The Windows 7 upgrade survival guide

Want to make the Windows 7 upgrade experience as short and painless as possible? Follow these seven suggestions to make the process easier.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Want to make the Windows 7 upgrade experience as short and painless as possible? Follow these seven suggestions to make the process easier. (For details on what to expect, see How long should a Windows 7 upgrade really take?)

1. Run setup from a flash drive or a USB hard drive. Compared to slow DVDs, you can easily shave 5-10 minutes off install times. For upgrades, you can simply copy the files to the external media; if you plan to do a clean install, you'll need to make sure the media is bootable.

2. Move massive data collections off your system drive before you start. Copy your big digital media collection to an external hard drive and then delete the original files from your user folders before you run the upgrade. You can copy them back after setup is complete.

3. Check for compatibility problems before you start. The Windows Upgrade Advisor runs at the beginning of the setup process and will identify any programs or devices that have compatibility issues. Resolve those issues before upgrading. (A standalone version of the Upgrade Advisor is available from Microsoft if you want to check a system before starting an upgrade.)

4. Take advantage of this opportunity to ditch old software. Open the Programs window from Control Panel and take inventory of all installed software on the old PC. If you find any programs that need to be replaced or scrapped, uninstall them now and give the setup program one less task to worry about.

5. Upgrade your hard drive along with your OS. If you’re feeling cramped on your current drive, get a new, bigger, probably faster replacement. With a SATA hard drive in a modern desktop or notebook PC, this is usually a very simple upgrade. (The hardest part typically involves physically removing the drive.) Get a SATA-to-USB adapter cable to temporarily connect the new drive to your PC. (Here’s a universal model from a vendor I know), then use Acronis TrueImage or the software that comes with the new drive to “clone” your old drive. Shut the system down, replace the old drive with the new one, and restart. The old drive is a perfect backup: If anything goes wrong, you can swap the old drive back in and you’re right back where you started.

6. Make sure you have needed drivers before you start. At a bare minimum, be certain you’ve downloaded the correct drivers for your wireless or wired network card. Without a network connection, you’ll have a hard time getting any other drivers or essential programs!

7. Create a clean image backup when you’re done. Every edition of Windows 7 includes a Backup program you can use to make a complete image backup on an external hard drive or on DVDs (assuming you have a DVD writer). A reasonably clean Windows 7 image backup will fit on two or three DVDs—another good reason to purge data files before you start.

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