Upgrade or Clean Install?

There’s probably a special place in Hell for even pondering this (Ed: Level 7 of Robot Hell, in fact), but after experimenting with Windows 7’s upgrade install feature, we’re going to seriously discuss it for a moment.

There’s no prior version of Windows we would ever seriously recommend an upgrade install for. Upgrade installs have historically offered very spotty results, in cases leaving systems or applications in malfunctioning states. The best path always has and always will continue to be a complete reinstall, so that old programs and old Windows components don’t interfere with the newest version of Windows.

But with Windows 7, we’re willing to reconsider. When it comes to the transition from Vista to Windows 7, there have been very few significant changes to the underpinnings of Windows. Certainly compared to moving from XP to Vista, there are no major changes in any aspect of the driver stack or the audio stack, nor has security, the bootloader, or any number of other subsystems been overhauled. Jokes about Windows 7 being Vista SP3 aside, the lack of significant architectural changes between the operating systems means that it’s a favorable environment for an upgrade install, one more favorable than for any other consumer version of Windows.


Good idea? Bad Idea?

In our own testing, we have taken two boxes from Vista to 7 using the upgrade install feature; one of these systems even did the Vista->7 RC1->7 RTM shuffle thanks to some INI hacking. Both of these systems have turned out fine, suffering no ill effects compared to any of the systems we have done clean installs on. And while the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”, we’ve seen similar reports elsewhere in places such as our forums that corroborate this.

To be clear, a clean install is always going to be the safer option. It forgoes any risk of old Windows components contaminating the new install, and hence for anyone that absolutely needs it to go right the first time, it’s still the way to go. But an upgrade install, when it works, is certainly more convenient than restoring a bunch of data and reinstalling every single program. Based on our experience, on a properly functioning machine this is something we would recommend trying so long as you have a good backup and the guts to give it a shot.

There are two things that need to be kept in mind when it comes to doing an upgrade install however. The first is that the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor contains a list of programs that it will want uninstalled before performing an upgrade. Programs that install system components such as VMWare or iTunes are chief among these, as those components won’t properly survive the upgrade; so some program reinstallation may still be required depending on what software you have. The second thing is that the upgrade process involves scanning, categorizing, and saving a lot of data, which means it can take a while. On one computer this took a hefty 5 hours, and on another lightly-used computer this was barely an hour. The key factor here is how much user data and how many programs are installed – the more stuff you have, the longer it will take. On a heavily used computer, this is something you may want to let run overnight or at some other point where you wouldn’t normally be using your computer.

Finally, there is no XP to 7 upgrade option, which given the issues in performing this action with Vista, doesn’t surprise us in the slightest. For XP users, there only option is a clean install, which in this case involves the Windows 7 installer backing up the old installation and laying down a fresh Windows 7 install.

Laptop Performance Conclusion
POST A COMMENT

207 Comments

View All Comments

  • jtleon - Friday, October 30, 2009 - link

    Well, control panel reports that .NET 2.0 is installed and running on FLP, as I sit here.....I don't know why I need 3.5....
    jtleon
    Reply
  • Voo - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    Well only for old hardware.

    With modern desktop pcs or laptops (I'm not talking about netbooks here), there's no need to use it. Many features aren't even available for FLP (.NET 3.5 for example).
    Reply
  • BailoutBenny - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    7 runs great for me, no problems at all.

    80GB Intel X-25m g2, i7 920 @3.32, 12gb 7-8-7-20 Mushkin, 1TB WD Caviar Black, Radeon 5870.

    This thing beasts anything I throw at it.
    Reply
  • MonicaS - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    My impressions of Windows 7 so far are good. The reviews are good, though Vista got some good reviews to early on. I think by far the biggest challenge 7 has is the terrible stigma that Vista created. Even now I'm trying to convince friends and co-workers that 7 is actually that much better then Vista.

    Personally I couldn't imagine going back to Vista or XP any time soon.

    Monica S
    Los Angeles Computer Repair
    http://www.sebecomputercare.com">http://www.sebecomputercare.com
    Reply
  • Furuno - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    So, I've just dumped my (not so) beloved XP and upgrading to 7 Pro 64bit (got some cheap deal, bought it at the same price of Home Premium), and here's my experience :

    At first, I'm really impressed with the taskbar, the window preview is very intuitive. But the I find out that it's not updated constantly, quite annoying when I want to check my download progress). And the fact that the icon is cluttered in the left side of the bar is quite annoying, creating a large blank space in the center of the bar. Really, a dock is better I believe.

    As a Windows XP user that haven't "played" with Vista / 7 beta/RC, I get confused with the UI, especially the Control Panel. The item categorization is very annoying and not consistent, clicking on a item on the left pane takes me to another category, pretty annoying when I want to "tune" every feature one-by-one to meet my personal preferences.

    However, the most annoying thing in 7 is the way it handles multiple windows. As a web developer, when I'm working I usually open my primary target/test browsers (Firefox/Opera, no IE please, 20 acid3 score?) and a LOT of text editors tiled (can be up to 6 at once, usually SCiTE, I don't quite fond of "feature rich" IDEs). In Linux, usually I open the browser in one workspace (virtual desktop) and the editors in another, if I want to swicth, I can easly press CTRL+ALT+LEFT/RIGHT. In 7, after I tiled my editors, whenever I switch to my browser, my tile setup is broken (click on the SCiTE button only open 1 window, I need all at once :( ). I'll buy another monitor(s) next week and lets see what'll happen.

    Indeed there's some apps that do workspace in 7, but I'm just too lazy and don't want to clutter up my 7 setup anyway. Linux will still be my primary workhorse.

    Yet another bad thing, WMP won't load my OGG audio library (too lazy to tweak), oh well, there's always Foobar2k...

    All things aside, the performance of 7 is pretty good on my average system (Athlon II X4 / 4 GB / 5750). Well, my main reason for upgrading to 7 is to play games anyway (DX11). Altough being a quite avid Linux users I still can't understand those "purist" that games on Linux, unless they're playing 1000+ variations of solitaire.

    For the UAC, I've set it to the highest level, annoying? I don' think so, being a Linux users, I love the sudo & "passworded" UAC to begin with. Maybe it's a bit annoying when you're setting up your system and installing apps at first, but once it's set, I don't see that many UAC again. What's so annoying by adding just a single click to install stuff?

    But still, really, when will Microsoft dumb that NTFS and create a much better files system that doesn't need to defrag & checked?

    And it doesn't handle my "unique" EvDO modem pretty well (I still blame the modem manufacturer for shitty windows driver thought...), it get disconnected randomly and pretty hard to reconnect (need to reboot). Come on guys! In Linux is just a single (maybe 2) click to reconnect!

    And not too forget, that Nanami Madobe official 7 OS Tan is pretty appealing for anime lover like me, the system voice is just so cute :P

    tl;dr :
    IMHO, Windows 7 is the next great OS Microsoft launches after XP. It performs good for most people, have great gaming possibility (DX11), but just won't cut it to be my main workhorse. Oh, and no bluescreen yet, seems pretty stable :)
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, October 29, 2009 - link

    NTFS has been on many other operating systems since . . .Windows NT :P

    I do agree with UAC however. User account control is welcome in my book, and like you said; once you install applications, is no hindrance at all. e.g. you install an application, you click "sure, let it install", then that is it. Annoying ? No where near as annoying as having to manually remove any level of difficulty of viruses( because your wonderful anti virus application has no idea how ). And before any one says anything. ALL AV apps have this problem occasionally.

    Directx 10 + adds very little to any gaming experience. Especially for those of us who use laptops that have no discrete graphics.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, October 29, 2009 - link

    Oh, and you bluescreen in Windows XP ? That is likely a hardware / driver issue.

    I have an XP pro system that has had uptimes of half a year, and the *only* reason why it is not longer is because of driver updates, or Windows updates that *require* a reboot. Otherwise, said system could have had a much longer uptime.

    Just like any other OS. You *must* research which hardware will run best under it for the optimal experience. Windows is by far not alone here.
    Reply
  • Furuno - Friday, October 30, 2009 - link

    That's why I've said "unique" EvDO modem, sometime it crashed everytime I want to connect in XP. Well, at least it didn't crashed in 7... Reply
  • Voo - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    About the preview window: Afaik it doesn't update at all (at least when I was updating something in VMware running windows it didn't do anything). But that has probably technical reasons: Hidden windows do not get redrawn, if you would do that, you would consume quite some performance for a rather small effect.

    WMP does not have the OGG codecs installed, so you either install them yourself or use another media player (the reason for this are probably some legal issues, but yes it should have some more codecs)


    The tiled windows and co: Not a big problem for me, but yes the windows should at least remember their correct position and not pop up anywhere on the screen after minimalizing them.. annoying


    PS: Exactly what has defraging to do with the file system? If you don't have enough continous space for a file it has to be splitted. You'll always get better performance from a HDD if your file is continous, you can try to minimize fragmentation (and different fs do better or worse, no question) but it's impossible to avoid it without moving data around.
    There's a reason why ext4 will have a online defragmentation ;)

    PPS: Anime and manga fans can't be bad persons! Though I prefer the darker stuff ;)
    Reply
  • rs1 - Thursday, October 29, 2009 - link

    Um, the window previesw absolutely *do* update in realtime. Progress bars for file download update, and if you are watching a video in your browser, you can see the video update in the window preview as well. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now