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Considering upgrade to Windows 7

Since the October release of Microsoft’s Windows 7, our customers have inquired about upgrading their operating system. Windows 7 has several improvements over Vista and XP, but is it worth the cost and effort to make the switch?

Typically the benefits of installing a new operating system are outweighed by the cost, inconvenience and possible hardware upgrades needed for the change.

Nearly all new PCs are sold with their own license for the operating system (OS). The Certificate of Authenticity (COA) for the operating system is a colorful sticker usually found on the side or back of the computer. It displays the 25-digit key code that must be entered if the computer needs a reload. The code is assigned to that computer alone. A reload must be completed for the OS version specified on the sticker, such as Windows XP Media Center, Vista Home Premium, or Windows 7 Ultimate.

To install a different operating system, a licensed copy should be purchased then installed on the computer. Windows 7 retails in three versions: Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. Home Premium is the most widely used version for personal use. Windows 7 Professional provides increased security options, adds “Windows XP Mode” and is more suitable for networking and other business needs. Ultimate adds data encryption and can switch among 35 different languages. To upgrade to any of these Windows 7 versions, you must first consider the operating system you are upgrading.

Windows 7 Upgrades from Windows Vista range in price from $120 to $220. An upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 is not available. If the system specs of the XP computer are sufficient, a full retail version of Windows 7 may be purchased and installed. Full retail versions of Windows 7 range in price from $200 to $320. The installation of any operating system or upgrade takes a few hours and a moderate level of expertise in finding drivers for the system’s hardware. A typical bench fee for this is $100. Files must be backed up before the install begins, which can add to the cost. With a fresh install of the OS, the computer will be a “clean slate,” often with less software than at the time of purchase. At home, programs must be reinstalled, and peripherals and settings must be reconfigured.

In spite of the cost and inconvenience, many PC users are considering upgrading from Vista to Windows 7. Systems that run Vista well should have no trouble handling Windows 7. Like Vista, Windows 7 needs a computer with at least a 1 GHz processor (preferably 1.8 GHz or more), 15-20 GB of available hard drive space (usually a 120 GB drive or better), and 1-2 GB memory.

Windows XP requires only a fraction of the speed and capacity, so many computers built for XP will not run the newer operating systems well without significant upgrades. While you consider this option, also consider trading in the old computer for a newer machine built specifically for Windows 7. That may be the most practical choice.

Patty Harshbarger, with Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at