Looking to make the jump to Windows 7, but have no idea which version is the right one for you? Well look no further, for a quick and simple breakdown to help you make that choice without any of the extra fuss.

Step 1: Deciding what features you really need.  This is really the most important step, as it will largely determine which product  you ultimately select.

For the vast majority of regular users, you can forget the following versions altogether:

  • Windows 7 Basic (for budget/third world country PC solutions)
  • Windows 7 Starter (for budget computers, contains a stripped down version with limited features)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate (for power users that need encryption and more language supprot)
  • Windows 7 Enterprise (for businesses).

Your real choices are: Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional. The big difference between the two, boils down to parental controls and “XP mode”. For whatever reason Windows 7 Professional does not support parental controls, if you need them and the features of the Professional version, you’ll have to get Windows 7 Ultimate and pay extra.

The big advantage Professional has over Home Premium is that of XP mode. The ability to run older Windows XP based applications/programs in a special “mode” that essentially emulates (replicates) a Windows XP  environment. This is great if you have a  number of programs from Windows XP you still want to use and you are worried about them working on Windows 7.

However, Windows 7 is pretty good in terms of compatibility and moreover, there is a catch (surprise, surprise). Your computer’s processor/CPU must support “hardware-assisted virtualization”. What exactly this is, isn’t important, but knowing whether your computer supports this, is essential.

The easiest way to find out, is to run GRC’s Securable. It will tell you in an instant if you meet that requirement.

Step 2: Do I get a 64-bit version or a 32-bit version. The simple answer is:  get the 64-bit version. Virtually all new computers have had support for this for some time now and there is no reason not to make the change, as this is the way things are heading. Not to mention if you plan to upgrade your computers memory down the line, or even have 4 GB or more of memory right now, you wont’ be able to use all that memory without a 64-bit version. If you are unsure if your computer’s processor/CPU will support a 64-bit version of Windows, look no further than to GRC’s Securable again.

Step 3: Should I get an upgrade or full version? The two big differences between an upgrade version and a full version boil down to price and how you’ll end up installing Windows. The upgrade version is considerably cheaper than the full version, so if you own a computer with Windows XP or Vista already on it, the upgrade version is likely the way you’ll want to go.

Installation can be tricky, depending on what you want to do. With an upgrade version, you have two options: a clean install (start from scratch) or an upgrade.

For the clean install, you are still required to have an existing version of Windows (either XP or Vista) installed to work. You cannot simply provide the disc during installation. This has been a major inconvenience brought upon since Windows Vista. There is, however, a workaround to this (more on this in a future post).

When it comes to upgrading, you can only run a true upgrade  (keeping all your files and settings)  from Windows Vista. This must be the corresponding version though, so Windows Vista Home Premium can only upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium for example.

For the full version, you can install however you please. All previous options apply, as well as a clean install option that you can use without the need for any prior version of Windows needing to be installed. If you do get a full version, look for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) discounted copies. These are really designed for “mom and pop” computer building operations, but often you can find and order these deals as an individual (and of course you are building computers in your basement).

Step 4: How many copies do I need? The last things to consider, is the number of copies you’d like to purchase. If you need more than one copy, look for discounts by purchasing “Family Packs”. These provide  3 licenses (or more) in one package, so you can install Windows 7 on multiple computers.

At the end of the day, remember, if you do choose the wrong version by mistake, you can always use the Microsoft Windows anytime upgrade feature. Just launch it from within Windows 7 and upgrade to a better version for the difference in cost.


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