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How to upgrade your PC from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8.1

Did Windows Vista scare you off updating your PC so much that you let Windows 7 and 8 pass you by? Well, the time has come for you to move on because full support for XP ended as of yesterday.

XP has been around since 2001, which means that you've really had more than enough time to let it go. But you're not the only one. A number of businesses, not to mention governments, still rely on XP-based systems (the UK government being one of them).

What happens to those who don't upgrade? Well, if any bugs are found going forward, Microsoft won't be fixing them, though it will support anti-malware signatures for XP through to July 2015. There's also the fact that you're running a 13-year-old OS so you'd likely see better performance if you upgrade. That is, if your system can handle it. How do you know?

At its recent Build conference, Microsoft lowered the system requirements for Windows 8.1 so more machines can upgrade to the latest OS. The requirements for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are now:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard drive space: 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

If you don't have this and you want to upgrade, then it's time for a new laptop or desktop. But if you want to give upgrading a shot, here's how to proceed.

Windows XP to Windows 7

If you're used to XP, then upgrading to Windows 7 is probably less of a shock than going from XP to Windows 8.1. Here's how to get started.

  • The Windows download links on Microsoft's website all link to Windows 8, so you'll probably need to track down a boxed version of Windows 7 from a site like Amazon. To see if you need 32-bit or 64-bit, go to Start, right click on My Computer, then select Properties. If you see "x64 Edition" then choose 64-bit. If not, choose 32-bit.
  • Your files and settings will not be saved during the upgrade, so you need to back everything up on an external hard drive. You can use Microsoft's Windows Easy Transfer to make the process a little smoother, but there are also services like Laplink PCmover, which will move and restore files for you.
  • Load the Windows 7 disc and follow the installation menu instructions.
  • For the visual learners out there, Microsoft has a video that might help you through the process.
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    Windows XP to Windows 8.1

    "Windows 8.1 isn't designed for installation on PCs running Windows Vista or Windows XP," Microsoft warns on its upgrade page. Basically, Redmond would much prefer you just buy a new Windows 8-based PC. That's not on the cards for everyone, though, so here's how you upgrade from XP to Windows 8 (hopefully).

    • First things first, make sure your PC can indeed handle Windows 8 by clicking "Download Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant" on Microsoft's website. That will tell you if you're good to go and whether or not you should bother buying the Windows 8 software.
    • Like Windows 7, the upgrade won't save any of your data when you upgrade, so you need to transfer everything over to an external hard drive, USB flash drive, or DVD/CD. Files could also be stored in the cloud using something like Microsoft's OneDrive.
    • Microsoft says you'll need to install the OS from a Windows 8.1 DVD and perform a clean installation. Find it on the Microsoft Store.
    • To see if you need 32-bit or 64-bit, go to Start, right click on My Computer, then select Properties. If you see "x64 Edition" then choose 64-bit. If not, choose 32-bit.
    • Insert the Windows 8 installation disc and follow the installation menu instructions.