Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Many XP machines have enough power to safely run Windows 7, but there is no realistic 'upgrade' or 'conversion' path.

Our first question today begins with someone submitting a fairly lengthy Windows 7 upgrade advisory report. It indicates that the machine is currently running Windows XP; it has a 2.4 gHz processor; it has 1.5 GB of RAM, and then it goes on to indicate the custom installation required etc, etc.

The person at the very bottom of this asks, "Can I convert this XP to Windows 7?"

In this excerpt from Answercast #16, I look at running Windows 7 on an older XP machine and the steps needed to get there.

Convert to Windows 7

The reason I'm pulling this question out and answering it here is because of the terminology.

First of all, that basic machine is certainly capable of running Windows 7. 1.5 GB of RAM is a little on the low side, but I have machines with that little RAM running Windows 7 just fine.

So the machine - not a problem. It's the word "convert" that has me concerned.

  • There is no upgrade; there is no conversion process for going from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Reformat and reinstall

In order to move any computer from Windows XP to Windows 7, the correct approach is:

  • Back up the machine.
  • Reformat.
  • Install Windows 7 from scratch.

There is no upgrade ... from scratch.

  • Then, reinstall the applications you want to reinstall.
  • Then, recover your data (either from wherever you've placed it otherwise, or from that backup you started this process with.).

A poor alternative

There is one alternative approach that I really, really don't recommend. It can allow you to upgrade, but the results are often less than stable. It can also cost you a little bit more money:

  • Upgrade your Windows XP machine to Windows Vista.
  • And then upgrade that Windows Vista to Windows 7.

The money is, of course, that you need to find yourself a copy of Windows Vista. The stability problem is that you're going through two levels of upgrade without really spending a lot of time ironing out any problems that may have happened in the middle.

Upgrading is a chance to reformat

Upgrades are always a little shaky. In fact, whenever you move from one operating system to another (Windows XP to Vista, or even Vista to Windows 7), I actually recommend that you take that as an opportunity to do a complete reformat and reinstall anyway.

The most stable machines are those that have had the operating system installed from scratch, not an upgrade.

So, that's my recommendation.

It sounds like you've got a machine to do this on. You simply need to be prepared to back up, reformat, and reinstall Windows 7 from scratch.

Article C5315 - May 9, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Jim de Graff
May 11, 2012 11:12 AM

The user should also consider the size of his/her system (C) partition. When running Windows XP I typically did just fine with a 16 gig C partition. However, with Windows 7 (which apparently never ever throws anything away) I found that even a 30 gig partition eventually started to choke. I now have a 60 gig C partition which is 50% full. I generally install a lot of development software so I would recommend 40-50 gig.

As an aside, after installing Windows 7 and applying all updates and service packs, I suggest the user runs the following in a command shell as Administrator

DISM /online /Cleanup-Image /SpSuperseded

This will "freeze" the service pack(s) and free up a couple of gig. And as you would undoubtedly recommend, after completing the configuration, take a disk image of C (Macrium Reflect).

May 11, 2012 4:46 PM

Thank you for nice article.
But there are still some if and but in my head... I got Dell Laptop and if I want to reformat the main problem will be updating drivers.

What you suggest?

Mark J
May 12, 2012 1:11 AM

I've done this a few times. Most of the drivers were already supplied by Windows. For those which weren't, I went to the manufacturer's web site where I was able to find any other drivers I needed. One caveat, however: I suggest you check the Dell website to see if drivers for your machine are available for Windows 7. If your machine is too old, those drivers might not have been updated for Windows 7.

George Driskill
May 12, 2012 9:31 AM

Hi Leo: when I have done an XP-Pro re-install, that is, data backup, complete re-format , and re-install, I usually have difficulty with all the drivers. I have done it with an old Compaq and a couple of Dell's. The only machine that went well was my HP-Compaq laptop. I bought a couple of device driver programs that didn't work. One time I went without a sound driver for 6 months, then one day my computer said "new driver available," and my sound started working. When I decided to re-do my matching Dell Optiplex 160 desktops, I bought new power supplies and new harddrives, as it was worth the cost for all the work I was about to go through. When I went to the Dell website and entered my service tag, there were 2-3 different drivers for each device. I just kept installing them until I got the best results. It would seem to me that there has to be a better way. WOULD YOU PLEASE COMMENT ON THE DRIVER ISSUE? (permission granted to paraphrase or re-write my comments for a better article) thanks! George. P.S. Regarding moving to Win7, maybe you should include a caveat that not all applications that run under XP will run under Win7 and that "upgraders" may be in for spending more than they anticipated. I upgraded a Dell 745 from XP to Win7 and had to buy new Office suite, but as it was for my daughter going off to school, the student version was affordable.

I never use driver update programs, and always simply download the latest offered from the manufacturer (Dell in most cases). Can't say I've ever had a problem with that approach.
Most programs that run in XP work in 7. Definitely not all, granted, but most. In your case I've never even heard of a scenario where an Office suite needed an upgrade to work in Windows 7 - all the old ones that I'm aware of just worked. (Microsoft Office XP, 2003, 2007, 2010 all work in Win 7).

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to to ask your question.