upgrading from Windows XPOkay, so it’s been over a year since XP went end of life, but still, not a week goes by that I don’t see XP running somewhere. I have seen it at my bank, at my dentist’s office, at the ticket counter of at least two major airlines, running the reservation system of a fancy restaurant, and also running the self-service terminal at a not so fancy restaurant. I even saw it running in the lobby of a hotel, on those machines you use to print your boarding pass…and all of that was just last week! XP may be gone for many of us, but it is still around in enough places. So we thought it would be good to create a checklist for upgrading, to help those who may need that last little nudge to get current.

For starters, consider whether you want to do an actual upgrade, or if you want to reimage the user’s machine. Personally, I don’t like to do in-place upgrades, but that is a prejudice that stems from the 90s and not from any first-hand bad experience with doing an in-place upgrade of XP. However, your options are more limited, in that XP can be in-place upgraded to Windows 7, but not to 8 or (when it’s available) 10.

You might also want to consider jumping from Windows to Linux. It’s a legitimate choice for some, but not a topic we’ll cover in this post. Today, we’re assuming you are sticking with Microsoft. If you do choose to go with the Tux, do a clean install. That XP system hasn’t had a security patch in over a year. It’s time to let it go!

In-place upgrade

1.      Review the System Requirements

If you are going to perform an in-place upgrade from XP, you have many fewer choices than if you were going to do a clean install. You only can upgrade to Windows 7, and you will have to use the same bit version as you have on XP: 32bit XP can only do an in-place upgrade to 32bit Windows 7, 64 to 64. Of course, Windows 7 will soon be an N-2 operating system, but it is still supported and may be the right choice for older hardware.

The minimum hardware requirements for 7 are on the upper end of what XP machines typically have, so make sure your PC meets those minimums, and consider whether it makes sense to stick with the minimums, or if you should do an upgrade.

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard drive space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

Graphics are key. You may have hardware that can meet the rest, but if your graphics card comes up short, you may be replacing the PC.

2.      Take care of any hardware upgrades

If your video card doesn’t meet the minimums, or you need more RAM, get that taken care of before the upgrade so that the actual process runs smoothly.

3.      Confirm hardware compatibility

You may have older hardware including network cards or printers that the manufacturer never produced Windows 7 drivers for. You want to make sure that, the very least, your key hardware will work with Windows 7, and take care of any necessary hardware upgrades beforehand. Even if your NIC will work with Windows 7, it is a good idea to have the needed drivers for your NIC, as well as your video card and even your motherboard chipset, on hand before you start the process. Check the Windows Compatibility Center here for more guidance or to check a specific piece of hardware to see if there are Win7 drivers for it.

4.      Confirm software compatibility

This is both the most important and the most difficult task – making sure that all your key software will work on Windows 7. Odds are good that they will, but if you have a line of business application or other key piece of software you really depend upon, like a favourite game, you want to make sure it will work under Windows 7.

5.      Run the Windows 7 upgrade advisor

You may want to skip the first four steps and jump straight to the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, downloadable here to check everything at once. It should catch most important things for the majority of systems.

6.      Backup your data

Yes, I know most of you will ignore this, but I am including it anyway. Backup your data, just in case something very bad happens and your system goes up in a puff of smoke.

7.      P2V

If you have VMware or Hyper-V, consider running a P2V of your XP system before you begin the upgrade. That way, since you probably skipped 6 anyway, you will still have a mostly functional VM of your XP machine that will run your apps. It won’t be a great gaming rig, but it will keep you from being dead in the water.

8.      Obtain media

Download and burn the Windows 7 ISO to disk, expand it on your harddrive, or create your USB key so you can begin the install.

9.      Obtain a key

Make sure you have a license key ready. Gone are the days of 11111-11111-11111-11111-11111 installs!

10.  Boot to XP and then install the media

Boot up and logon to XP and find the setup.exe to begin. An in-place upgrade must be launched from within XP.

11.  Last chance!

Here’s your last chance to change your mind. At this point, if you proceed, there’s no going back.

12.  Patch

Well that was easy, now you just have to download 100+ updates and get your machine patched. This is very important to get to it. An initial install of 7 is probably almost as vulnerable as an unpatched XP system, so run Windows Updates and get patched!

With that, you may have to get some updates for some key apps, but you should be in good shape and on a supported platform again. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Clean install

With a clean install, you are going to blow away the old XP instance and start from scratch. Here, many of the steps are the same, but some are subtly different and you wind up with a more vanilla install when done.

1.      Choose whether you want to go to 7, 8.1, or 10

It’s a clean install, so you can install whichever version of Windows you want. If you were running 32 bit XP on a 64 bit system, you can even go to 64 bit Windows now.

2.      Review the system requirements

Just like any install, you have to make sure your current hardware meets at least the minimum system requirements for the version of Windows you choose. RAM is key, but don’t overlook the video card.

3.      Take care of any hardware upgrades

Speaking of RAM, you are probably in need of an upgrade, so do that before you begin the install of your new operating system. You don’t want to try to install the latest version of Windows on a system with 1GB or less of RAM.

4.      Confirm hardware compatibility

Check your motherboard, video card, printer, web cam, and anything else you have, to make sure it works with Windows 10, or 8.1, or 7. Most hardware should work without any problems, but XP was a long time ago, and you may have hardware that just isn’t going to work. You want to make sure you can live with that.

5.      Confirm software compatibility

Whether you run in XP compatibility mode or not, you want to make sure that any key apps and games will work on the new OS you choose.

6.      Backup your data

Please, seriously, do this. A clean install is going to format your drive, so make sure you back up anything critical!

7.      P2V

If you have VMware or Hyper-V, think about virtualizing your XP box before you wipe it so you have a functional machine to fall back on in case the unthinkable happens!

8.      Obtain media

Download the version of Windows you want to install, and either burn it to DVD or create a bootable USB key. You won’t be able to extract it to your hard drive for the install, since to do a clean install you have to boot from the media.

9.      Obtain a key

Make sure you have your license key handy, as you will need to enter it early in the install process.

10. Boot from the media

Remember, F12 is usually the key to bring up the boot menu for most BIOSes so you can boot from the right place to begin the install.

11. Last chance!

This is your last chance. If you forgot to make a copy of something, CTRL-ALT-DEL to boot back into XP. Once you blow away that partition table to start formatting for your new OS, whatever you don’t have a backup of is gone!

12. Patch

Whew, that was easy too, right? Now go to Windows Update and patch, patch, patch until you can’t patch any more. You finally got off an unsupported, unpatchable OS, so prove your commitment to staying current by patching your new OS and keeping it that way!

Whether you upgrade from XP to 7, or blow away XP and do a clean install to a new operating system, you will be much happier running on a current OS that is supported and for which you can get patches. XP was awesome, but so were the dinosaurs. Both are things best left in the past.