FAQ: How to prep for an XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade

T-minus one day and counting: Here's how to get ready for the promised land of Windows 7

With Windows 7's launch just a day away, it's time to start thinking about how to prepare your aging-but-still-useful PC running Windows XP for that move you're dying to make.

Problem is, Microsoft's not offering an "in place" upgrade from XP to Windows 7 -- one that will leave everything in place and simply swap out the operating system. Unfortunately for XP fans, that's reserved for Windows Vista users only. And you avoided Vista like a bad case of H1N1, right?

It's not any comfort when you read statements like "Upgrading from XP on the same hardware will be tricky."

That's why we're here to help lower your blood pressure with answers to your questions about how to get ready for tomorrow -- or later -- when you pull the trigger on Windows 7 and finally, finally leave XP fading in the rearview mirror.

How do I know if my XP machine can handle Windows 7? Use the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, which went final just yesterday. Download and install the adviser from Microsoft's support site, then run it. (Warning: You have to have .Net Framework 2.0 or later to run this on XP.)

The adviser will give you a bottom-line appraisal of your XP-based hardware: It will either green-light the upgrade, tell you the machine won't make it as is, or spell out what you need to beef up.

The adviser will also mark those devices -- both external hardware like printers and internal components such as the graphics chip set or card -- that will require new Windows 7 drivers, and will indicate whether those drivers are available.

What if I need more juice? In the time remaining, you may be hard-pressed to futz with the hardware, but one thing you can do in a few minutes to make the machine more Windows 7-worthy is add more RAM.

Microsoft says the minimum memory is 1GB for the 32-bit version of Windows 7, but it recommends 2GB for "optimal performance" on the 64-bit edition. Frankly, those numbers are just crazy. RAM is dirt cheap these days, and even if the new OS runs in just 1GB or 2GB, it'll run much better with 2GB or more. Punch it up to 4GB -- the maximum for 32-bit Windows 7 -- or beyond (for 64-bit), and you'll be livin' the dream.

Our favorite source of RAM is Crucial.com. It's not the cheapest place on the Web to buy memory, but we've never been disappointed by the quality of the modules it sells. Plus, the online scanner is slick: Just run it from the PC you want to upgrade, and it will sniff out how much RAM is already in the machine, how much it can take and which modules apply.

How do I know whether my software and peripherals will run on Windows 7? Yesterday, Microsoft finally fired up its Windows 7 Compatibility Center, a searchable database that you can ping to see what software and hardware is up to Windows 7's standards.

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