How-to: Upgrade from XP to Windows 7 OEM

Following on from the earlier post, XP eXPires, I’m now looking for the cheapest way of upgrading a variety of old hardware. Windows 7 is the better option over Windows 8 – lower hardware requirement, no touch screen, cheaper licensing for older software.

But there are plenty of SKU’s in both boxed retail and OEM versions. So what to go for? First, a couple of definitions:

OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer. This is the version Microsoft sells to PC builders to bundle with new machines. Microsoft doesn’t support it; they expect the PC maker to support the customer. The OEM versions are available to small companies and private buyers (enthusiasts) in the same basis, on the understanding that the OEM windows version is sold together with a piece of hardware (that could be just a mouse). In reality, Microsoft is unlikely to verify this.

Upgrade: so what constitutes an upgrade? If you buy a boxed, retail version, you can install in-place over Vista, or a lower version of Windows 7 (Starter to Home Premium, or Professional) without wiping the machine and the Windows 7 upgrade rolls right over the top of the existing operating system.

For the OEM version, there is no such thing as an ‘upgrade’; the only choice you have to go from XP to Windows 7 (OEM or Retail product is a “Custom/Clean” install:

  1. OEM versions can do clean installations only, not upgrades.
  2. Even with an Upgrade version, you cannot upgrade from Windows XP, you have to do a clean installation with it.

So while you can legally move from Windows XP Professional OEM to Windows 7 OEM ‘System Builder’ versions, it may not be quite the process you were expecting.

With an ‘upgrade’ version, you can move up from XP without doing a clean install (but don’t even think about it until after you take a backup of all your data). The upgrade to Windows 7 will leave behind a folder called ‘Windows.old. containing all the XP documents and settings, but you will have to reinstall most applications and probably some legacy drivers

Before you begin, back up all your data to an external storage device, and locate the original installation discs for any programs you want to keep.

Detailed instructions are available at, but here are the basic steps:

  • Run the Windows Upgrade Advisor ( to discover any known issues that might affect the installation on your particular machine; it will also tell you if you need the 32 or 64 bit version of Windows 7.
    Backup your files and settings on an external hard drive; Windows Easy Transfer ( is good enough for this task, although it does rely on an external hard drive. Otherwise, copy your data files onto a USB flash drive, CDs, or DVDs, bit verify the data is complete and readable before you go any further. Check it twice and prerably one of those on a different machine. An incomplete or corrupted backup will be no good to you after the fact.
  • Gather the installation discs and any associated product/license keys for legacy software that you’ll need to reinstall manually after the Windows 7 install. Some will have versions for download, perhaps Windows 7-specific versions.
  • Insert the Windows 7 DVD into the machine to be upgraded. Under “Which type of installation do you want? select “Custom (advanced).” Work through the options on the following screens.
  • After Windows 7 completes the install and reboots, check that all the Windows 7 components are present and working.
  • Activate the software if asked.
  • Let Windows Update perform the software update to install the latest software, drivers and security patches.
  • Use Windows Easy Transfer to restore your files and settings.

It’s not difficult and as long as you have adequate backups, there’s less risk of losing anything valuable. You can always wipe the machine and start over if it goes wrong. If you’re not prepared for this, don’t start, or at least, get someone qualified to do it for you. AJS

Related: How-to: Windows 7 Upgrade Checklist

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