Even if you have a fairly new PC running Vista, you may not be getting the best version of Windows 7 when you do an in-place upgrade. Why? You've got a 32-bit system.
64-bit versions of Windows are becoming all the rage. At its simplest, this refers to how much information a processor can handle at one time. 64-bit Windows can run faster than 32-bit, allows more applications to run at once and facilitates faster switching between apps.
You should understand, however, that to get the full benefit of a 64-bit OS and 64-bit compatible hardware, you'll also need 64-bit applications — and application developers are still lagging behind Microsoft and Intel on this front. Your favorite and most demanding apps may not have been rewritten to take advantage of 64-bit technology yet.
Most PCs sold in the past three years have 64-bit compatible hardware and most sold in the past nine months run a 64-bit version of Vista. So if you've got one of these, and want to upgrade, just load the 64-bit Windows 7 disk (Windows 7 retail packages come with both 32- and 64-bit disks) and let your in-place upgrade to 64-bit Windows 7 begin.
But if you're like me and your laptop runs a 32-bit version of Windows Vista, your only in-place upgrade will be to a 32-bit version of Windows 7. To go from 32-bit to 64-bit, you will have to do a clean install. Additionally, you'll have to add RAM if you have anything less than 4GB, because 64-bit demands this much at minimum for good performance.
You could upgrade your Vista machine from 32-bit Vista to 64-bit Vista first, and then do an in-place upgrade to 64-bit Windows 7. But in addition to buying a Windows 64-bit Vista disk and buying more RAM, you'd still have to do a clean install for the 32-bit Vista to 64-bit Vista upgrade.
Is it a disadvantage to run a 32-bit version of Windows 7? Heck no. Most users run a 32-bit OS very comfortably everyday. With 3GB of RAM, a 32-bit OS can easily handle aggressive computer use (unless maybe you're editing the next Spielberg movie on your laptop.)
But if you're a forward-looking power user with the latest hardware who usually has 10 apps going at once, then 64-bit will be worth the dreaded clean install.
This story, "Windows 7 Upgrade: Easy as Pie, or Hard as Nails?" was originally published by CIO.