You'll remember a few months ago, right after Windows 7 came out, that I suggested that the most cost-effective means of upgrading to the new operating system might be to simply buy a new computer with Windows 7 already installed. The reasoning was that the purchase price of Windows 7 Professional was sufficiently high that it would be a significant percentage of the overall cost. Why, I wondered, would you upgrade an old computer when you could have a new one for little extra cost.
And of course, part of the argument for buying a new computer instead of doing an upgrade was that you wouldn't need to spend expensive staff hours gathering new drivers, installing Windows 7, and then reinstalling the software that was on the machine originally.
Turns out that you learn a few things over the course of several months and upgrades. First of all, I should tell you that, in general, my advice was mostly correct, but you'd need to make sure you transfer your files and settings, and your software, and that needs to be considered in the overall cost.
The second thing I learned is that not all upgrades are alike. Since I wrote that article, I've performed three that basically broke every rule I suggested was true. First, following my own advice, I bought a shiny new Hewlett-Packard workstation that includes Windows 7. What I didn't think about at the time is that it actually comes with Windows XP installed on the hard disk, Windows Vista on the restore disk, and a Web site that you have to visit to get your Windows 7 disk.
So I went through the process of running HP's restore process, which upgraded me to Vista. That required a call to tech support because one disk was left out of the package. But at least I was running Vista, and since I hadn't installed any applications, there wasn't anything else to do. The HP restore disks had included all of the necessary drivers and HP-specific applications.
After that, I filled out the forms on the upgrade Web site, scanned my proof of purchase and e-mailed that, then waited. A month later, I got the Windows 7 Professional upgrade package. That install also went easily, but it meant that I had to install operating systems twice for a computer that supposedly came with Windows 7 in the first place.
Meanwhile, I upgraded a 64-bit multi-processor workstation from 32-bit Vista to 64-bit Windows 7. This is actually a clean install, so the only way to keep your applications and data is to get a copy of LapLink's PC Mover Windows 7 Upgrade Assistant. This actually turned out to work well, transferring everything to a second drive while I did the upgrade, then transferring it back and reinstalling my applications when I was done. I still had to manually install my anti-virus, but that's the case with any such upgrade.
Finally, there was the real test. I wanted to give my five-year-old IBM ThinkPad T43 a little more life, so I ran the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor and, to my amazement, found out that the ThinkPad was capable of supporting Windows 7. I'd need an external drive to store stuff during the upgrade, but otherwise, it looked straightforward. So I got another copy of LapLink PCMover and went to work. It took less than two hours. In fact, it was the easiest upgrade of the bunch because almost all of the required drivers were provided on Windows Update.
But what's more important is that you don't blindly follow my advice. While it's still probably a good general practice to get a new computer instead of upgrading an old one, that's not necessarily the case. A great deal depends on the value of the old computer, the ease of the upgrade, and the choice of new replacements.
You may have noticed, for example, that most of those low-cost Windows 7 machines are being sold with the Home Basic version of Windows 7. If you plan to use such a machine in business, you'll need Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate. Machines with this cost more, changing your cost calculations.
The bottom line is that there's no easy rule. But I will say that whichever path you take, the upgrade is worth doing. Every machine I've got that used to run XP is running better-and faster-with Windows 7. It's also more stable, and I like the new features. But getting there isn't as easy as I thought it was.