The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor gives a user's PC a pass/fail grade in four areas and checks to see whether there are any compatibility problems with hardware devices such as mice or printers or with applications.
The Advisor, which is available for download, requires PCs running Windows XP SP2 (with .Net 2.0), Vista or release candidate versions of Windows 7.
The Advisor software can also be run on Intel-based Macs under virtualization to test for Windows 7 compatibility.
It tests whether users' PCs meet the minimum requirements of:
* A 1-GHz CPU
* 1 GB of RAM for a 32-bit Windows 7 and 2 GB for 64-bit Windows 7
* 16 GB free space for 32-bit Windows 7 (20 GB for 64-bit)
* and a graphics card/chip powerful enough to run the Windows Aero graphical user interface.
Microsoft says users should plug in all of the external devices that they want to check for Windows 7 compatibility.
Unlike the Vista Upgrade Advisor, the Windows 7 Advisor does not recommend a specific version of Windows 7 to users based on the results of the scan. Windows 7 comes in six versions in the U.S., though Microsoft is emphasizing two main ones: Home Premium for consumers and Professional for companies.
The Advisor also does not tell users whether their computer can handle Windows 7's new XP Mode.
That compatibility feature requires PCs equipped with hardware virtualization. Intel Corp. and AMD Inc. slowly began releasing CPUs equipped with hardware virtualization more than three years ago. But some PCs shipping today, including many netbooks, lack either Intel VT or AMD-V.
Users wanting to check compatibility with XP Mode can download a free third-party utility called Securable.
XP users whose PCs pass can buy upgrades to Windows 7, though they will still need to do a clean install of Windows 7. Vista users can buy and do an in-place upgrade to 7 that does not require a clean install. Generally, any PC that can run Vista should be able to run Windows 7, too, according to Microsoft.
Indeed, pre-release versions of Windows 7 have been widely praised for running faster and requiring less powerful hardware than Vista.
However, one test by PC World this week concluded that the overall improvement will be barely noticeable to most users.
This story, "Free Beta of Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Surfaces" was originally published by Computerworld.