Do you need more than Windows 7 Home Premium?

Do you need more than Windows 7 Home Premium?

Summary: One of the most frequent questions I get these days comes from people who've been running the Windows 7 beta and Release Candidate and are planning to upgrade to the final version when it's available on October 22. "Which edition of Windows 7 do I need?" Most of the feature charts I've seen are dry and dense and overcomplicated. Here's my super-simple version, which also includes OS X.


Special Report: Windows 7

One of the most frequent questions I get these days comes from people who’ve been running the Windows 7 beta and RC and are planning to upgrade to the final version when it’s available on October 22. “Which edition of Windows 7 do I need?”

Interestingly, this question also comes up in other contexts as well. When Apple defenders appear in the TalkBack section here, they regularly insist that the Home Premium edition is “crippled” and “stripped-down.” Sooner or later, they insist, any self-respecting Windows user will have to upgrade. Based on that argument, they say that you must use the more expensive Ultimate edition to compare the costs of a Windows PC to those of a Mac, which comes in only a single edition. As you’ll see from the table below, this isn’t accurate.

On the Windows side, many users just automatically assume that more is better. By that logic, Ultimate is obviously the best and lesser versions are inferior. Because they’re power users, they assume that Home Premium’s missing features mean they’re going to be lacking a feature they really need.

But is that true? If you’re buying Windows Home Premium, what features are you missing, exactly? What would you get if you paid extra for Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate? And is it fair to compare OS X and Windows 7 Home Premium?

A few weeks ago, I did an exhaustive comparison of the differences between Windows 7 editions. For the comparison here, I decided to strip the list down to a single, simple table, which represents the entire list of features that are in Professional or Ultimate editions that are not in Home Premium edition (with one esoteric exception, which I documetned at the end of the notes page). For comparison’s sake, I included OS X in the table as well. As you can see, OS X has much more in common with Windows 7 Home Premium than it does with the features in Professional and Ultimate editions. That shouldn’t be a surprise, because those two upgraded Windows editions are specifically aimed at customers running on Windows-based networks.

Note that this is not a Windows 7 versus Mac OS X smackdown. Rather, it’s strictly designed to help you see whether you need one or more unique features from the Professional and Ultimate editions or whether the mainstream Home Premium edition will meet your needs.

Table: Features found exclusively in Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate

Note: this chart has been updated since its original publication as described on the next page.

For a detailed discussion of what these items mean, see the notes on the next page.

Next -->

These notes apply to the feature table and introduction on the previous page.

The items in the table on the previous page include all features that are available only with Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate. In many cases, similar or identical functionality is available through add-ons or third-party software. However, I have only credited a product with a Yes and the accompanying green shading if the feature is a part of the operating system. Click the image to the right to see the larger version of this table on the previous page.

MEMORY Windows 7 Home Premium supports a maximum of 16GB of installed RAM, whereas Professional and Ultimate can address a maximum of 192GB of RAM. [Update: To access more than 3.5GB of RAM, you need the x64 version. All editions of Windows 7 will be available in x86 and x64 versions and will ship with dual media.] The OS X story is a little more complicated: According to Apple, the upcoming Snow Leopard release will be able to address 16 TB of RAM. However, Apple’s current lineup of hardware maxes out at 8GB (for MacBook Pro and iMac lines) or 32GB (for the Mac Pro).

PRESENTATION MODE/NETWORK PROJECTOR The Professional and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 have a pair of tools designed to make life easier for people who give presentations regularly, with easy access to network projectors and a one-button way to disable things like pop-up notifications and screen savers. Nice, not likely that anyone will pay extra for this.

ENCRYPTING FILE SYSTEM Home Premium does not support EFS, which allows you to encrypt a file or folder so that it can only be unlocked when you log on with your user credentials. (Don‘t confuse this with BitLocker, which allows you to encrypt an entire drive.) OS X has a feature called FileVault that allows you to encrypt the entire home folder. You can’t encrypt anything outside the home folder and you can’t specify individual locations to encrypt. For Mac and Windows PCs, there are a variety of third-party add-ons that allow this function.

WINDOWS XP MODE The primary benefit of this feature is that it includes a licensed copy of Windows XP at no additional cost for Professional and Ultimate editions. If you use Windows 7 Home Premium or OS X, you must supply your own XP license (at extra cost) and virtualization software, which may or may not require a paid license.

BACKUP TO NETWORK In a major change from Windows Vista, the Windows 7 Backup program now allows creation of system image backups and scheduled backups on any edition. The Previous Editions feature, which allows you to recover changed or deleted files using automatic System Restore points, is also available in Home Premium edition. The only extra backup feature you get with an upgrade is the ability to specify a network location for a backup. In OS X, the Time Machine feature is primarily intended for use with an external hard drive. According to Apple’s documentation, the only supported network location is an Apple Time Capsule, which costs $299 and up.

OFFLINE FILES I’ve previously called this “the single most useful Windows feature you’ve never heard of.” If you want seamless access and synchronization between a portable PC and a local server, it’s a great solution. For Home Premium, you can get many of the same benefits using Windows Live Mesh or a third-party program. OS X does not have an equivalent feature.

JOIN A WINDOWS DOMAIN The Professional and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 can join a Windows domain, where they can use security, policy management, and deployment features that are especially useful to large enterprises. Home Premium edition can access resources on a domain-based network but can’t use Active Directory or management tools. OS X clients can connect to a domain’s Active Directory but lack support for Group Policy and other domain tools.

REMOTE DESKTOP HOST Every edition of Windows 7 includes the Remote Desktop client, which allows you to connect securely to a Windows machine that has been configured to allow access. To make your machine available for incoming Remote Desktop connections, you must be running Professional or Ultimate edition. OS X makes this feature available as an extra-cost add-on that starts at $299 for a 10-license package. [Update: Some correspondents via Twitter have pointed out that Apple includes VNC server with every version of OSX since 10.4. Ironically, if you go to and search for VNC, you get this:

You can match this capability in Windows 7 Home Premium (or any edition) by installing any of several free versions of VNC.]

BOOT FROM VIRTUAL HARD DRIVE An extremely esoteric feature, supported only on Ultimate/Enterprise editions.

LANGUAGE PACKS Here’s a confusing feature primarily of use for multilingual speakers. Within two weeks of launch, Windows 7 will support 35 languages. Your base installation will use the language you purchase initially (U.S. English for most readers of this article), but any user of any Windows edition including Home Premium can download a Language Interface Pack that allows switching to one of the other supported languages. LIPs translate most of the user interface elements. For Ultimate/Enterprise editions only, you can install Multilingual User Interface (MUI) packs that encompass the entire interface. Apple boasts support out of the box for 18 languages.

BRANCHCACHE AND DIRECTACCESS Both of these features are designed to improve connectivity on networks that use Windows Server 2008 R2. This feature is most likely to be used in large organizations that use Windows 7 Enterprise Edition (which is the same code as Ultimate edition, licensed differently).

APPLOCKER This enterprise-oriented feature allows administrators to whitelist applications for locked-down environments. It has no counterpart in OS X. (Don’t confuse this with the consumer-focused Parental Controls feature, which is available in Windows 7 Home Premium and in OS X.)

BITLOCKER DRIVE ENCRYPTION Enterprises love the capability to encrypt an entire hard drive so that if the computer is lost or stolen the data can’t be accessed. Windows 7 adds BitLocker To Go, which works on removable media such as USB flash drives. If you use Windows 7 Home Premium or OS X, you need third-party software such as TrueCrypt to accomplish the same goal.

I left one features off this list. is a feature that applies only to domain-joined laptops. The subsystem for UNIX applications is an extremely esoteric feature that has almost no real-world users as far as I can tell.

So, is there anything on this list that represents a killer, must-upgrade feature for you?

Topics: Windows, Apple, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Do you need more than Windows 7 Home Premium?

    Much like running Windows XP Home on my laptop, Windows 7 Home Premium seems to be enough for most people. Who encrypts their files? The RAM limit is much because by the time that amount becomes standard you will have a new laptop with more memory anyway. Presentation mode won't be needed for home users or joining a domain. A lot of people will get by with Windows 7 Home Premium, those that can't will know to upgrade so its really not a problem at all.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Ed's point was...

      Which was available in which version of Windows or OS X. Nearly
      everything he said wasn't available on OS X ... is. For the same low price.
      • Well Ed blew the whole thing....

        The title of his blog is about win 7 and no mention of Apple, The blog would have been great had he not showed his bias and tried to compare windows to OSX.
        • That I will agree with

          Whole heartedly. He should have left the Mac out, but he wanted all the
          hits he's getting because of it.
          • Ok...

            That's not really a fair criticism, I think it's fine to compare the capabilities of the two OSes when asked if a particular version of Windows is enough. The title implies that Home Editions of Windows may not be enough. Therefore, wouldn't inclusion of OSX in comparison be implied?

            Nowhere is it said that Ed is limited to comparing Windows editions solely to other Windows editions.
          • Count me as somone who doesn't get it

            People compare OSs all the time, what was wrong with Ed responding to Win7 criticisms and OS X comparisons and using it as a benchmark to show its similarity is more with Home Premium than with Ultimate, his story was very fact based and nailed it for me anyway. How many times have I seen the Linux nuts and Macboys coming on here ripping into Windows compared with X feature on their OS of choice.
          • Perhaps...

            ... if he had included features of OSX that Win 7 does not include such as Quicklook, Preview or Spaces?
        • No smackdown, Just Obvious Bias

          Frankly I tend to ignore the Mac vs Win gibberish, as, ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and large scale computing trends. But, this is a supposed light-weight article on the viability of Win7 Home Premium.

          The bias is blazingly apparent by the use of "Limited" and "Limited by Hardware" in the OSX listings. In fact most of the OSX list says "Limited". So, under memory, by simply shouting "Yes! 192GB!" that means Win7 is magically able to break hardware barriers?

          Quite frankly, for years OSX has not only had core 64bit memory support, but, the MacPro desktop line has historically had more memory slots and larger max ram ability than the vast offerings in the Windows OEM world, and, still does today. Outside of server-specific hardware, even -most- high end windows pcs have motherboards with only 2-4 ram slots, with maximum "limitations" of 4-8g. Anyone with any common hardware experience in PCs knows this, but I do suppose it is easy to ignore the MacPro as it is only 20-30% of their product line, with it's 8 memory slots and 8-core design (yet another feature the vast majority of Win PCs do not offer.)

          Granted, perhaps the new Win7Home isn't as strangulating as the old XPhome or, hopefully, as marketing crippled as the Vista insanity. But that doesn't mean you can line Apples and oranges up for a checklist, especially if you put in blazingly obvious bias or omit things having different names.
          • How Are Those Intel Processors Working Out?

            You know, the ones you guys have bashed for the last 25 years???
          • Hehehe

            Ouch! To twist the knife a little more...

            To wolftalamasca:

            You must not actually be talking about high end PCs. All the major PC vendors sell models that have limitations well beyond 4-8GB. In fact, my PC at home has a limitation of 16GB, and on a relatively inexpensive motherboard at that (sub $150).

            Your argument has quite a few holes in it. Firstly, might I point out that you can only buy a Mac from Apple. You can build a Hacintosh yourself, but that is generally frowned on by Apple and totally unsupported. And for those building a Hacintosh (or equivelant PC, since at that point you're no longer using "Mac" hardware), they can get well beyond the 4-8GB barrier whether they go PC, Mac, Linux, or dual/multi boot.

            Secondly, the Mac Pro costs $2,500 for the single Quad-core version (which use the Intel Xeon processor which has long been available for PCs), with 3GB of memory, a 640GB hard drive, 8x DL drive, and 512Mb memory card (current price/specs). As has always been the case, a similar PC can be built or purchased for cheaper. PCs have supported dual processors for a LONG long time, so that argument, and the argument regarding the '8-core design' is just plain ridiculous. Not to mention the fact that the old G5 processors were never actually all that 'superior' to Intel/AMD as Apple touted, and Apple finally dropped them because they were heat/energy hogs that had lived well beyond their usefulness.

            Third, the Mac Pro only offers the NVidia Geforce GT 120 (rebranded Geforce 9500GT) or ATI Radeon HD 4870 card. They don't offer any of the professional Nvidia Quadro or ATI FireGL series cards which are standard on similar professional workstation class PCs from HP/Dell, and pretty standard for CAD, Video Editing, VFX, and other graphics applications. The GT120 is NOT a professional series card, although it is powerful.

            Fourth, while it is nice to know that the Mac has had 64-bit support for quite some time, please, tell me, how many applications available for the Mac actually supported it in that time apart from the OS? Even now that Intel and Windows have much better support for 64-bit, companies are FINALLY making the switch. Apple had little to do with that movement - the switch to 64-bit has come naturally as a result of bigger, bulkier applications requiring more memory. Apple may have moved to 64-bit first, but I would call their move premature.

            You can't buy a blu-ray player/burner standard.
            You can't actually play blu-ray movies even if you buy a reader\burner.
            The Mac Pro only has 4 HDD bays.
            The Mac Pro only supports 32GB Max memory (Dell/HP come with up to 192GB Memory).

            Quite frankly, if you buy a Mac, you should be presented with a list of everything you CAN'T do with it.

            -Want to put in a different video card? Like a REAL professional video card? Tough luck.
            -Want to build it with custom 3rd party parts? We won't support you.
            -Want to play most games? Oh... well, we do have Parallels... But don't expect us to build you a sweet-looking gaming rig like Alienware.
            -You can buy the Mac pro in silver... and silver... and silver... and...

            This isn't to say that Macs don't work well or do what they say they can do. They do what they say they can and, generally speaking, do it well, but they have issues just like any other OS (*cough* Vista). I have some respect for Apple in sticking to their guns and promoting good, well tested hardware/software combinations, but when it comes to choice they are simply lacking in both features and selection, and that is never going to change unless Apple allows competition within their brand (i.e. other computer vendors selling their own hardware with the Mac OS).

            Please, prove to us that the Mac is NOT limited by its hardware. You can't. Please, tell me you've actually bothered to look at what a modern PC is capable of (YES, 192GB is possible in a single PC - but NOT with a Mac). Prove that it's not limited by available software, or the OS itself. You can't.
          • One great advantage with Windows is that

            you can yield invoice after hidden invoice to your customers, and then more invoices for the endless support overcoming Microsoft's shortcomings.
          • Proove What?

            Show us a home user and more then 10% of the people out there that use a PC based OS that needs 192 GB of RAM installed. Also Proove how many hardware configurations actualyl provide the same hardware performance.

            With these big facts laid out, we can safely say that Apples marketing and business models with there line of comptuers, is infact noteworthy. There is a reason that a MAC user will not be so intot he PC except, being able to customize there PC for a specific use. Yay, PC has that on the side. But really who is really going to buy and install 192GB of RAM. Most home users have little use to use more then 8GB, but can bennefit a little buying more, not to mention most home users are good with 4 GB. Yes Gaming systems will bennefit with 8GB, but the vast end user in PC doesn't game on there computers as a main reason for having them. It is nothing more then a yeah I can plag games on it, but, that isn't why I have a PC. the only users that have a use for insain amounts of RAM as listed above are editors of extreme, and I mean EXTREME editing and modeling, Network Administrators with a huge application load and possibly traffic. Administrators know that the individual computer has no need fo rthat amount of ram. I like Windows 7 and itis Microsofts first OS that deserves bragging rights, and all others are garbage, and are in use only because Windows Based PC is cheap. Now look at the mac when placed side by side as listed in this BLOG. Macs have what the home user needs, they don't uave to sell off all these other almost useless extentions that the Windwos OS implements. Yes those features are usefull to the home user that Windows puts into there OS, but really find a poll that makes it a important attribute, which states even just a number of people seriously thinking of useing everyone of them. Then find a poll of the users that are using them. Finish it up on finding a poll that expresses the end user that usees 100% even after they reload the PC. If it was really that important of a home users demands, don't you think that the PS OEM world as a whole, would have them preconfigured out of the BOX. Probably!!!
          • Ez_Customs, the point was

            That the OS supports that amount of RAM, someone then said that it was wrong to say OSX is limited by hardware because PCs are too, they were proven wrong, the whole point is, for the few who may need that huge amount of RAM, it is available on the PC platform and supported by Windows 7 Ultimate. OSX and 7 Home Premium support less, as they should, because their market doesn't need that as you point out, OSX is particularly limited by hardware not programming in this case according to Ed.
          • Pro Mac Bias

            If anything saying "limited by hardware" shows pro Mac bias because, to me at least, that suggest there is no limit on the amount of memory OSX can support as long as the hardware is up to it. In other words, The better versions of Win 7 are limited to 192GB while OSX has no such limits. Your interpretation suggests you have an anti Windows bias.
          • Find Me a Mac

            That can run these high amounts of RAM. Please, I am waiting for you to show me what model of their limited selection can run all that ram. Seeing if you configure a Mac Pro today the maximum Ram they allow you to configure is 8GB and they only have 4 memory slots so even assuming that it can accept 4GB Ram chips that is still 16GB.

            Forgive me if I misinterpreted your message. I think I took your comments backwards. Stupid dyslexia. But my comment still stands for anyone that wants to argue about Windows Memory limitations. To keep things fair find me a consumer PC or Motherboard that supports more than 16GB that a home user would be limited on. I have seen a few boards support 24 - 32GB and those are expensive and if you can afford a $250 motherboard (and all that Ram) you can afford Windows Pro.
          • Mac Pro "8 core"

            The Mac Pro with dual 4-core "Nehalem" Xeons, can be configured with
            and supports 32 GB of RAM. The Xserve with dual 4-core "Nehalem"
            Xeons can be configured with 24 GB of RAM. All there at the Apple Store
          • RE: Mac Pro "8 Core"

            Well I stand corrected as I did not dig deep enough on and did not see that. The Mac pro I selected from their build page only had options up to 8GB. But still their professional workstations and their servers only support 24 - 32Gb of ram. Those can only compete with other brand Pro Workstations and Servers most of which can support considerably more than that. All of which will have a server OS or a Pro OS that supports way more than 16GB of ram.
          • Obviously you are either ignorant or lazy or both

            I am writing this message to you from a Mac Pro with 32 GB of RAM installed.

            You could have figured out this was possible by a short visit to before posting.
          • AMEN nice touch

            No everyday Windows User is gonna be able to use that much RAM. No logical Windows end-user is gonna be able to multitask that much, and no Software for the next decade will be abel to really use that much RAM. Big Deal the OS is able to accomidate insain amounts, while the lager part of the market will not spend more then $100 on just a motherboard. Shoot most the PC world will only spend about 70 on the motherboard upgrade. Why? BECAUSE WE DON"T REALLY CARE ABOUT IT, IT'S NOTHING MORE THEN BRAGGING RIGHTS!! I do like though the note you mention about the limited to hardware. The story doesn't list an amount of RAM the OS can handle, and it doesn't specify even hardware configurations that are using it. Apple just has a high minimum standard that has to be met, and each enabler is designed for a specific hardware confiruation. IT doesn't mean that the OS can't access this or that.

            Props to you man
          • ORly?


            Have you bothered to look at the maximum specs for Mac products? No Mac, including the XServe, supports more than 32GB of RAM. The most I've seen on PCs thus far is 192GB. See my post above on only a few of the wonderful hardware/software limitations of the Mac.

            In any case, if anyone needs more than 192GB of memory, they are certainly not going to be using a desktop operating system for whatever it is they're doing. And speaking of memory limits, 64-bit architectures support up to 16 exabytes of RAM. Just because M$ chooses to limit maximum memory usage in their OS doesn't mean higher amounts of RAM aren't possible. And please, explain to me why it even matters when probably 0.00000001% of standalone desktop computers in the world are using that amount of memory (if that). At that point you're probably looking at a business which is going to more likely be using some kind of cluster for whatever it is they're doing. Not a desktop OS.