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Upgrading a PC to Windows 7 and what to expect; beware of pirates

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Anyone who's had to reinstall the operating system (OS) on a PC, knows its a tedious process. It might sometimes seem like a high seas adventure plot with obstacles at every junction. Instead of hostile natives, sea monsters and storms we have bios updates, driver software, backups and software / hardware installs.

The following is some of what to expect when upgrading a PC to Windows 7.

The complete install process can likely take between 8-12 hours. This includes backup, gathering materials such as install discs, a formatted USB key, downloading and installing software, hardware upgrades such as RAM and internal and external drives, and the Windows update process, which is as slow as molasses.

Here is a checklist of things to have before beginning the upgrade process:

-Windows 7 license key (a string of letters and numbers XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX)

-A Windows 7 Disc or a blank DVD and DVD burner

-A stable AC power source (no shoddy outlets or trip cords). If using a laptop, it will need to be plugged in for the duration

-A fast (3Mpbs +) and stable Internet connection (not Starbucks or the Public Library etc.)

-A phone with good signal strength to call Microsoft (for activation)

-An Installed DVD Drive (For Installation Disk)

-A clear (formatted) USB Thumb Drive

-An spare internal hard drive >100GB (recommended)

-An external hard drive or additional USB Thumb Drive for Backup

-A printed copy with the exact model number or service tag of the PC to be upgraded, and/or detailed list of hardware components including model numbers for motherboard and any peripherals such as Audio/Video Hardware, Printers, LAN devices etc...

-Passwords and user names for all email, FTP or other accounts to be used on upgraded machine

-Software discs and/or license keys for additional third-party software to be installed (MS office, Adobe etc...)

-A fast paced fiction novel such as Michael Chrichton's Pirate Latitudes


Note: This article is by no means intended to be a comprehensive backup solution, just the basics for standard Windows data management including My Docs, Favorites, Outlook etc.

To begin with, the user should back up all necessary data from old machine, (assume that the PC is being upgraded from XP.)

1. Connect an external “Backup” drive.

2. From “My Computer” go to the folder: “C:\Documents and Settings\user_name”
Here will be folders, “Favorites” and “My Documents” which includes “My Music” “My Videos” “My Pictures”

3. Copy the contents from Favorites and My Documents into a folder called “User_Name_Backup_XX-XX-XX” (Where XX-XX-XX is the date).

If there are multiple users repeat this process for each user.

(Note: The administrator or the one who is doing the backup should go to “My Computer” to check for other data on C:\ or other drives and back up that data accordingly).

Do not delete anything off the drive(s) after backing up. The drive itself should eventually be removed from the PC and stored as a second backup.

If the machine is running Outlook for email etc. Outlook data should be backed up as well. This is done in Outlook by going to File>Import and Export, and then selecting Export to file> .PST.

Remember to check “include subfolders.”

If unsure how to do backup Outlook data check this link:

Bios Update

The fundamental purposes of the BIOS are to initialize and test the system hardware components, and to load a bootloader or an operating system from a mass memory device (Hard Drive).

The BIOS firmware should be updated before upgrading the OS to Windows 7. Drivers for hardware components may depend on this.

1.. Check the BIOS version number:

Reboot the machine and enter the system configuration.

To do this the user will need to press a key such as F1, F2, delete etc. (varies depending on motherboard) before the XP splash screen shows.

Navigate through the system configuration menu to find the “General” tab which should include CPU info and the Bios version number. Make a note of the BIOS version number.

2. Exit the system configuration without saving

3. Open an internet browser and do a search for the PC or Motherboard by model number. For instance if the machine to be upgraded is a Dell Optiplex 745, go to and then navigate to the “Support” page. Specify the EXACT model or enter the service tag of the computer and find the BIOS files in the download section.

4. Check to see the latest BIOS version that is available for download. If the latest version is the same as what appeared in the system configuration, the BIOS does not need to be updated (skip to the next section “Acquire Windows 7 License Key and OS DVD”)

5. Download the latest BIOS file and save it to desktop. If there is a read me or link to instructions for updating the BIOS READ IT CAREFULLY and follow the steps.

(Many BIOS updates just require the use of a USB key with the bios file on it and the system configuration will install the update automatically. Others, in the case of some Dell and HP machines, require a DOS boot-disk with an .exe BIOS utility program.)
6. In order to create a DOS bootdisk, connect an EMPTY USB thumb drive to the PC

7. Download or copy a version of DOS to a folder named “DOS Boot Disk Files”on the desktop
This can be from an original dos or windows 98 boot disk or from the following archive:

8. Download the “HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool” from

9. Run the “HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool” (HPUSBDisk.exe)

10. Select the empty USB Flash Drive under “Device”

11. Select FAT32 as “File System

12. Uncheck “Quick Format”

13. Check “Create a DOS startup disk”

14. Under “using system files located at” Select the DOS Boot Disk Files folder that was saved to the desktop

15. Click “Start”

16. Verify that the USB Drive now contains the DOS system files,
Note these are system files and will be hidden by default. In order to verify that they are on the USB drive the user should check “show hidden files” and uncheck “Hide protected Operating system files” under Tools>Folder Options>View

17. Now copy the BIOS update file to the DOS boot flash drive. This will be an .exe file that was downloaded from the manufactures website and saved to the desktop.

18. Reboot the computer and enter the boot device menu by pressing a button such as F12 (for Dell) before the Windows XP splash logo appears. The user may have to enter the system configuration and change the boot device order, making the USB device the priority.

19. The DOS command prompt should now show. (C:\>)

20. Type: dir and press enter

21. This directory view will display the name of the BIOS update .exe file. Enter that file name and press enter

22. This should run the BIOS update utility which will prompt the user for key commands and update the BIOS.

23. After the BIOS has been updated reboot the machine

Acquire Windows 7 License Key and OS DVD

A Windows 7 license key is required to install and activate Windows 7. This will be a 25 digit string, XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX.

The License Key can be found on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) sticker. OEM COA stickers for Windows 7 ARE transferable between machines. For instance a COA sticker off a Dell will work with an installation of Windows 7 on an HP. Note, only one license key per one computer will work. Microsoft will lock your machine if you try to activate more than one machine with the same key.

If you don't have a COA sticker, a license Key which usually includes a DVD is available from Fry's or online retailers such as New egg for about $150-200.

Make sure to note which Version of Windows you are working with. There are 6 different versions of Windows 7. Microsoft has provided the 32-bit and 64-bit Windows: frequently asked questions link to determine the right version on a case by case basis.

An image file for the Windows 7 DVD is available for free from Microsoft through the Digital River Server:
Download the appropriate Windows 7 .ISO file which includes Service Pack 1

(Note: must match what your product key version is for)
Windows 7 Home Premium 32Bit:
Windows 7 Home Premium 64Bit:
Windows 7 Professional 32Bit:
Windows 7 Professional 64Bit:
Windows 7 Ultimate 32Bit:
Windows 7 Ultimate 64Bit:

1. Identify the Windows 7 Version that corresponds with the License Key (The COA sticker will note this)

2. Download the .iso file from the above links (legit Microsoft)

3. Use a DVD burning program such as CD Burner XP to burn a Windows 7 installation DVD

Replace the Hard Drive

This should be done as a precaution before installing a fresh copy of a new OS. The old drive should be stored as it contains a second backup of files, as well as a working configuration for the PC just in case the Windows 7 installation runs into trouble.
1. Shut down the computer

2. Unplug all connections, making note of what goes where. If unsure, label everything.

3. Eliminate the fear, open up the gear.
Follow manufactures directions to remove drive. If there are multiple drives, then make sure to identify the boot drive. This will be listed in the system configuration and in windows “Computer Management”. Make a note of which drive contains the OS ( C:\ )and remove that drive. As a precaution, unplug any other drives. They can be plugged back in later after Windows 7 has been installed and is up and running.

4. Store the old drive in a safe place, preferably inside an anti-static bag

5. Install the new drive

6. Plug everything back in and start the machine

7. Enter System Configuration to verify that the BIOS sees the new drive and the Boot order is set back to normal.

Format replacement drive and Install Windows 7 from DVD

1. Reboot the machine and enter the Boot Device Menu

2. Select boot from DVD drive

3. On the Install Windows page, enter your language and other preferences, and then click Next.

4. On the Which type of installation do you want? page, click "Custom."

5. On the "Where do you want to install Windows?" page, click "Drive options (advanced)."

6. This will bring the user to a Disk Utility Application. The user can partition the drive and format. Partitioning with this utility will leave a small "System Partition" in addition to the primary partition which is created for the OS.

7. Follow the steps to create the partition(s) and Format

8. Follow the Windows 7 Installation Steps (Have the License Key ready to input)

9. Windows will chug away for a while and should automatically reboot when its done installing files.
wow, a new fancy splash screen, insert excitement here

10. Once Windows 7 is running on the machine, the user will have to activate it.

11. From the start menu enter “Activate Windows” which will open the Activation Wizard

12. Follow the necessary steps. It may do the activation automatically over the internet, or it may prompt the user with an option to call and enter in a long string of numbers. In this case call the 800 number given and follow the computer through the activation process. This can take up to 5-10minutes.
(Note, Windows will ask to use “Automatic Updates” Select manual for now “Turn off automatic updates”)


Windows 7 comes loaded with driver software for many computers and devices. For basic configurations the user may not have to install any third-party drivers. In the case of a Dell Optiplex 745, for instance, all the drivers were installed without any additional downloads.
To check which if any drivers are needed, go to the start menu and right click My Computer and select “properties”. Open Hardware>Device Manager. This will display a list of all the installed hardware. If there is a question mark or a note beside any category or device, a third-party driver will need to be downloaded and installed.

Windows Update

1. From the Start Menu go to control panel>System Security>Windows Update and select “Turn Automatic Updates on or off.” This should be turned on later after the initial updates are installed

2. From the Start Menu go to “Windows Update”

3. Select “Check for Updates”

4. Windows will slowly check for updates for the computer, when its done it will ask to review and install updates. Install all updates and check any “Optional updates” that are desired. This is where the fiction novel comes in handy.

5. After installed, reboot the computer and repeat the last step until there are no updates left. The machine is now up to date with all security patches, bug fixes etc.

6. Click on “Get updates for other Microsoft products” and follow the steps.

Install Applications

1. Download and install anti-virus. Avira is a good free Anti-Virus which is efficient and doesn't load the computer with a lot of junk.

2. Install Outlook or MS office programs. After installing MS programs, run Windows Update again with the option “Get updates for other Microsoft products” enabled. This will provide patches for Outlook and other MS programs.

3. Finally, install any other necessary applications accordingly.
Note, When installing Adobe Flash and Acrobat, the download site will try to force McAffe Security suite by including it with the Adobe installation. NOBODY WANTS MCAFFE but almost everyone needs Flash and Acrobat. Make sure to uncheck the McAffe Security suite option when installing Adobe Products. The same principal applies to any free download. NOBODY WANTS BING TOOLBAR etc. Watch out for those traps.

This concludes this High Seas Adventure of Windows 7 installation. Maybe in another 10 years users can embark on another Microsoft Crusade with Windows 10.


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