Migrate to Windows 7 at Your Own Pace

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Although I've been playing with Windows 7 for a couple months now, I'm not quite ready to dive in. I want to make gradual move, keeping my Vista-based PC up and running while I transition to the new OS. Why? I have my reasons. For one thing, I don't want any driver- or software-related surprises--or worse. Early upgraders are already reporting issues; read "Windows 7 Upgrade Woes Mount: Endless Reboots and Product Key Problems" for a look at what's been going on.

What's more, I don't have a full afternoon to devote to the tedious process of offloading my data, installing Windows 7, reinstalling all my apps, restoring the data, and so on and so on.

So I've come up with a plan. Instead of wiping my system for a fresh install or doing an in-place upgrade from Vista to 7, I'm getting the best of both worlds. First, I partitioned my hard drive--which, thankfully, has more than enough room to accommodate both Vista and Windows 7. Then I loaded Windows 7 onto the new partition, which gave me a fresh install (always the best approach, in my humble opinion).

After that, I need to make sure Windows 7 works well with all my hardware. Assuming it does, I'll start installing the apps I use daily and copying over my data from the Vista partition. Eventually, after a few weeks (or even months), I'll remove the Vista partition. I'll need to figure out how to make 7 the primary partition so I don't run into boot issues, but that's a problem for a much later day. This week I'll tell you how I set up a new hard-drive partition and installed Windows 7.

Partitioning Your Drive

So my first step was partitioning the hard drive. Vista has a built-in partitioning tool; Windows XP users will need Easeus Partition Manager, a free utility, or another third-party tool.

Keep in mind that this approach requires a reasonably large drive, preferably one with at least 50GB of free space--more if you have a lot of video files and other data you'll be copying over from the old partition. On my system, which has a 750GB drive, I created a 300GB partition for Windows 7. Here's how to do that:

  1. To create a new partition in Vista, click the Start button, type diskmgmt.msc, and press Enter to open the Disk Management utility.
  2. In the Volume column, find your C: drive, right-click it, and choose Shrink Volume.
  3. Vista will calculate how much "shrinkage" is allowed. And here's where you may run into trouble. My 750GB drive had close to 400GB free, but Disk Management was willing to shrink the partition by only about 80GB. I turned to PerfectDisk, a drive-defragmenting utility that can perform the all-important function of moving system files to the beginning of the partition, thus freeing up much more of the available space.
  4. With that step done (or not, if you're okay with Vista's default findings), enter a size for your new volume (I entered 300000 for 300GB, for example) and click OK. After a few minutes, Disk Management will show you a new space on your drive, labeled "Unallocated."
  5. Right-click Unallocated, choose New Simple Volume, and then follow the steps indicated by the utility.

When you're done, you'll have a brand spankin' new partition that's ready to receive Windows 7.

Installing Windows 7 on the Partition

Now it's time to install Windows 7. This part was easy: All I did was reboot my PC with my Windows 7 disc in the drive, then follow the boot-screen option, "Press any key to boot from CD."

If you don't see a similar option upon booting, you may need to venture into the BIOS to change the boot order, with your CD/DVD drive ahead of the hard drive. Consult your system manual if you don't know how to do that.

Once the Windows 7 installer starts running, just follow the prompts--making sure to choose the Custom option when asked which type of installation you want. Next, you'll have to choose where to install Windows 7. Select New Simple Volume, which is the partition you created previously.

Now go get a cup of coffee. My install went pretty quickly--about 20 minutes in all--but yours could take twice as long depending on the speed of your system.

When it's all done and you restart your PC, you'll see a menu with two boot options: Windows 7 and your previous version of Windows. Choose the former to start working with the new OS, the latter when you need to get back to your stuff.

In the coming weeks I'll talk about reinstalling software, migrating data, and more.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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