver for your printer and where to get it.

- Centralize or identify your data and take a full backup of it:

Make sure everything you care about is either located under your "My Documents" folder, or that you know where it is. When you perform an upgrade to Windows 7, you will find that making a full copy of your data onto an external storage device -- such as a USB drive, then deleting all your data on the old hard drive, will make for a much faster and smoother upgrade experience. Once you've completed the upgrade, copy your data from that external storage back to the proper folders.

- Get Windows 7 compatible drivers for all your system devices in advance:

Go to the sources for your devices: for NVidia video cards for example, Intel for your Intel network adapters, or your motherboard manufacturer for so-called integrated network adapters. Get a copy of each driver, expand it using WinZip or 7zip if needed, all into a special sub-directory on a separate partition or onto that external storage device you used earlier. At the very least get that network driver -- even if you skip the others -- so that once Windows 7 is up and running you can use auto-update to get further drivers as needed.

- Check your hard drives health:

Most problems that I've seen so far with interrupted upgrades were due to hard drive failures that happened before the upgrade. This may be an excellent time to upgrade your hard drive to a newer, faster model . . . You should at the very least force a full chkdsk on your drive. Open a CMD prompt (in admin mode under Vista, or normal under XP) and type: "chkdsk c: /f" and press enter. Answer "Y" without the quotes to any questions asked, then type EXIT and press enter. Now reboot your system and let the scheduled disk check proceed uninterrupted.

You can also do a deeper analysis using any of the excellent tools available online that can read your hard drives SMART status. All attributes from that analysis should read OK. If any show as weak, or failed, replace the drive. Here are two of my favorites:

Speedfan (use the SMART tab to check HDD status.)
Hard Disk Sentinel

- Add more RAM:

Now is the time to finally upgrade your on-board memory. If you're already at 3 or 4GB of RAM, disregard. If not, I recommend adding or replacing your RAM to get to the 4GB level. Windows 7 will run under less, but it will run great if it has more memory to use -- and so will your applications. If you're sitting at 2GB or less, it's highly recommended that you upgrade.

- Check your RAM's health:

One of the more . . . interesting . . . scenarios where an upgrade can fail is when some of your RAM has gone bad.  It worked fine on the old system, but Windows 7 uses more RAM than older operating systems and will reveal weaknesses that you did not know existed.  Before you upgrade - and even when you buy new RAM - you should test the installed memory to be sure it's in good shape.

A decent memory tester can be found at:

Download the ISO and burn it to a CD, then boot to that CD and run the test through at least two full passes. If you get a 100% pass, you're good to go.

- Consider upgrading to the 64 bit version of Windows 7:

If your hardware is fairly recent, and you have 4GB or more of RAM, then you will find that Windows 7 64-bit will run faster, be more stable, and is more secure against some of the worst exploits on the internet than the 32-bit edition. This will likely require a clean install for you though, so it's up to you to balance your needs and scenario. Windows 64-bit is much more compatible with older applications than any previous 64-bit OS from Microsoft, plus there is a much larger library of drivers for old and new devices for 64-bit than ever before.