Free Windows 7 Upgrade May Not Reach $298 Laptop Buyers

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Wal-Mart will start selling a fully loaded laptop from Hewlett-Packard for a breakthrough price of US$298 on July 26, but it may have a caveat: The Windows Vista OS included with the machine may not qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 7.

The laptop -- a Compaq Presario CQ60-419WM -- has attracted attention because of its low promotional price and generous features, which include a large screen, fast processor and Windows Vista Home Basic OS.

But according to HP's documents, users will not be able to upgrade the Vista Home Basic OS to Microsoft's Windows 7. Vista has been panned for being sluggish and resource-hungry, while Windows 7, due for release on Oct. 22, has been praised by beta testers as faster and more resource-friendly.

HP is not providing free upgrades (PDF document) from Vista Home Basic to Windows 7, according to HP's Windows 7 upgrade option program. Only PCs with Vista Home Premium, Vista Business or Vista Ultimate qualify for the upgrade.

Microsoft has listed an upgrade path from Vista Home Basic to multiple versions of Windows 7, but HP isn't offering those options. That means customers who want Windows 7 might have to buy a version of Windows 7, priced starting at $120, off the shelves.

HP did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wal-Mart did not immediately comment on whether it had plans in place to provide free Windows 7 upgrades.

Hewlett-Packard said in June it would offer free upgrades to Windows 7 for customers who buy qualifying PCs pre-installed with certain editions of Vista in the U.S. and Canada. Customers need to go to HP's Windows 7 upgrade Web site to check upgrade eligibility. Qualifying customers will receive Windows 7 upgrade disks starting Oct. 22, when the new OS becomes generally available.

Companies including Lenovo and Dell are also offering free upgrades.

Mainstream laptops under $300 are rare, and for such a low price, the Presario laptop is packed with features. A free upgrade to Windows 7 might have given additional impetus for users to buy it.

The laptop should give better graphics and application performance than netbooks, which are generally less powerful systems with smaller screens and keyboards.

Wal-Mart is expecting a rush of customers and it could run out of stock quickly. "We expect this one will be quite popular," a Wal-Mart employee wrote in its blog entry announcing the offer.

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