You may have a few questions: Am I eligible for a cheap upgrade? How about a free upgrade? What's this about family packs? Should I be shopping for a new computer? Not to worry, let's start with the basics.
Is Your PC Ready? If you have your heart set on upgrading to Windows 7, you need to meet minimum system requirements. For most of us, that ain't no thang:
• 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit) • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit) • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
If you can't hit these minimum numbers, I feel for you. It also means you will have to factor new hardware into the total upgrade cost.
To be honest, it's probably in your best interest to exceed these requirements moving forward. The good news is that there are many PCs out there that would more than satisfy your hardware needs for $US500 or less.
The 64-bit Question Every Windows 7 box, upgrade or full, comes with both a 32-bit and a 64-bit version of the OS, so you have a choice. You should probably brush up on the details of this transition, but in the meantime, just know that it mostly comes down to RAM: If you have 3GB or less, you can run 32-bit, but if you have 4GB or more, you'll need 64-bit to get the most out of your system.
We recommend the latter, for future coverage, and fortunately, RAM upgrades are damn cheap these days. In fact, you can get 4GB of DDR2 memory for less than $US70 pretty easily. And if you are already running a Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better, you don't need to upgrade the chipset to enjoy the benefits of 64-bit computing. Either way, getting caught up on the CPU won't run you much more than $US100 if you shop around. As I pointed out in this must-read column, it pays to upgrade hardware yourself. Only suckers pay the manufacturer's prices.
Windows 7 Pricing Standard: • Windows 7 Home Premium: $US120 for upgrade; $US200 for full version • Windows 7 Professional: $US200 for upgrade; $US300 for full version • Windows 7 Ultimate: $US220 for upgrade; $US320 for full version • Family Pack: $US149
AU: You can find Australian pricing details here.
Anytime Upgrades: • Windows 7 Starter Edition (you do not want this) to Home Premium: $US80 • Home Premium to Professional: $US90 • Professional to Ultimate: $US140
Free Upgrades: If you purchase a qualifying PC with Vista installed between now and January 31st you are eligible for a free Windows 7 upgrade. However, this only applies to participating manufacturers and products. Check out Microsoft's upgrade page for a list of these manufacturers. This also applies to anyone who purchases Vista retail packaged products.
Which Version of Windows 7 Should I Get? If you are running something other than a Windows OS or an OS that pre-dates Windows XP that means you will have to buy the full retail copy—you're not eligible for the upgrade that pretty much everyone else is eligible for. If you fall into this slim category, there is a good chance you'll have to upgrade hardware as well. In that case, strongly consider putting your money into a new PC with Windows 7 already installed—there's no reason to pay $US200 to $US300 for the OS alone, when decent computers cost $US500.
You can pretty much skip Microsoft's handy-but-convoluted upgrade chart when determining which path is right for you. There are really only three decisions most people will make: Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate, as the other versions are not offered to retail buyers. Most people will get Home Premium—even if you're shopping for Professional or Ultimate, you probably won't need the upgrade chart because you know what you're looking for.
Whatever you do, try to avoid the Anytime Upgrade, the convenient but costly way to jump from, say, Home Premium to Ultimate. If, for example, there is even a slight chance that you might upgrade from Professional to Ultimate, it makes sense to just go for Ultimate right off the bat. An outright upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate costs $US220, but upgrading to Professional then deciding later on to go to Ultimate will cost you $US340 total.
What About Netbooks? In the vast majority of cases, upgrading to Windows 7 from a netbook doesn't make sound financial sense. If you look at the prices, upgrades can cost more than half what you paid for the netbook in the first place. My recommendation here is to wait on purchasing a netbook until an optimised build of Windows 7 is pre-installed.
Furthermore, if you aren't prepared to deal with the Starter Edition, don't buy a netbook running it—go right for Home Premium if possible. The Anytime Upgrade to Home Premium will run you $US80—which is probably still a chunk of change when compared to the price of the netbook itself. Seriously, I think that Starter Edition's sole purpose is to screw netbook users. And if you keep your wallet in a back pocket—yes,they're screwing you from behind. As far as I'm concerned, the only way it might make some financial sense to purchase an OS upgrade for a netbook is if you run Windows on multiple computers and you decide to purchase a Family Pack license—and you are comfortable dealing with different kinds of OS installations. That will at least allow you to run Home Premium on three machines for about $US50 a pop.
Source image from Flickr