Windows 7 on older hardware: A Catch 22 for Microsoft

Windows 7 on older hardware: A Catch 22 for Microsoft

Summary: There are a few bloggers wondering aloud about how well Windows 7 ultimately is going to run on older hardware. That's an interesting question, given Microsoft's symbiotic relationship with its hardware partners who constantly are in search of new ways to convince users to buy pricier PCs.


There are a few bloggers wondering aloud about how well Windows 7 ultimately is going to run on older hardware. That's an interesting question, given Microsoft's symbiotic relationship with its hardware partners who constantly are in search of new ways to convince users to buy pricier PCs.

From early accounts by those using Windows 7 pre-beta and beta releases, Windows 7 is running pretty nicely on older machines with less powerful processors and less-than-optimal memory. In fact, as has been noted over the past few months, Windows 7 runs well on netbooks that haven't been able to accommodate Vista. (Microsoft has trimmed the size and memory footprint of Windows 7 while still building it on top of the Vista kernel.)

All that said, I'd bet Microsoft and its PC partners aren't very keen on seeing users run Windows 7 on older machines. They want to encourage them to buy new -- and preferably more expensive -- PCs. (That's a big part of the reason Microsoft and its OEMs are pushing multitouch as a new, hot feature for forthcoming Windows 7 PCs.) Even if Microsoft could support the older XDDM drivers on Windows 7, I doubt that it will do so, as that would send mixed messages about both its intention to move users to the new WDDM driver model, as well as its desire to get users to buy more new PCs.

It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft offers users the option to upgrade directly from XP to Windows 7 -- or whether it will only offer upgrades from Vista to Windows 7 -- once Windows 7 is released in final form. The question becomes even more pressing given that Windows XP will likely be a bigger competitor to Windows 7 than any other operating system out there (just like IE 6 is one of IE 7/IE 8's most formidable rivals, from a market share perspective).

If Windows 7 runs as well or better on your older PCs, will you consider installing it on your existing PCs rather than buying brand-new Windows 7 machines?

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


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Microsoft doesn't mind

    I don't think Microsoft minds, but its partners do.

    If 20% of XP users replaced XP with Windows 7, it will be a smashing success and it would all go to Microsoft at retail pricing. They'd also have repeat customers when those users did upgrade to a new computer.
    • I don't think its partners mind either... regardless of OS changes PC sales are driven by hardware replacement in the consumer sector and by lease renewal in the corporate sector.

      A quick look at new sales vs upgrades should tell you that. Plus, of course, W7 will actually help drive the netbook market.
      Sleeper Service
  • Id also like to see MS...

    Abandon 32-bit support. I mean we really need to remove the divide and further development on the 64-bit kernel. Most all new computers purchased today should (and probably do) support 64-bit OS's - Im running Vista Ultimate x64 on a Dell XPS 400 built in 2006.

    This would also push developers (IE>Adobe) to really develop 64-bit it would make us all secure -DEP is turned on for all services by default.

    It also would help Hardware vendors out because the folks that want to upgrade and cant(er, shouldnt)- because of old hardware - must buy new, thus reducing the effect the idiots who try and load up Win7 on hardware built back from 1999 from bitching.
    • With ya there

      I'm willing to bet that Win7 will be the first big push of 64-bit. Virtually any Windows machine made in the last 2 years can run it, and I'm sure the marketers are working out how to present it.

      I also think that ALL OEMs will be x64.
      • I hope....

        Dell is the WORST at getting a 64-bit edition out of, not sure why either - its much more stable than 32-bit..just requires signed hardware drivers. Hell my uncle who bought an HP at best buy got Vista Home Premium x64 - off the SHELF! Sure made my $400 purchase (for retail copy of Vista Ultimate) sting :(
        • Always buy oem...

          There's absolutely no reason to buy a retail copy of vista ultimate x64. Also, you can get it for about 250 retail, so I'm not certain where you're dropping 400 for it, but you should do some comparison shopping.
    • Likely to happen for Win8

      Server2008R2, due this year (alongside Win7) is going to be 64-bit only []

      Win7 client will come in 32-bit and 64-bit variants. This is a good thing because its reduced resource requirements allow it to run on older/lower spec hardware, some of which is not 64-bit capable (e.g. early Atom processors in many low-end Netbooks). Also, some vendors' drivers don't yet support 64-bit ... if you find a device that doesn't have x64 drivers complain to the hardware vendor. LOUDLY!

      Chances are that Win8 client will be 64-bit only as there are a ton of things MS have planned for that release that will demand the capabilities of the latest hardware :)
      • I think Windows 8 will be solely 64-bit

        But I REALLY hope that Microsoft does something about not being able to upgrade a 32-bit machine to 64-bit.
        Yes, I've heard the whole "32-bit to 64-bit has to be done with an total format, they are too different!"

        Bull! I could upgrade from 16-bit Windows to 32-bit no problem.... why the HELL can't I do that with 32-bit to 64-bit? It doesn't make sense, and for people like myself with SCADS to stuff on the hard drive of their notebooks..... we don't want to go through the pain of having to re-install all that stuff!
        • 16-bit to 32-bit upgrade? When did you do that? (NT)

          • Easy - Windows 95 to Windows 98 to Windows ME to Windows XP

            That's the series I went in with my one computer, upgrading it little by little over the years.

            They have to start remembering that the normal consumer HATES (underlined and bolded three times) having to re-install stuff on a new PC, especially since after a few years.... you lose the damn paperwork that holds your CD keys on it! That's the main reason why I put a small paper label with my keys on my Windows XP disc and on my Windows Vista disc.
          • Er...

            I seem to remember that Windows 95 was 32bit already. It could run older stuff in DOS emulation, or possibly dual boot, but thats not the same as upgrading from 16 bit to 32 bit, and certainly not from 32 bit to 64 bit.

            I could be wrong, but thats as I remember it.
          • Sorta...

            Win 95/98/98SE/ME were all 16/32 bit. I don't know how much of the code was in each, I think the bulk of the 9x kernal was 32-bit, but I think at least with 95 some of the Windows code may have still been 16-bit. And the 9x series didn't really have DOS emulation, as they were more like the old 3.x code in that they ran on top of DOS 7, so at least initially it would have to be 16-bit code, at least until it was able to load the 32-bit extender code.

            Also there was "thunk" code to switch from 16-bit to 32-bit and vise versa, which of course incurred a performance penalty, but allowed code written for older versions of Windows and of course DOS to run.

            So while I'd say Win 9x was 32-bit, it wasn't a pure 32-bit system, and 2K/XP are a big improvement in that regard.
          • You remember pretty much right

            Windows 3.1 was the transition from 16 to 32 bit.
            It also supported the predecessor to DirectX, WinG.

            I'm currently running Dos 6.22 / WFW 3.11 on my dos box
          • Hold on a Second....

            You took a Win95 PC and upgraded it to 98, ME and XP? ...Why not try Vista on that 200MHZ Pentium? and... if you did... did it run or let out a sad cry and ask to be left to die?

            Seriously, I mean this, Go buy a new machine! Take the time to re-install something. I guarantee you will be a much happier camper.
          • So there was no 16-bit to 32-bit upgrade...

            Windows 9x/ME are hybrid 16/32-bit systems but the major components were 32-bit.
          • ?

            [[I put a small paper label with my keys on my Windows XP disc ]]

            You leave a label on the disc?

            Any problems with fuzz after the disc spins long enough?

            When possible, I use a Sharpie to write numbers on a disc, (a small Sharpie) for the sleeve/box, and on paper. I've switched from the paper to a text file, then print it out every so often -- should the OS hit the fan and I need the info.

            Mihi Nomen Est
      • And there?s no point skipping Vista and W7 in the hope ...

        that things will get better with Windows-8 (which no doubt will release to coincide with the ultimate demise of XP in 2014).

        Why, because by then so many more applications (including, but not limited to those from Microsoft and its development partners) will be fully reliant on features and facilities introduced with the Vista/W7 kernel.

        And to demonstrate that point, despite Microsoft's softly-softly approach to introducing Windows-7 years ahead of when a ?new name? operating system was expected, at some point in time (hopefully in the not too distant future) consumers of other Microsoft products (like Office) must come to understand and accept that Microsoft's application design philosophy is only ever to exploited the capability of what ever is the then current and previous version of the operating system - ie: Microsoft's executives will demand that their product developers not waste time and money maintaining compatibility with an operating system which has its origins in the last century.
    • Yeah, but what about ....

      The 47 million PCs out there that are not 64 bit compatible? Are all of those users supposed run out to buy new hardware? Not every machine built in the last two years has been 64bit compatible - only the more expensive ones.

      MS would definitely be shooting themselves in the foot (and leaving the door open for Linux) if they alienated 75% of their customers.

      As for DEP - it's a pain in the butt - I can't tell you how many times I've run across corrupt databases because DEP has kicked in ... There are certain apps that just having DEP enabled causes them to crap out, even if you exclude the app ...

      If you'd like to know (and I'm sure you wouldn't - but I'll tell you anyways) what I'd like to see MS do? How about getting back to the basics, and building an Operating System well - true coders code because they love it, and love solving the challenges involved with coding, and I'm sure most of the coders at MS are no different, but unfortunately, the Corporate guys who are calling the shots are not building an OS because they want to make it the best it can possible be, they are building it because it can make them money ... period - the guys at the top care more about how to make more money than they do about building a great O/S - think about it ... if they were REALLY interested in building a great O/S, then there would be no need for the BSOD, there would be no need for Service Packs and patches, and the need for a new O/S would only exist about every 10 to 15 Years

      Lets think about the extra money MS makes off of a new O/S like Vista. In Canada, where I'm from, MS Support costs $250/hr, unless there is an actual problem with the O/S ... with all the changes to the layout and design, how many "support" calls do you think they had - how much money do you think MS made because they changed the interface so much?

      There was absolutely no reason to alter the interface from XP that dramatically except for the pursuit of the almighty dollar, which lets face it, is the only thing MS is interested in.

      A little harsh, and a lot to the point, but it's just my opinion.

      • Even cheap machines were 64 bit two years ago.

        Considering that AMD introduced the Athlon 64 in 2003, I can assure you that 99% of machines the last two years have had 64 bit compatibility.

        I doubt you could even purchase 32bit only CPUs from either Intel or AMD two years ago.

        Consumer 64bit CPUs have been around for quite a long time now (6 years).
        • Intel moved into 64 bits when they

          introduced the Duo Core processor. I have a laptop that's 3 years old and it has a 32 bit processor that is a Pentium M. My second laptop is a duo core and 64 bit.