One of the biggest issues you'll face when moving to a new version of Windows—any version, not just Windows 7—is compatibility. Whenever Microsoft changes the underpinnings of Windows, both hardware and software compatibility are going to suffer. That said, Microsoft claims that Windows 7 offers far better backward compatibility than did previous Windows versions, mostly because it is architecturally a minor upgrade when compared to Windows Vista and thus shares the same software and hardware compatibility prowess as its predecessor. However, all it takes is the loss of a single necessary hardware device or software application to turn any Windows upgrade into a disaster. In this chapter, we examine some of the compatibility issues you can run into when making the move to Windows 7, and how you can troubleshoot them.
Hidden Perils of the Windows 7 Upgrade
With all the new features and functionality provided by Windows 7, you might be tempted to buy a retail version of the operating system and install it over your existing copy of Windows Vista or, in the case of Windows XP, perform a migration-type upgrade. While we do cover upgrade scenarios fully in Chapter 2, we don't generally recommend upgrading an older PC to Microsoft's latest OS, for the following reasons (all of which are especially true for XP users):
- Your old PC may not be up to the challenge of running Windows 7. You may need substantial investments in additional RAM, a more capable video card, a larger hard drive, or all of the above to get adequate performance from Windows 7.
- Some of your hardware, such as printers and networking adapters, may not work at all after you install Windows 7—unless you update the drivers they need to versions that are Windows 7–compatible.
- Even if you find that one or more of your drivers need to be updated, the vendor of your hardware may not make a Windows 7–compatible version available for months, years, or ever. (It's happened before with previous versions of Windows.)
- Some of the software that's installed and running just fine in Windows XP may not work properly once you've performed the upgrade. (There are workarounds for this, however, as described later in this chapter.)
- Finally, some software or hardware may never work in Windows 7. Companies do go out of business, after all. Others simply stop supporting older models to entice you to upgrade to a new machine.
Secret: Avoid Installing Windows 7 over Windows Vista
We recommend that you get Windows 7 preinstalled with your next new PC. This is the best way to acquire Windows 7. Another reasonable option, assuming you know what you're doing and have recent hardware, is to purchase a retail version of Windows 7 and then perform a clean install of the OS on your existing PC. We don't recommend that you install Windows 7 over Windows Vista.
Here's why. Installing Windows 7 on top of Windows Vista may cause incompatibility problems that you might not be able to fix easily. When you buy a new PC with Windows 7 preinstalled, it's almost certain that the components in the PC will have been selected for their compatibility and will have the latest driver software. PC makers also support their products with Web sites that provide the latest known drivers. These sites aren't usually as up-to-date as they should be, but they will at least work.
In general, you shouldn't consider installing Windows 7 on a PC that previously ran Windows XP or Vista unless the following conditions are true:
- You need a feature of Windows 7 that you can't add to XP. (Much less likely with Vista.)
- You need an application that requires Windows 7.
- You can't afford even the least expensive new PC that comes with Windows 7 preinstalled.
Even if one of the preceding conditions is true, you may be better off backing up all of your old data to a CD/DVD or removable hard disk, formatting the old PC's hard drive, and doing a clean install of Windows 7. This avoids the possibility that some components of the old OS will hang around to cause conflicts. If you've never backed up and formatted a hard drive, however, don't try to learn how on any PC that's important to you.
If you do decide to install Windows 7 on an older PC, at least run Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, described in this chapter, to determine which drivers you may need to update first; and regardless of how you need to install Windows 7, check out Chapter 2 first, which provides a thorough overview of the various ways in which you can get this system installed.
The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor
To help you determine whether your current PC has the performance characteristics and hardware and software compatibility needed to avoid issues before upgrading or migrating to Windows 7, Microsoft provides a handy tool called the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.
The Upgrade Advisor performs an analysis of your PC and is partly designed as a marketing tool, as it will recommend which version of Windows 7 is right for your system. (Curiously, it almost always recommends one of the more expensive, premium versions.) The Upgrade Advisor also provides real-world benefit outside of Microsoft's needs: it will tell you which hardware devices and software applications need updates before they can work with Windows 7; and because the back end of the Upgrade Advisor application runs on Microsoft's servers, it always provides up-to-date information.
Tip: The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.
Secret: While the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor is primarily designed to help users of previous Windows versions discover whether their PC can be upgraded successfully to Windows 7, it also has a secret second use: it can be run on Windows 7 and used to determine whether your PC is able to run a more capable (and more expensive) version of Windows 7.
Using the Upgrade Advisor
The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor is a simple wizard-like application, as shown in Figure 3-1.
Figure 3-1: The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor can be used to determine whether your PC has what it takes to compute in the 21st century.
The Upgrade Advisor is designed to test two different kinds of hardware compatibility:
- Whether your hardware is fast enough and modern enough to run Windows 7 satisfactorily
- Whether your device drivers are compatible with Windows 7
The Upgrade Advisor's initial screen suggests that you should plug in any devices you may want to use with Windows 7. It's easy to forget some, but this is absolutely the right time to have them checked out, so here's a short list to jog your memory about the various devices you want to ensure are plugged into your PC and powered on before you start the Upgrade Advisor's system scan:
- Printers and scanners (make sure they're powered on not just plugged in)
- External hard disk drives, backup devices, and USB drives of all kinds
- An extra USB hub that you seldom use—plug it in anyway to check it
- Spare USB keyboards and mice that you may have forgotten
- An iPod, Zune, or other MP3 player, even if you seldom synchronize it to your PC
- Headphones and other audio devices (they may require audio drivers that won't be tested unless the devices are jacked in to an audio port).
When you've checked for all of the preceding and you are satisfied that you've plugged in and turned on everything you might want to test, click the Start check button in the Upgrade Advisor to continue. Depending on the speed of your system, the scan (see Figure 3-2) can take anywhere from a minute or two to several minutes.
Figure 3-2: Hold your breath, as the moment of truth awaits.
Picking through the Results
The Upgrade Advisor tests three areas: the PC's hardware, to determine whether it meets the minimum Windows 7 requirements; the various hardware devices attached to the system, to ensure that they all have compatible drivers; and the software applications.
When the test is complete, you will see a display like the one shown in Figure 3-3. Almost invariably, the Upgrade Advisor will tell you that your system has received mostly passing grades.
Figure 3-3: How did you do? On most PCs built since 2006, the Upgrade Advisor will report that the system can easily handle the core Windows 7 experiences. If a PC fails the System Requirements test, don't even consider installing Windows 7 on the machine without some serious hardware upgrades.
Look below this message, however, and you may see some issues. As shown in Figure 3-4, many older XP-based PCs will have a number of problems to investigate. In some cases, the Upgrade Advisor will explain what's wrong and provide links for more information.
Figure 3-4: Many XP-era PCs will have a bit of upgrading ahead before they can be moved to Windows 7.
As shown in Figure 3-5, the Upgrade Advisor can provide information about how your system conforms to Windows 7's requirements.
Figure 3-5: The Upgrade Advisor will compare your PC to what it knows to be correctly working hardware and software.
If you decide at this point to install Windows 7 on your own PC, and that PC later proves to perform too slowly for you, you can always upgrade your RAM, video board, and disk drive—possibly even swap out your motherboard for a new model—to improve the situation after the fact. However, you should have a reasonable concept of acceptable minimum performance before performing the upgrade. We discuss our minimum hardware recommendations for Windows 7 in Chapter 2.
Drivers That Lack a Windows 7–Compatible Version
If the Upgrade Advisor reports that a particular driver you need may not exist, the first place to start your search is the site of the hardware vendor. New drivers are released every day, so the one you need may have just come out and it's likely that the hardware maker will make it available long before it shows up on Windows Update.
Smaller companies and those that no longer support a particular model of hardware may never spend the time to develop a Windows 7–ready driver. In that case, you may have no choice but to purchase newer hardware that does have a driver you can use in Windows 7.
Hardware and Software Compatibility
Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor: Hardware, software compatibility
Windows 7 compatibility: Solving Hardware, software issues
Running Windows 7 applications: Using Windows Virtual PC, XP Mode
Printed with permission from Wiley Publishing Inc. Copyright 2009. Windows 7 Secrets by Paul Thurrott and Rafael Rivera. For more information about this title and other similar books, please visit Wiley Publishing Inc.
This was first published in July 2010