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

The upgrade path from XP to Windows 7 is clear, albeit some work. The path from Vista can be simpler, but I recommend a clean install anyway.

I am running Windows Vista Ultimate on one home computer, and Windows Vista Home Premium on another. I have just had too many issues with Vista, and I would like to upgrade them both to Windows 7 when it is released. Upgrading the one with Home Premium is easy, since it just requires inserting a disk for the upgrade, but to upgrade Ultimate to a Win 7 system lower than WIN 7 Ultimate, requires a clean install, basically starting all over. How is this done. What is the recommended procedure, and can non-techie user manage the process?

I've actually had several questions on how to upgrade to Windows 7. Most are actually about the upgrade path from Windows XP, but the case above is similar, in that you can't just insert the Windows 7 media and upgrade in place.

You need to perform a clean install.

But then, that's what I recommend regardless of what you have.

Let me explain why, and how.

An upgrade install means simply inserting the installation media for your new operating system - Windows 7 in this case - and running the installation program. It then notices whatever you have installed on your machine already, and upgrades it in place. All your compatible applications and data remain - you're just running them in the new operating system.

That all actually sounds pretty nifty in principal. Unfortunately, there are two problems:

"... even if you can perform an upgrade I typically advise against it ..."
  • If you're running Windows XP, it's not supported. If you're "downgrading" the edition (i.e. from Vista Ultimate to Win7 Pro or Home), as our questioner is, it's also apparently not supported.

  • If you can do it, history says the results aren't always as clean as the scenario might lead you to believe. Most major upgrades often leave behind minor, and occasionally major, problems and issues.

If you're in the first category, you have no choice, but even if you can perform an upgrade I typically advise against it because of the second. I also happen to view an operating system installation as a major operation that's a perfect time to "clean up" your system from any accumulated software rot.

In other words, whether you can upgrade or not, just perform a clean install anyway.

Like an upgrade, a clean install is very simple in concept, but unlike an upgrade it's more work.

  • Backup - at a minimum, backup all your data. Ideally, though, just backup everything with an image backup from which you can restore individual files. In my experience, trying to identify what constitutes "your data" is almost always incomplete, and you frequently find that later there's something you really wanted that you didn't think to include. Backing up everything avoids that issue.

  • Install Windows - when you install the operating system make certain to chose a new installation, overwriting the old. If given the option, allow it to format the installation partition to erase everything there on. (A quick format is sufficient.)

  • Reinstall Applications - using their original installation media, or their saved downloads, install the applications that you use. I tend to install a few primary applications that I use all the time right away, and then install others over time as I need them.

  • Restore Data - copy back any and all data that you need from your backup: your documents, pictures, what-have-you.

That's all there is to it.

Yes, it's a lengthier process, but in the long run I believe it actually saves time, since the net result is a clean system.

And, if you're running XP or downgrading your edition, it's your only choice.

Article C3854 - August 27, 2009 « »

Share this article with your friends:

Share this article on Facebook Tweet this article Email a link to this article
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?

Gene Thomas
August 27, 2009 12:16 PM

I have been using Vista Premium on a Gateway desktop for over a year. I have never had a problem, and rarely have to reboot, even though I install then uninstall a fairly large number of applications I want to try out (using Revo uninstaller).

Why is it that so many people have problems with Vista? Is it because they installed it on an XP machine, even if a clean install? Not enough memory? Incorrect drivers? For my money the less than truly expert should by a new computer, built and designed for the new operating system.

My sense in the years since Vista was released is that problems and complaints fall into three buckets:

1) upgrade versus clean installs. Installing Vista as an upgrade to XP has been known to leave problems. It's a reason a always recommend clean installs for OS version upgrades.

2) hardware issues. Vista's support of some hardware, especially initially, was lacking - particularly printers. That's gotten somewhat better over time for various reasons.

3) taste. Some people simply didn't like many of the user interface and behaviour changes. These aren't "problems" in the technical sense - Vista's operating as designed - but if you can't figure out how to make it do what you want, that's a problem.


August 28, 2009 2:19 AM

Gene, you're right that one of the main problems with Vista is that the machines are just not powerful enough to run it well, but the problem is that Vista came installed on hundreds of thousands if not millions of machines incapable of running it properly.

September 1, 2009 8:38 AM

Yes, a clean install is the way to go. But you should not have glossed over one of the major hurdles - Apple's hideous DRM locks on your purchased music. Even non-DRM podcasts can be a nightmare. Apple's cronies have created a horror story that all users should be aware of.

September 1, 2009 8:51 AM

just create a partition and install windows 7 on it [ dual boot ] so you wil have 2 operating system on one machine .

Fine, except that it makes sharing things between the two operating systems cumbersome at best.

September 1, 2009 10:30 AM

I use 2 scenarios:
1. On one machine I run W7 in a vBox virtual partition. That works great. I gave it 1GB of RAM and plenty of incremantal disk space. Thus I have 2.325GB left for Vista and hopping back and forth between the systems is really a piece of cake. I reboot Vista (the host) as few times as possible because each time superfetch needs some time to rearrange the real estate in the page file. I use sleep mode instead.
2. On another system I installed an SSD as a second disk. I disconnected the HDD (with Vista on it) and installed W7 on the SSD (an OCZ Vertex). Thus I could avoid the double boot scenario - with all it's problems. I switch between the 2 systems with the boot sequence in the BIOS. Not quite as convenient as the vBox scenario, but super fast. W7 boots in 10 seconds flat and launching a program or a folder is faster than I can lift the finger from the mouse.

September 1, 2009 11:25 AM

I built a new PC a year ago and put Vista Ultimate on it - 32 bit. I wanted to go to 64 bit with Win 7. Doing a 'clean install' will cost $100 more rather than getting 'upgrade' version and staying with 32 bit. I hate these kind of decisions.

That is incorrect. A clean install does not cost extra. It's confusing, I know, but an upgrade (purchase) is not the same as an upgrade (install) - more here: What's the difference between an upgrade and an upgrade?

September 1, 2009 10:56 PM

Clean install, like others have said. And the dual-boot idea with XP/7 is an even better idea - something I'll definitely be doing.

Paul M
September 3, 2009 11:44 AM

Installed Windows 7 RC (64bit). Clean Install on a new self build computer. I like the program. I never used Vista before, because I stuck with WinXP. What amazed me most is the speed that win7 load up and also closes. Have not found out what caused that increase in speed. CPU used is AMD Phenom II X3 and 4GB DDR3 memory. I did not start to overclock the unit yet.

February 13, 2010 9:19 AM

Hey, I did what you said - a clean install - and now it won't let me use the upgrade activation key. It is telling me that the previous version has to be on the computer, which it is not because I did a clean install and wiped it out. Now I can't activate my system!

I have the disks for XP, ME, and others, but at no point does the activation ask for these.


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.