Upgrading from Windows Vista 64 to Windows 7 RC 64
Or, How I Learned to Believe Some of Microsoft’s Advice
I’ve just finished resurrecting Ursula, my Frankenputer. She was originally an HP Pavilion a1747c, with a nice dual-core AMD Athlon 64 CPU, 4 gigs of RAM, 250 gig hard drive, and reads-and-burns-everything-but-HD-DVD-and-Blueray Lightscribe optical drive. She was “debranded” when HP discontinued the model, and I was able to buy her brand-new from geeks.com for less than $200 (with only 1 gig of RAM at the time; I fixed that immediately, you betcha!). She came without an OS, so I installed Vista Ultimate 64-bit (because I have seen Windows XP 64, and brother, it ain’t pretty what it does and doesn’t run).
I thought it might be nice to try out the Windows 7 RC 64-bit OS, so I shut her down, planning to connect a second 250 gig drive and make a clone so that I can revert to Vista 64 if I decide to do so. Sadly, that was the moment my power supply decided that it didn’t want to play any more, and when it died, it took the motherboard along with it. My dear wife came to the rescue with her credit card, and I now have a brand-new 680W power supply and an Asus M3A76-CM motherboard. The video card onboard is actually halfway decent, but of course I kept my Nvidia GeForce 9600. The keyboard is a Logitech G15, the mouse a Logitech G5, and there’s a Logitech webcam as well.
If you’re going to try the Release Candidate (or even wait for the final release and buy the final product then), do yourself a favor and make a backup of your existing hard drive. It will save you from certain disaster if anything goes wrong during the upgrade process, by simply being there, ready to pop in and instantly restore your system to the pre-Windows 7 state. A good way to do this is using DriveImageXML, which comes with the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. UBCD4WIN is something you should have anyway if you tinker with Windows PCs. A health plan that includes psychiatric care is also advisable.
After moving the memory and CPU to the new motherboard and installing that and the new power supply in the case, I hooked up a spare drive I had lying around and installed Windows 7 64 in a “clean install” manner, as if this were a brand-new PC with a blank drive. Total install time was about 45 minutes, and all my hardware “just worked. So far, so good!
All of the foregoing is to give you background on what happened when I started the upgrade. The next step after cloning the drive (which I had done on another PC, using USB 2.0-to-SATA adapters, and taking almost 20 hours to complete) was to set aside the clone, carefully marked, and install the proper Vista 64 drivers for the new motherboard. Once everything was working normally again, I downloaded the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Beta and ran it. Honestly, it was practically useless, as you will see further on in this article, but it did assure me that there were no glaring compatibility issues. I’d recommend using it simply to cover all your bases. It also told me that Magic Disk/Magic ISO would not work with Windows 7. Well, that’s no problem, they hadn’t been used in so long that I had forgotten they were installed, so out they went!
So, having been assured that all my hardware was supported under Windows 7, and having all my new drivers working and the latest updates to Vista 64 installed (I lost track of how many reboots that was somewhere around thirteen, by the way), I popped the Windows 7 RC 64 DVD into the drive and eagerly chose “upgrade” from the 2-item menu (the other option is “Custom.” We’ll come back to that later).
Apparently not all my installs had completed; Windows 7 required me to reboot yet again and restart the upgrade process, which I did. This time things proceeded well, and after about an hour and forty-five minutes, and several reboots and auto-resumes, Windows 7 RC was ready to use.
Except for one thing. Windows Explorer was crashing as soon as I logged in, so I had no desktop. CTL-ALT-DEL brought up the Task Manager, and I could relaunch Explorer (if I wanted to see it crash again) or any other application (all of which, including my beloved World of Warcraft, ran perfectly). Booting into Safe Mode (which incidentally is much harder in Windows 7) worked well. So I launched Chrome and started Googling for a solution. Eventually I found some advice that told me to run MSCONFIG and disable all non-Microsoft services and startup items, and reboot. That worked. Of course, now I had the “plain vanilla” Windows 7 desktop, totally unacceptable to a dedicated geek. I started re-enabling one item at a time and rebooting. Luckily, I started wondering what “Process Monitor” was in the list of Services before too many reboots. A little more research showed that it was actually “Logitech Process Monitor.” I re-enabled everything else, disable that, and rebooted. Viola! The Eagle has landed! Er, I mean my desktop is back!
But now, although my sound system is working, the mixer panel is the default “We’re not sure what hardware you’ve got, but we think this will work” version from Microsoft. Since the onboard audio is a Via HD Audio system, off I went back to Google to find the right drivers. Without too much trouble, I located a beta version of a Windows 7 64 driver. Downloaded and installed that, and finally, after about 2 hours, the system is completely functional and running Windows 7 RC 64.
Obviously, this is why Microsfot recommended a clean install. They didn’t want to support millions of baffled Vista users who were trying to upgrade (and frankly, who could blame them?).
I do not see any significant performance improvements, though. Still, Ursula has always been fairly responsive, so I’ll allow that Windows 7 is no worse than Vista, and maybe some things are better.
So, lessons learned were:
- Make a full backup of your hard drive before starting an upgrade (or clean install).
- If at all possible, perform a “clean install” and then reinstall your software; you can copy your data files back from the hard drive clone you made.
- Don’t expect to get away with less than 2 hours from the beginning of the upgrade or install process to the end; you might get lucky and finish sooner, but it’s a bad idea to count on it.