New PC, Old OS: A simple story

New PC, Old OS: A simple story

Summary: A while back my main desktop PC failed. Something let out the magic smoke on the motherboard.

TOPICS: Windows

A while back my main desktop PC failed. Something let out the magic smoke on the motherboard. The hard disk was fine, the machine just wouldn't boot. The hardware itself was a few years old, a Core 2 system that was starting to show its age. Some of the applications I'd been using were struggling – so it was definitely time to get a new PC.

The plan was to transplant the old hard drive into a new machine, and try out Windows 7's ability to reconfigure itself to a new machine. With at least three generations of processor to leapfrog, a new motherboard architecture to use, and a switch from DDR2 to DDR3 memory, it was going to be an interesting challenge. I'd done some shopping around, and had chosen an OS-less PC configuration from Scan (and was also pleasantly surprised at just how many system configurators would sell me a PC without an OS).

Ordered on a Friday, the new machine arrived Monday morning (another pleasant surprise, as I was expecting a few days wait for a machine to be built and tested). A Sandy Bridge 3.1GHz Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and integrated graphics, it was intended to be a typical development PC, able to run a couple of operating systems and all the developer tools you'd want. It didn't take long to swap the bundled SATA 1TB drive for my old disk, thanks to the quick release disk mounts in the CoolerMaster case.

Time for the moment of truth: would Windows 7 perform as expected?

All you really need to do is boot normally. There's one thing to remember when installing an existing Windows 7 boot disk in new hardware – don't choose a repair install. It won't give you any problems, and will probably fail, but it does waste time. Booting normally, Windows will revert to default drivers where necessary, and will either go online to download what you need (or in the case of the new network drivers and USB 3.0 drivers needed for the Asus motherboard, will prompt you for the appropriate driver disk, which was waiting in the DVD drive). The whole process took less than 15 minutes and two reboots, including downloading and installing all the Windows and application updates that had accumulated since last September.

Finally I just had to reactivate some of the applications on my PC – including Windows itself. That wasn't surprising; after all I'd just changed everything that Windows knew about, apart from the hard disk it was running on. Still, that too was painless, with the PC handling it all automatically. There's one task remaining, to move it all to the new PC's 1TB disk, with a longer term plan to switch to SSD for OS and applications, with spinning disk for data and files.

And there we have it, a new PC with the current generation of hardware, running an install of Windows that has made the journey from Vista to 7, from Pentium 4 to Core to Sandy Bridge, and from 32 bit to 64. The result is a machine fast, and ready for the next step to Windows 8.

Simon Bisson

Topic: Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • A couple of questions.
    Was the original Windows 7 install disk an OEM install or a "shrink-wrap" disk?
    I know for certain that if you take a DELL OEM installed disk and put it in a non DELL system, it immediately refuses to work properly. Likewise if you use a DELL OEM OS install disk on a non-DELL hardware, it won't install properly.

    Did you specifically select a new system that had all its components listed on the Windows HCL?
    It would be interesting to see if the HCL listed components also have Microsoft "blessed" drivers for them.
  • True, it wasn't an OEM install, just a standard retail Windows 7. And no, I didn't specifically choose HCL-listed hardware.
  • No often I get really annoyed at articles on, but this one is utter tripe. Total Micosoft sugar coated propaganda.
    It gives the impression its a breeze to upgrade your existing Windows 7 System onto new hardware, and you will just breeze through it in 15 minutes, ready to watch your favourite footy game on TV (or whatever your other interests are)

    Very few people have the full blown Windows 7 Retail Version of Windows installed. They have OEM manufacturer installed versions, which aren't permitted to be transferred to new hardware, and as you try - you'll be hit with your version of Windows cannot be activated. It will take a lot longer than 15 minutes to sort that one out. Or is this just a means at getting people in that predicament - so they are forced to purchase a new licence?

    SB was very lucky that his existing hardware was intel based, and his new hardware is also intel based. If the new hardware had been AMD -> Intel, or Intel -> AMD, you'd get the blue screen of death - and then what do you suppose the poor punter does? Windows repair as as SB rightly points out - wouldn't help one little bit, just waste an hour of your time.

    Utter tripe from start to finish, regarding both Core 2 Duo 'underperforming', the i3 Series is basically a Core2Duo with a bolted on Graphics Engine, performance wise for day to day stuff there is very little difference between a 2GHz+ Core2Duo and i5 Series. A SSD would make a far better upgrade than a processor upgrade.

    Windows 7 has some good features, but Windows Update and transferring the OS between systems is not its core strength in any shape or means. You're very lucky if you come off unscathed.

    If its day to day task your after - Punters buy an iPad 3. Delivered on Friday, it really is like being handed a piece of technology from 10-15 years from now, in which everything 'just works' - no stupid Windows update, no blue screens of death, no reboots of hell. iBooks is pure bliss on the new screen. Battery life is great , responsiveness, keyboard - I'm looking for faults - but haven't yet found one. The idea of paying for a full Windows 8 Pro/Ultimate Retail Licence (as SB is almost suggesting), or sticking with what I've got - and buying an iPad for day-to-day drudgery is a no brainer. No, really its a no brainer - it really does have no competition - Job done, and by miles in terms of the competiton at this point in time.

    Whether you're a die hard Windows Fan, an Apple Fanboy - its very hard to slate the 'new' iPad, credit where credit is due - this is a 'bombshell' of a device, in terms of the competition.
  • For the business users we're mostly writing for, SA Windows enterprise licences behave in very much the same way as boxed Windows copies for end users. If you want the freedom to move a Windows licence from PC to PC, you pay for a licence that allows you to do that, rather than the discount OEM licence that comes with a PC; most PC makers have a way of adding that to your initial purchase price so you're not paying for a separate boxed copy as well as the OEM licence. It's less sugar coating and more knowing how Windows licences work. And not moving from one processor architecture to another is always the recommendation if you want to do a restore.

    Not sure what relevance an iPad has to the discussion, or 'sticking with what you've already got' when what Simon already had was a gently smoking box that wouldn't turn on again ;-) If a 'new iPad' can raise a PC motherboard from the dead, that really would be magic.
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • As Mary notes, we're writing for an audience that's using software licensed by SA or a similar method (like InTune or MSDN). For them, this method works just fine. It wouldn't have worked with any previous version of Windows, but it's

    Personally, I'm not a fan of OEM software. It may be a cheap way of getting an OS, but it's an approach that's too restricted for more than basic home use, where a PC is treated as a disposable appliance. Like most small businesses, I overwrite the default installs on any machine that comes into my office with my own images.

    Oh and the iPad 3? I'm not quite sure how it fits in here. I really don't think one would have replaced a smoking PC that's used as a development platform. I've not yet seen a copy of Eclipse running on iOS!
  • Ooops.

    That first paragraph should have ended "but it's an interesting example of how the OS has evolved recently".
  • Its an extremely lame reply to now state the article is aimed at 'Retail' / Enterprise Edition users or System Administrators. Anyone with a standard laptop bought from PC World, Ebuyer etc (that includes a lot of small/medium sized companies), would be up sh*t creek by now if they'd followed your breezy 15 minute approach to switching hardware and trying to keep their Windows 7 installation intact, especially if they'd changed architecture.

    A current look at Windows 7 Retail Prices are as follows for full versions:
    Windows 7 Professional/Ultimate Full Retail Box Version £150-£170 ~ circa £155 (They are actually both almost identically priced at the moment)

    Considering the average i3/i5 laptop is £350-£450, thats a fair premium to start shelling out, to move a Windows 7 installation. Just to note (in fairness) - Windows 8 Consumer Preview is actually far better at recognising different hardware when a disk is moved between AMD / Intel - Microsoft have obviously started to address the issue.

    The point regarding the new iPad is for the additional outlay, its a far better additional piece of equipment to acquire, if you have several PCs,laptops around the place. If you writing one of them off, better to write it off, and replace it with a iPad if possible. Truely, its a far better purchase than an additional Windows 7 licence giving you the flexibility of some possible future upgrade (that you may or may not need to do). Having the benefit of cheap Windows 7 licences (as you obviously have), is not a reason to recommend this type of 'breezy upgrade', that for the large majority is unachieveable.
  • ZDNet UK is focused at business users, and as such most will have an SA or similar agreement for licensing. If you're managing more than 5 Windows machines you'll be saving your business money switching from individual licensing to a site licence, whether it's something like SA or the InTune cloud management platform (which includes an Enterprise licence for every managed PC). Switching licensing from CapEx to OpEx has attractive tax implications for a business, too, and also makes it easier to plan budgets. It's also a lot cheaper to buy a PC with no OS than one with one installed - and that includes buying from EBuyer or Scan.

    An iPad is no substitute for a managed PC, and bringing one into a business that hasn't fully considered the added risk is going to cause problems. Just saying it's cheaper than a PC doesn't consider the additional costs for new application development and for the protections that need to be placed for data (or the fines for data loss that will result when it gets lost/stolen). If anything in this discussion is risky or breezy, it's that suggestion.
  • In general, we do see a lot of small businesses wasting money with flase savings by buying whatever PC they come across at retail rather than ordering from a single supplier. Even Dell has an option to add a full Windows licence rather than a limited OEM one, when bying online, if you don't want to go the (also not that pricey) SA route (or the MSDN route for developers). It's not just the Windows licence; five PCs with five different AV packages getting 5 different updates, all needing their subscription renewing on different dates - the admin cost to the business is more than you save. Pick a supplier and notebooks can share power supplies and spare batteries. Choosing a business tool that your productivity depends on by what's cheap and conveniently available is pretty shortsighted (in or out of the office, as our blog description puts it). Like buying Apple kit for business without Apple Care; you miss most of the real advantage of what you're buying.
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • flase? false!
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • WP7 / WOA (Windows on Arm) tablets will have exactly the same 'unmanaged PC' credentials (No Active Directory) and security risks (I'd actually say a lot higher - given the rushed out code of Metro - but that is subjective), so there is no advantage there with sticking with Windows 8 (on Arm). I currently have the Nokia Lumia 710 Phone, and while the screen / IE9 browser is impressive, everything else regarding WP7/Metro is clunky and tries to be far too clever for its own good. Its certainly not intuitive. The iPad 3 makes it look like a 5th grade project to mimic the functionality of the ipad.

    So whichever route a company take tablet wise, Win8 or iPad, both have 'managed PC' problems related to them. The Windows 8 (on Arm) route though, looks years behind the new ipad in terms of functionality/finished product, with the same headaches in terms of manageability.
  • "The whole process took less than 15 minutes and two reboots, including downloading and installing all the Windows and application updates that had accumulated since last September."

    Notwithstanding anything in the proceeding comments and responses, I just cannot give credence to *15 minutes*. It's so far outside my experience which corresponds more closely to that of Jamie Watson.

    It would be interesting to know more about your Internet connection and security software, for instance, and any other factors which contribute to such an apparently outstanding achievement.
    The Former Moley
  • @Moley. An ADSL 2+ 8MBps connection via a Vigor DSL modem into a business ISP, and using MSE. I am fairly close to my exchange, which does help a lot - and I know there's a fairly hefty pipe in and out.

    There haven't been many large patches for a post SP1 WIndows 7 system that's been regularly updated, and so it only needed 150MB or so of updates. It did take a little longer later when I updated my Adobe CS install, but that's getting updates across the Atlantic rather than from a UK Akamai endpoint and an EU distribution site.