Gather Required Drivers
While Windows 7’s driver database is one of the most complete I’ve ever seen (in contrast, Windows Vista’s was a train wreck), there are still some drivers for devices that you may have to install yourself. For example, Windows 7 and Windows Update didn’t have the 32bit driver for the sound card on my wife’s Dell Latitude D610. I found that at Dell’s Support Site.
The Fuji T4210 Lifebook that I am using at the office, an older tablet PC that originally ran Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, is a great example of “download the drivers before installing.” While Windows 7 had many of required drivers, the drivers from the PC’s support page (21 in all) were a better match for the devices; and there was at least one driver for a power saving device that neither Windows 7 nor Windows Update had. Without the driver file from Fuji, the PC wouldn’t function correctly under Windows 7.
My early 2009 13″ aluminum, unibody MacBook is also another great example of a compatible, Windows 7 capable PC, but one that had special driver installation needs, especially for 64bit Windows 7.
Also, if you’re running a 2006 or earlier Intel based Mac, Boot Camp (the software Apple supplies to allow you to dual boot OS-X and Windows on your Mac) won’t support Windows 7. You’re going to be stuck with Vista; or will need to run Windows 7 with either Parallels Desktop 5.0 or VMWare Fusion.
The bottom line here – The biggest chance for your Windows 7 installation to succeed from a technical perspective is to have all of your drivers handy so you can install them just in case Windows 7 doesn’t automatically do it during installation. The support section of your PC manufacturer’s website should have a way for you to easily locate all of the required drivers. Download them, stick them on a USB thumb drive or CD, and then stick it to the side in case Windows 7 doesn’t have all of your PC’s drivers.
My Documents and Your Data
Ok… this is the biggest part of your prep activities – figuring out what to do with your data. This is by far going to be one of the biggest issues you’ve got, as no one wants to lose their stuff; BUT its something that you really need to be mindful of. Depending on what OS you’re upgrading FROM, and the method you ultimately decide to use for installing Windows 7, insuring that you don’t lose anything is going to make you a hero and not a zero in the eyes of your family. Effectively, you really only have one shot to get this right. Thankfully, you have a couple of options:
- Backup to a local hard drive or USB drive
A simple copy will do. You don’t have to use a “backup” program, per se. In fact, if you’re not certain if your backup program works with Windows 7, a straight copy is the safest bet. Get your data off your existing PC.
If you have an extra drive in or connected to your PC (via USB cable, for example), and your data isn’t already on it, move your data there. The transfer will be quick, painless, and you will be able to read and write to the drive long after the install is over. If you don’t have an extra hard drive in or connected to your PC, I understand that Target will have a Black Friday special on 1.5TB (that’s terabyte or 1000 gigabytes) hard drives for around $60. If this isn’t an option for you, then you may want to consider an off-site solution.
Cloud computing is all the rage now-a-days, but isn’t anything new. Computing started off using this type of model – think mainframe and mini’s from back in the day. As more and more content moves to the web, and as these solutions become more and more secure, putting your data there is ok. Like many things on the Internet, some cloud based solutions are free. The backup solution I like the best is called Drop Box. With it, you get 2-3 GB of FREE, synchronized storage (meaning it will automatically copy all your data up to The Cloud, and bring it back down when our upgrade is done). It will also allow you to have all of your data on multiple PC’s (like the one you have a work and the one at home, again, via secure connection) so you can work on things at home instead of spending long hours at the office). To back up your data with DropBox, follow the instructions below:
- 1. Install DropBox
DropBox can be found at http://dropbox.com. Download and install this free utility. It will create a folder in My Documents (or Documents, on Windows Vista) called “My DropBox.”
|Download Dropbox. The setup file is about 14MB in size|
- Most broadband connections should be able to download this file within a few moments. Though the file is not yet a 1.0 version (notice, the version number is 0.6.570), and its technically still in beta, I want to remind everyone that Google’s Gmail was technically in a beta stage for over 4 YEARS. I’ve been using Dropbox for almost 6 months, and its been flawless. Its one of the most stable applications I have on my computers, and I’m using it on both 32bit and 64bit versions of Windows 7.
|The install is standard fare…|
- The application installs quickly, and is minimally invasive. Its not going to scatter DLL’s (application components) all over your hard drive.
2. Configure Dropbox
After the application is in, you can configure it with the Preferences dialog box.
|The General tab of the Preferences dialog box…|
- Note the Dropbox Folder Location, above. This is where you’re synchronized files will be located. Anything and everything that’s located in that folder (subfolders included) will be copied up to your Dropbox account at dropbox.com. You can change the location of your Dropbox on your PC, but its recommended that you leave it where it wants to be. The folder “My Dropbox is going to be created by the application no matter what you try to do (so specifying any OTHER folder as your Dropbox folder isn’t going to work).
|The Network tab of the Preferences dialog box…|
- If you have any special requirements for your network (proxy settings, an maximum upload/download rate, you can specify them on the Network tab of the Preferences dialog box. In most cases, you won’t need to worry about this tab. However, if things don’t work right, you might want to look here for possible solutions.
|The contents of my Dropbox folder…|
In order to get things into your Dropbox account, simply copy them into your My Dropbox folder. Once they have been copied up to your account, each file or folder will have a green circle with a checkmark next to it (see above). That means that object (and in the case of folders), all of its contents, have been successfully copied up to your account. Once everything is green, the copy is completed, and you can move on to the next step.
Upgrade or Update?
This is a huge question. I have had a ton of people ask me if they should do an in-place upgrade (meaning simply let Windows upgrade OS files, keeping all of your applications and data in tact) or wipe the drive and do a clean install (or update).
There are a few things to keep in mind here:
- If you have Windows XP, you CANNOT do an in-place upgrade. Windows 7 is going to make you wipe the drive and do a clean install. The OS differences are just too vast to allow an in-place upgrade. You’re going to have to reinstall all of your programs and restore your data afterwards.
- If you’re coming from Windows Vista, Windows 7 will let you do an in-place upgrade to an equivalent or better version of Windows 7; but you may not want to. There have been some reports of in-place upgrades taking as long as 21 hours to complete. There have also been reports of incomplete upgrades (where outdated OS files didn’t get upgraded or deleted) as well as application and driver compatibility issues afterwards.
- If you decide to install a 64bit version of Windows 7 and you’re coming from a 32bit version of Vista, you’re not going to be able to do an in-place upgrade. The OS files are vastly different, and you’ll be required to do a clean install. Users coming from a 64bit version of XP will also be required to do a clean install.
Based on the above, my experience has shown me that a clean installation is always the best way to go. With DropBox or a copy of your data on an external drive, its easy to put your data back on your PC. While reinstalling all of your software may be, lets face it…a pain in the butt, especially if some of it was “creatively” acquired, its still the best way to get everything in with the fewest amount of problems later on.
While most may just wing it, and do the in-place upgrade thinking everything will be ok, I’ve had to help a few friends through some pretty rough OS installs gone bad. It sounds trite, but an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Prepare for the install. Gather your PC’s drivers, backup your data, and then make the right install choice for you.
Next time, we’ll talk about doing the actual Windows 7 install.
Questions..? Send them to chris (at) itechgear.org, and I’ll do my best to get answers to you as quickly as possible.