How to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7: A Twelve-Step Program

Those of you still using the antique OSes coming out of Redmond, WA are probably looking forward to Windows 7. OK, in all seriousness, I use Windows too; it’s great for playing World of Warcraft. If your PC is still on Windows XP, though, Microsoft doesn’t think you need to upgrade directly from XP to 7; they’d rather have you do a “clean install,” which means you’ll have to reinstall all of your applications (Google Chrome, Firefox, OpenOffice, Picasa, Audacity… The list is endless) all over again.

This is NOT a joyful prospect for most geeks; it might not even be possible if you have managed to lose or damage the installation media for some programs. (I’ll chide you later for not doing backups before the accident. Hmm, well, no, I’d better not. Been there too many times myself.) So here’s a guide to performing an in-place upgrade to Windows 7.

Step Zero: Buy, borrow, or otherwise obtain an “upgrade” version of Windows Vista suitable for your system (32-bit or 64-bit, Home (Ugh!), Professional, Ultimate, etctera). You need the equivalent version of Windows 7, also. You can go “up” (from Home to Professional, for example) but not “down,” so make sure you bought the right version before you break the seal on the package. Most retailers won’t take software back once the shrink-wrap is opened.

Step One: Buy a new hard drive. Seriously. You need to be sure you can revert to an unmodified XP installation if something goes horribly wrong. With a new 750 gigabyte drive going for as little as US$50, you’d have to be crazy not to do this.

Step Two: Download, build, and burn the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. Alternatively, purchase Norton Ghost or another disk-cloning tool. Honestly, if you’re geeky enough to want to do your own XP-to-Win7 upgrade, you ought to be using UBCD4Win anyhow. It has too many useful free tools to pass up.

Step Three: Using UBCD4Win or your purchased cloning software, make a clone of your existing hard drive on the new one you just bought. DriveImageXML is the tool you’ll be using from UBCD4Win. Depending on how large your existing system drive is and how you have the new one connected, this process may take a few minutes or several hours; when I cloned my Vista drive via USB, it took 20 hours.

Step Four: Carefully mark your clone and set it aside, disconnected from the computer.

Step Five: Begin your upgrade by performing an in-place upgrade from XP to Vista. Pay attention to the part that tells you if you have incompatible hardware or software! Things that don’t work in Vista are not going to work in Windows 7!

Step Six: (Several hours later) Make sure everything still works in Vista. Just because the compatibility guide didn’t catch a problem doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.

Step Seven: Double-check Step Six. Really. You won’t get another chance, and it’s going to be really irritating to finish up and find out that you can’t use your Virtual Aquarium or Goldman-Sachs Financial Insider program any more.

Step Eight: Wow, you made it all the way here? Amazing! Now we finally start the Windows 7 Upgrade process. This is your make-or-break opportunity; if this works, you won’t have to upgrade Windows again for another 2 years. Probably. Go ahead and perform the upgrade.

Step Nine: Repeat Steps Six and Seven for Windows 7.

Step Ten: Everything working? Great! Now start performing Windows Updates.

Step Eleven: Repeat Step Ten until there are no more only optional updates available.

Step Twelve: You’re Done!

What to do Next: After a week or two (wait a while, just for luck) you can install that extra hard drive and format it, then enjoy all the extra storage space you now have. If you happen to be doing all this on a laptop, swap the cloned “old” drive with the new Windows 7 drive, and make sure it boots. If it doesn’t, you should be able to fix it using your original XP CD to perform a “repair” installation. If it does, you’re golden; clone the upgraded drive onto the new, (probably) larger one and you can use the old one for external storage.

Categorized as Tech Tagged

By icesnake

Icesnake, known to Law Enforcement the world over as Rich Tietjens, retired from the US Army in 1992 and has spent the intervening years attempting to die with the most gadgets, and thus, win. To this end, he has written software both as a freelance programmer and a paid consultant, tested network products and built driver disks for Intel, operated a Web hosting service for ten years, built more personal computers than any sane man would ever want, collected seven cats, and finally settled down in Oregon as the Information Technology Training Coordinator (fancy talk for "help desk and PC tech") for a small manufacturing firm. Rich started playing Dungeons and Dragons in 1976 and has never given up the RPG habit, progressing through Diablo, Everquest, Asheron's Call, Diablo 2, and World of Warcraft. Most evenings you can find him on Trollbane-US playing his mage, Icesnake - who is an Engineer and is trying to collect all the cool gadgets in Greater Azeroth... And so it goes.


  1. Of course, that begs the argument of whether or not the in-place upgrades leave the “cruft” behind of a longer-running install of the Windows OS.

    Myself, I plan to do a from-scratch upgrade (on a new HD) when my pre-order comes in, do a lot of housecleaning on files and such, get the installs set, and then image it so I have a nice clean restore point.

    Thankfully all my hardware has worked in the beta and RC (aside from some hoop jumping for the wireless card).

  2. Having already gone from XP to Vista 64 to Win 7 64, I agree; a clean install is going to give you a better result in the long run. See my other post, Upgrading from Windows Vista 64 to Windows 7 RC 64 subtitled “How I Learned to Believe Some of Microsoft’s Advice.”

    But if you want to get up and going in less than a day, an in-place upgrade will get you there.

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