Your top Windows 7 questions, answered

Your top Windows 7 questions, answered

Summary: Since Windows 7 launched on October 22, my e-mail inbox has been deluged with questions, comments, and pleas for help. I can't possibly reply to them all personally, so I thought I would answer some of the most interesting questions here. Learn the ins and outs of 64-bit upgrades, how to avoid a long download of your discounted student copy, and where to find drivers.

SHARE:

I get mail. Whoa, do I get mail.

Since Windows 7 launched on October 22, my e-mail inbox has been deluged with questions, comments, and pleas for help. I can't possibly reply to them all personally, so I thought I would answer some of the most common/interesting/provocative questions here. So, without further ado…

How do I know whether I can use the 64-bit version of Windows 7 on my PC? Should I even bother?

If you have 4 GB (or more) of RAM, or if you think you might want to use that much memory someday, then yes, you should consider a 64-bit version of Windows 7. The issues involved are the same as they were in August 2008, when I answered some similar questions about Windows Vista. If you're interested in the technical background, go read that post.

With the exception of some very cheap PCs and netbooks, most PCs manufactured in the past three years or so will run a 64-bit version of Windows. The easiest way to check your system for compatibility is to run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, which runs on XP and Vista. Click the 64-bit tab to see the full report.

I'm thinking of upgrading from a 32-bit version of Windows to 64-bit. What should I watch out for?

The biggest stumbling block for x64 upgraders is compatibility, either with a business-critical application or a favorite device. In my experience, printers, scanners, and multifunction devices are most likely to cause problems. Most 32-bit programs will run just fine under 64-bit Windows, but some don't, and 16-bit Windows programs won't run at all. You might be able to resolve some compatibility problems using Windows XP Mode, which allows you to connect USB devices to a 32-bit virtual machine.

Oh, and you must do a custom installation to move from 32-bit to 64-bit. An in-place upgrade isn't supported.

My retail box includes 32-bit and 64-bit disks but only has a single product key. Will that key work for either edition?

Yes. The format of a product key identifies a specific edition of Windows 7 (Home Premium, Professional, and so on) as well as whether it's a full or upgrade product. But it doesn't care at all about the 32/64-bit question. The key will work with either version.

There are two DVDs in the Windows 7 box. Does that mean I can install one on my desktop PC and the other on my notebook PC?

If you purchased the Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack upgrade, then the answer is yes. In fact, you can use the single product key in that box to upgrade three separate PCs in the same household from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7. But if you purchased a single full or upgrade copy of Windows 7, then you can install it on one and only one PC.

I bought a full copy of Windows 7 Ultimate and installed it on one PC that I own. But then I changed my mind and decided that I really want to use it on a different PC. How do I move it?

Under the terms of the license agreement, you are expected to remove the installation on your first computer and replace it with either the original operating system or another properly licensed upgrade copy. I assume you will do that, either before or after you complete your replacement installation.

Use the installation media to set up Windows on the second computer using the same product key you used on the first PC. When your new installation tries to activate over the Internet, the activation will fail (because you've already used that key). You will be given the option to use telephone activation. Dial the number for your region and follow the instructions to enter the codes you see on the screen. An automated voice or a live person will ask you how many computers this version is installed on. The correct answer is "1." If they ask, explain that you installed it on the wrong computer and completely removed it. You will then get the code to activate the new installation.

Is the student upgrade version of Windows 7 the same as the retail version?

If you're referring to the Windows 7 Academic Offer ($29.99 for an upgrade copy of Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional), the answer is yes. You get a product key via e-mail, along with a link that allows you to download either a 32-bit or 64-bit copy of Windows 7. I've heard and read horror stories of long download times from Digital River, Microsoft's fulfillment partner for this offer. Those might have been glitches caused by the crush of traffic right after launch; my download completed in an hour over a DSL line without any incidents.

The download also comes in an executable format that requires you to extract the setup files to a folder on your hard disk and then kick off the installation from your current version of Windows. But if you have a retail copy of Windows 7, you can skip the download. Use the installation DVD from the retail box (32-bit or 64-bit) and the product key from your confirmation e-mail. I tested this exact scenario, and it works perfectly.

Is there a site or list that identifies software and hardware that will work with Windows 7?

Yes. Microsoft's Windows 7 Compatibility Center is organized by category and is fairly easy to use. It is most useful for identifying products that have been officially certified as compatible with Windows 7; you'll find many products that are still listed as Unknown and might require further research.

After I did a clean install of Windows 7, some devices weren't working, or worked incorrectly. Where do I find the right drivers?

Start by running Windows Update and pay special attention to the Optional Updates section. If devices are still missing, check the manufacturer's website. In some (but not all) cases, a Windows Vista driver will work. If your portable or desktop computer has an Nvidia graphics adapter or chipset that isn't working properly, go to the Nvidia drivers page and choose Option 2 to install an ActiveX control that scans your system and can provide the correct driver. This option succeeded for me on an HP notebook that stubbornly refused to install the older Vista driver and wouldn't enable the full Aero interface without it.

That's that for this week's installment. Next week, I'll look at a couple of questions that require more complex answers, including step-by-step instructions.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Processors, Software, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

76 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • 64-bit environment not just for increased RAM

    "If you have 4 GB (or more) of RAM, or if you think you might want to use
    that much memory someday, then yes, you should consider a 64-bit
    version of Windows 7."

    64-bit applications benefit from an increase number of registers and the
    removal of other legacy x86 stuff. If your hardware supports it, no driver
    compatibility issues, and majority of windows 7 code takes advantage of
    it - the majority of users will benefit from a 64-bit environment.

    This is why Snow Leopard users benefit regardless of whether they're
    running a 32 or 64 bit kernel.
    Richard Flude
    • Thank you

      Not sure I understand why the gratuitous Snow Leopard reference is in there, but I guess it's just a knee-jerk thing.

      And yeah, there are performance and stability benefits. But on a system running any OS, you're unlikely to benefit from or even notice the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit native code if you're using 2GB or less.
      Ed Bott
      • You're welcome

        "Not sure I understand why the gratuitous Snow Leopard reference is
        in there, but I guess it's just a knee-jerk thing."

        You're probably right. I'm still recovering from all the32/64-bit kernel
        misinformation after SL release. 64-bit support on Mac OS X was very
        well done from a users perspective (best of any OS).

        "But on a system running any OS, you're unlikely to benefit from or
        even notice the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit native code if
        you're using 2GB or less."

        I'd be surprised if this is the case. The speed improvement for most
        64-bit apps is noticeable (double the number of registers, improve
        integer performance, dumping segmented addressing, improved
        shared library operation, etc).

        Only programs where the larger code size causes processer caching
        or vm paging issues would performance be slower.
        Richard Flude
        • Just to be clear...

          "recovering from all the32/64-bit kernel
          misinformation after SL release"

          What I wrote here at the time:

          "For the record, I don?t think this is that big of a deal, as even the 32-bit OS X kernel can run 64-bit apps."

          http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=1275
          Ed Bott
        • Dumping segmented addressing?

          [i]I'd be surprised if this is the case. The speed improvement for most 64-bit apps is noticeable (double the number of registers, improve integer performance, [b]dumping segmented addressing[/b], improved shared library operation, etc).[/i]

          Are you serious? While 32-bit technically uses segmented addressing it does it by using a single segment 4GB in size. Thus dealing with segmented addressing hasn't been an issue for 32-bit code. In essence it's a non-issue and I chuckle that you even brought it up.
          ye
          • Yawn

            "While 32-bit technically uses segmented addressing it does it by
            using a single segment 4GB in size. Thus dealing with segmented
            addressing hasn't been an issue for 32-bit code."

            Not just technically. Legacy mode is not as efficient on x64 processors'
            64-bit long mode.
            Richard Flude
          • What does this have to do with what I said? nt

            .
            ye
          • The topic being discussed

            Segmented addressing, used in all legacy modes including 32-bit
            offsets, is less efficient. Avoiding it requires 64-bit mode where it was
            dumped.

            The discussion is about advantages of 64-bit and its performance.

            "Thus dealing with segmented addressing hasn't been an issue for 32-
            bit code."

            It is for the processor, if not the developer.
            Richard Flude
          • @Richard Flude: Again I have to ask:

            What does this have to do with what I said?

            [i]The discussion is about advantages of 64-bit and its performance.[/i]

            There are a few advantages to 64-bit computing. Non-segmented addressing isn't really one of them.

            [i]It is for the processor, if not the developer.[/i]

            No, it's not for the developer. As I said earlier: While technically 32-bit utilizes segmented addressing it does so by using one segment of 4GB in size. Effectively negating any segmenting. Thus it hasn't been a problem for 32-bit programs. Developers write code as a flat 32-bit address.
            ye
          • Confused

            "There are a few advantages to 64-bit computing. Non-segmented
            addressing isn't really one of them."

            Isn't really? It is an advantage.

            ""It is for the processor, if not the developer."

            No, it's not for the developer."

            Misunderstanding, we're not talking about the developer.

            "While technically 32-bit utilizes segmented addressing it does so by
            using one segment of 4GB in size. Effectively negating any
            segmenting."

            No, processor is still using segmented memory with a 32-bit offset.
            Negating segmenting is what's available in other RISC processor
            architectures and now x64 in 64-bit long mode.

            "Developers write code as a flat 32-bit address."

            BUT IT'S NOT AS EFFICIENT FOR THE PROCESSOR
            Richard Flude
      • Microsoft lemming at work here folks.

        Nothing else to see.

        How's that Mac vs. Psystar case rolling bud?

        CHEERS (^: ? :^)
        AdventTech67
      • Gratuitous knee-jerk thing?

        [b][i]"Not sure I understand why the gratuitous Snow Leopard
        reference is in there, but I guess it's just a knee-jerk
        thing..."[/i][/b]

        Some readers may not know that unlike the six different
        versions of Windows 7, there is only one version of Snow
        Leopard, and it works with all Intel Macs. Everyone gets the
        "Ultimate" version and there is no need to know whether or not
        to install the 32 or 64 bit flavor. And most importantly, you
        don't need guys like Bott to tell you which version to install.
        Huge difference and worth mentioning in any discussion.
        stevemcintosh@...
    • RE: Your top Windows 7 questions, answered

      @Richard Flude Windows 7 x64 requires twice the amount of RAM as the 32-bit version, significantly reducing performance. My Windows 7 (x64) Laptop is miserably slow compared to my Windows 7 (32) Desktop. Both have roughly the same specs, with the laptop having slightly faster memory.
      agredon
  • RE: Your top Windows 7 questions, answered

    Again, the comments are more focused on one thing being sooooo much better than another - make your preferred OS sound better by shooting the other. Try to make your preferred system sound better without trashing any other OS...just try my friends (you too Mr. Bott ... try to elevate the discussion and don't get caught up in the noise)
    WIN/OS/Linux user - all for fun and profit!
    Bradish@...
  • Memory usage for 64 vs 32 for 32-bit app

    Question 1:
    If 64-bit only needs 10-15% more RAM than 32-bit, why do the stated system requirements for 32 and 64 list 1 GB and 2 GB minimum RAM requirement respectively?

    Question 2: Benefit for 32-bit application on 64-bit Windows: How much RAM would a 32-bit application running on 64 bit windows be able to use in practice and in theory, assuming total RAM of 8 GB plugged in? Under 32-bit Windows, a video processing 32-bit app is able to get only about 1-1.5 GB since even though the system sees about 3.2 GB, quite a bit of RAM is occupied by windows itself and other applications like security software.

    Given that a 32-bit app by itself can address only 4 GB (of which 2 GB is reserved by default for the OS), so 2 GB really, how much is the real gain for a 32-bit application? Would the /3GB switch help?
    alokgovil
  • And when is the first bug coming ? ....It's here already.

    http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1562076/first-windows-zero-day-exploit-spotted

    Okay.....no big deal......but it's here.
    TonyOz
    • Funny, but no one asked me that

      This column is about the top questions I've been asked by my readers.

      Anyway, there have been several security issues identified and fixed for Windows 7 since it was released four months ago. That's actually par for the course for any operating system. (As a point of comparison, Snow Leopard has been out two months and already had two service packs, the most recent of which fixed more than 50 vulnerabilities.)
      Ed Bott
      • No worries Ed......so here is the question... :-)

        I guess it is purely because the idea of a page such as this is to enjoy the concept of Windows.......great. But as the saying is: "I was taught to be cautious". Assuming what you are saying is correct, then I am very, very surprised indeed that no-one has asked about security. At least one of the first things anyone should ask about an operating system would be about its security. The prettiest, fastest, greatest, smoothest running system in all the world is not worth a pinch of dust, if it is full of holes....and I am NOT saying that is the case with Win7.....but at least I have done the right thing here and questioned this. aspect......that's all. And the rest is really up to Microsoft, the users and .......of course, the malware hackers.

        So, if you like; Here is the question: Just how secure is Window 7 ??????
        TonyOz
        • The Secuirty of Windows 7 is the responsibility of the user

          When will we stop thinking that all software is ever going to be bug free; no software is. MS has done a decent job of combating many of the every day security issues, but there will still be bugs; live with that. That is why you have a check engine light on your car - something will go wrong. The questions is what should be done. The onus is on the user, if you ask me. This "MS should take care of everything while I am irresponsible" mess it both careless and typical of entry-level PC users.

          Each PC is only as secure as the user responsible for the upkeep. Its no different from your house. Is it the builders responsibility to make sure you have working locks and an alarm or yours? If someone wants to know if the house is secure should they ask the builder or the person living in the house?

          Take control of your own PC and secure it! Its YOUR data not MS's!
          andrej770
          • @ andrej770

            Ummm......Andre.....I actually DID ask Ed, not you. And in any event, you are answering a different question. Thankyou, but Ed does NOT need your support to answer my question.
            TonyOz