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


View All Comments

  • Spivonious - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    Vista/7 have I/O priorities. If the game needs to access the hard disk then the AV scanner (assuming it was written to take advantage of priorities) will pause. Should be little to no performance loss.

    The default auto-defrag setting is once a week, not daily. I find it really helps with overall performance.
  • ibarskiy - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link

    Just WTF are you talking about?!

    1) Browser is much more essential for an average user, so by extension, if bundling the browser (a more essential component) is viewed as anti-competitive, it is certain that bundling less essential components would also be viewed as such. In that respect, it was completely reasonable to anticipate it. It is entirely silly / idiotic (you pick, I pick the latter), but it is not MS's doing, it's the EU regulators'. Bitch at them.

    2) You don't need to manually defrag (it has been background since Vista)

    3) You don't need registry cleaners

    4) You don't need layers of malware protection and, factually, it is more difficult to compromise than OSX, that's been shown

    5) You don't need various 3rd party utilities - difficult to guess here what you are talking about since no specific reference is made - but then again, that's how you bashers typically operate

    6) It is one of the more reliable systems out there; again, please talk specifics. Since Vista, Windows very rarely crashes.

    What is pretty sad is that morons such as yourself with clear misinformation are allowed to impact other people's opinions.
  • The0ne - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link

    I would like to see more tests on laptops if possible. The snappy UI of Windows more than makes up for it's performance/lack-there-of. This is especially true of replacing Vista. Regardless of the performance, Windows 7 has the driver and snappy-ness to warrant the replacement of XP and Vista.

    This test is where one truly finds what a joke Vista OS is.
  • The0ne - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link

    Tom's hardware has the conclusion for what I'm asking for. I'll wait to see if Anandtech can do something similar as Tom's is litter with script junk. Thank God for noscript. Reply
  • ATWindsor - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link

    "To that end, I certainly wouldn’t recommend running Win7 at the default UAC level for any computer connected to the internet."

    That depends on the user, frankly, all you need is an updated OS and a firewall, and one should be resonably safe, those two things will in most cases limit attacks to the types where the user has to manually execute a file. People got by on XP without problems, Win 7 with UAC level 2 is much more safe than that. Of course there will be less skilled users who run into problems, but as a skilled user, one should be fine.
  • Griswold - Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - link

    "That depends on the user, frankly, all you need is an updated OS and a firewall, and one should be resonably safe, those two things will in most cases limit attacks to the types where the user has to manually execute a file."

    No, because:

    "And that’s a risky proposition when a UAC prompt may be all that’s left between malware executing and running amok or not."

    No firewall or AV is going to protect you if all it takes is a brand new little trojan using this flawed security concept to gain highest privileges. And thats why I set UAC to level 4. I got used to it by having vista do the same for 2.5 years.
  • Genx87 - Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - link

    IMO my biggest disappointment in Win7 was Microsoft gave into the XP whiners who love no security with an admin account. They tuned the thing down and gave the user the ability to elevate its protection. Personally I run with a user level account in Win7 and left the default settings. When Win7 shows up on our network Ill have to configure a GP to stick the thing at the highest setting and disable the ability of the users to change it.

    But for mom and pop. They will either turn it off or get infected with something that disables it. The end result is basically XP level security which is a huge step backwards.
  • Zoomer - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link

    I installed vista with UAC off, apps automatically run as admin, and it was fine. Since n/vlite wasn't quite ready for w7 a few months ago, I just disabled UAC.

    Don't see the point of these. I'm still looking for a good command line av or at least something that does not install services. Getting tired of the java AV scanners.
  • Devo2007 - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link

    Looks like you used the wrong graph on Page 11 (the first graph). That one compares different motherboards, rather than Win7/Vista/XP. Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link

    Most of the graphs are meaningless anyway. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now