Update: 4/30/2014 – ICH/AHCI Information Added
As I move friends and clients off Windows XP I have run into some problems. Most are easy to solve, if you understand the problem. Others are impossible to solve because there is no workable solution. I decided to provide the information I’ve had to learn over the last few weeks So, if you are wondering if you can update your computer running Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8/8.1 this is something for you to read.
I doubt I know all there is to know about this upgrade path. But, I have successfully done a number of updates from Xp to 7. I probably haven’t found all the problems or the best software. But, I do have software that works. I’ve also run into some knotty problems that it took a lot of research to solve. So, hopefully this will save some of some time.
Is it Worth Updating or Even Possible?
The decision to update or not from a security perspective is really based on whether you use the computer online. If not, don’t bother updating it, you are fine. So, machines that run factory machines, cutting devices, manufacturing robots, etc., do not need to upgrade.
If the machine connects to the Internet or does email, you have a problem. It is not immediate, but it will grow with time because hackers are always looking for exploits in any system. For 12 years Microsoft has been plugging the holes in Win XP. There is no reason to expect that any fewer problems will be found in 2014 than were found in 2013. But now, Microsoft will not be fixing the problems in Win XP. So, each day it is more likely someone can take over your Win XP computer.
The first step in deciding about an upgrade is finding out if your computer can be upgraded to Win7/8. If it was built in the last 2 years, it certainly can. If it was built 3 to 5 years ago, probably. If 6 to 10 years ago, there is an OK chance. More than 10 years ago, the chances go down. But, how do you know for sure?
Update: the Southbridge chip will decide how easy it is or is not to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8. See: Enable AHCI / NCQ on Windows 2k/XP/2003 for ICH 6/7/8/9 (non-raid). This information will get many older motherboards working with Win 7.
Whether or not the hardware can run Win7/8 is mostly dependent on whether you motherboard manufacturer is providing drivers for Win7/8. The easy way to figure that out is to go to Microsoft’s site: Upgrade Advisor. They have an advisor for Windows 7 and another for Windows 8. Which should you try to go for, 7 or 8?
I think learning Windows 7 (Win 7) is going to be easier for people coming from XP. If you have been on Windows on a smart phone or a tablet then Windows 8 (Win 8) may be easier. Driver wise, the older the computer the more likely you want to plan on going with Win 7. Older boards may have updates and drivers for Win 7. Those drivers should work for Win 8, but the install can be difficult.
The advisor will tell you if your hardware will support Win 7 or not. It will also tell you which programs you have installed that can again be installed on Win 7.
Take special note of whether you can run 64-bit. You REALLY want to go with 64-bit.
Getting Win 7
You can still buy new copies of Windows 7 (Best Buy US$139 for Pro – eBay $75-$140). The ideal version for most is the Pro version. The Ultimate version has features only needed in a large office space. Those features have mostly to do with how Win 7 networks. Pro does just fine on SOHO (Small Office Home Office) networks.
Windows 7 Home Premium lacks only two features found in Pro; Remote Desktop and Offline Files. If you have no need to access your PC from remote locations, this may be a good choice. Home Basic I think is rather crippled. Avoid it.
You are going to want to get all your files, pictures, music, and stuff from the old XP setup to the new 7/8 setup. The transfer process has some gotchas. If things go sideways or you make a bad choice in selecting an option, you can easily lose all your files.
If you do everything right, Win 7 is only going to keep the old files for 28 days. So, you have to find all the files the installs rolls up in a folder named Windows.OLD and get them moved.
I suggest getting everything backed up to an external device before starting.. I can get a 65gb USB drive for US$40 at Radio Shack. If you have another computer I suggest moving your files to a network drive. Or you can get an external USB drive. I saw a 3 terabyte drive for US$120 at Fry’s. They make a GREAT backup device. Smaller ones are cheaper.
You may have used Microsoft’s Easy File Transfer in the past. It is still around. But, it is not much help going from XP to Win 7. I’ve given up using it for XP to 7 transfers. You CANNOT transfer from XP 32-bit, which most XP machines are, to Win 7 64-bit. It just does not work and Microsoft tells you so. That path is closed.
Get your email, addresses, and passwords backed up. You’ll want your browser cookies, bookmarks, and passwords too. Google for how to backup your email program (i.e., Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.). Google how to export cookies, passwords, etc. from the browser you use. You can do the same with your documents, spreadsheets, pictures, and music.
If you use Gmail, Hotmail, or other online mail and have you addresses in that service, this is not an issue when moving to Win 7. The stuff is on their servers and not in your machine.
You have to know where you put your stuff. It is easy to miss something. I find it safest with client computers with work data to do a backup of the system. I can always go into the backup and find a file we missed transferring.