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How to Upgrade Windows 7 Easily (And Understand Whether You Should)

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Just the other day I was trying to use Remote Desktop to connect from my laptop in the living room to the desktop downstairs, when I realized that I couldn’t do it because the desktop was running Windows Home Premium—that’s when I realized we’d never covered how to upgrade Windows, so here you are.

You can upgrade from any version of Windows to the next version up, but it’s obviously going to cost a bit of money, and there’s a very good chance that you’ll have no reason to upgrade. Keep reading for the differences between the versions, whether you should bother upgrading, and how to actually do it.

Differences Between Home Premium and Ultimate

Microsoft has a comparison page where you can see the very detailed list of features that differentiate each version of Windows from another, but it’s a lot of information to take in. Here’s the real differences that might matter to you, the home user:

When it comes right down to it, Home Premium is going to be just fine for most people, or you can find freeware to do most of the same tasks—there’s just one feature that you really need to upgrade for: Remote Desktop. It’s so much better than any of the freeware alternatives that I’ve tried, and it even supports Aero effects for a really great remote desktop session.

Differences Between Starter and Home Premium

Windows 7 Starter edition is pretty awful—you’re missing out on Aero effects, Homegroups, 64-bit, multiple monitors, Media Center, Sticky Notes, Mobility Center, Snipping Tool… wallpaper… it’s well worth the upgrade to Home Premium.

If the only thing that bugs you about Starter edition is the wallpaper, you can still customize the wallpaper using a freeware application.

Upgrading from One Windows Version to Another

It’s extremely simple to upgrade, especially if you’ve already purchased an upgrade key from Microsoft. Either way, right-click on Computer, select Properties…

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And then click the link that says “Get more features with a new edition of Windows 7”.

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Once you’ve done that, the Windows Anytime Upgrade dialog will show up, where you can direct purchase a new edition of Windows 7, or you can enter the upgrade key. Since we’ve already got the key, we’ll click the second one—but they work the same.

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If you bought the key separately, you’ll add in the key…

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Windows will check the key, ask you to agree to something you’ll probably never read, and then start the upgrade.

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Your computer will reboot a couple of times, and that’s pretty much all there is to that.

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All done.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/13/11

Comments (36)

  1. Rob

    Don’t waste your money upgrading windows just for a remote connection. There are several FREE programs that will do this for you.

  2. Anonymous

    Reading comprehension is a valuable skill. If you had it, you possibly would’ve noticed that he explained the benefits of the Windows 7 remote desktop over the freeware options. Not only that, but the other features in the Pro and Ultimate versions. It’s ultimately up to the reader whether they should upgrade, but it is incredibly rude of you to barge in as the first comment and immediately ruin its point by ignoring several portions of it.

  3. DaveC

    I have to agree with the author…there is no good FOSS alternative allowing RDP into a Windows 7 PC.

    If there is, PLEASE let us know.

  4. Cirric

    Hi. It’s always good to know whether or not something may be useful to you. I have stuck with Win XP Pro for just one good reason. I play HALO (version 1) which is NOT supported in Win 7.

  5. Kannan

    The best RDP i have used till now is TeamViewer, and it works like a charm.

  6. lok

    II agree with Kannan…i use TeamViewer all the time. Its very easy and simple. Most of all its free.

  7. Allen Young

    Must I use an “upgrade key,” or can I use a a Win 7 Ultimate installation disc w/key? I have a copy with a two-machine license, but it has only been installed on one.

  8. John

    I just upgraded my work computer to Win7 Pro. Most of our office runs XP Pro, but we’re planning on upgrading this summer. However, I did run into some compatibility problems. One of the little jobs I have at the office is printing our ID badges. It turns out that our printer does not have an updated driver for Win 7. Luckily, I have an XP machine in my office too.

    When it comes to RDP, the version from Microsoft is the best option. However, I also use LogMeIn for quick fixes on our greenhouse PCs and POS terminals as it is easier to set up than RDP on our company network.

  9. vonvon

    i Have Window 7 ultimate i Not upgrade to new window

  10. Grant

    I have used VNC for years with many operating systems. Does it not work on Win 7?

  11. MJ

    As a student, my University has a MSDN Academic Alliance, and so I currently have eight Windows 7 Professional keys (full version, not upgrade). I used one this way on a Netbook I purchased a year ago (Windows 7 Starter had last for about 15 min) and went perfectly.

    Because of the short price difference between Professional and Ultimate, I must be one of the few people using Professional…

  12. Cambo

    Why MS didn’t include the RDP protocol in Home edition is beyond me. Yet another money grab.

    One of the many reasons I ditched Windows. Tired of Paying, Paying and Paying for useful features.

  13. puzzled

    I would not recommend to anyone to purchase Windows7 Ultimate. Your article seems to imply that XP Mode is available in Windows 7 Ultimate only when in fact its available in Win7 Pro. Only thing in Ultimate that is not in Pro is bitlocker and language selection. I prefer to use TrueCrypt for encryption rather than rely on MS to protect confidential information.

  14. shib

    Hi
    I think the system requirements also should meet to upgrade to windows 7 ultimate and to use xp mode you should have virtualisation in bios or else its not possible.so the line that he wrote “You can upgrade from any version of Windows to the next version up, but it’s obviously going to cost a bit of money,” doesnt count

  15. Hatryst

    Was it that easy? :D
    I never knew !

  16. vgamesx1

    If you need it for 64-bit or XP I suggest do like I did….
    “google it” just something like “enable RDP in xp home” etc..

  17. Me

    Anonymous judging by your response i’d have to say that you must be socially retarted

  18. Imagol4

    I have used Microsoft Products since it began. I’m talking DOS 1.0 and forward. Windows 7 is the worst piece of S#&T they have come up with yet. I have so many problems with it, it’s not even funny. Problem is, I am not wealthy, and am stuck using this POS for 4 more years. I can only afford to upgrade systems once every 5 years. I have Windows 7 Home 64-bit. It was pre-installed on a Dell system bought from Wal-Mart. This thing crashes, litereally every 20-30 minutes, just shuts down, locks up, have to perform a hard restart about every third crash. Microsoft won’t help, they say it’s a printer or other peripheral device causing the problem. I don’t have a printer or other peripheral device (unless you count the monitor). So, I’m at a loss. Thought maybe it was just “a bad install”, kind of like a “lemon” car. My wife just got her new computer, and it has the exact same problems. Both computers had problems right out of the box. And, a friend of mine got a new laptop from his company, runs Windows 7 64-bit, same problem. His company at least gave him a new laptop, but put XP on it, and have not issued anymore Windows 7 units to other area reps.

    Just venting, thanks for listening.

  19. Col

    windows update should offer ubuntu as a recomended update if not a critical one.

  20. Mike

    Hi I’ve done the upgrade but now I can’t get the gadgets to work, the one I need the most is Calendar, please can any body tell me how to get over this.

    Thanks Mike

  21. Helpful fellow

    One other exclusive feature of Windows Ultimate might apply to some home users who happen to be tech enthusiasts: UNIX Services for Windows. This lets you have a UNIX like interface on Windows, including NFS. Alternatives for other editions include Cygwin.

  22. Roger Newton

    Differences Between Starter and Home Premium
    Windows 7 Starter edition sounds like what i want, need =
    i have Home Premium, your reasons are my ‘why would i want it’: Aero effects – disabled, didn’t like; Homegroup – i’m the only one using my laptop; 64-bit – so little 64-bit out there, i end up running multiple 32-bit emulators that crash my system; multiple monitors – no need; Media Center – disabled, didn’t like; Sticky Notes – don’t use, Mobility Center – don’t use, Snipping Tool – why would i want it; wallpaper – NEVER use =
    it’s well worth the downgrade to Starter from Home Premium.= how?

  23. Lucky

    @ Imagol4 – you are the worst kind of troll..a lying one.

    @ puzzled – In the article, right next to “XP mode” it states “Pro and Ultimate”, Did you not see “Pro” or did you just read right past it? I’m puzzled.

  24. Gyffes

    Frankly, while I loathe M$ products as a matter of course, I find 7 a pretty fair product. I’ve stopped installing XP on machines at work and only do 7. I spend more time in my 7 VM (thanks, Fusion!) than in my XP ones and when I failed (FIVE TIMES!) to put OSX on my Netbook, I reverted to 7 as opposed to any of the flavors of Linux that I enjoy. For my needs, 7 works fine. And I’ve never needed to install XPmode for any software to work: Even ancient Filemaker 6 works in 7.

    Imago14, you foolish troll, you, your problem is not the OS but the hardware. First, you bought a Dell. WHUPS. Second, you bought from Wal-Mart. DoubleWHUPS. This is a classic case of “you get what you pay for.” Great, you don’t have the cash to shell out for a mac: my Lenovo cost $313 and is a wonderful little machine, running Win7Enterprise just fine.

  25. Graycat

    I recently purchased a new 64 bit Sony VAIO VPCJ1 series computer and the product key for Microsoft Office Professional 2010-32 bit. I Love windows 7 but I am encountering a problem with sending or forwarding emails with larger attachments….especially power points. I can receive them but when I try to send or forward they stick in the outbox. I have tried numerous suggestions from IT people, Microsoft, Sony, etc etc. Nothing works. I’ve even setup a new account. I have found a solution to delete them from the outbox but it requires my disconnecting from the internet, closing outlook, reopening outlook, selecting the outbox and then deleting the email. And of course I then need to reconnect to the internet. By the way, this is the only way I have found that will move the email out of the outbox.

    Any suggestions or known resolution would be appreciated. Thanks

  26. PLIERS

    guys, quiet about 7. my knowledge about computers might be in negatives but all I know is that I have run windows from 95 up to windows 7 Ultimate. my desktop is a chine made(poorest quality) it got issues with Vista, most softwares made for Xp would not. when I went for win7, everything just worked superb. microsoft word 2010 would not install on XPsp2 but with windows7 it does.

  27. Mark Downey

    I recently upgraded my Dell laptop Inspiron 1521 from Vista to W7. I never had ANY problems with Vista and I use Finale and other music software a good deal of time. All my friends and associates kept bashing Vista so I thought it was a good idea to upgrade. With W7, all I have are problem after problem. My Finale 10 crashes and does weird things! My print drivers all had to be reloaded. Upgrading was one of the worst decisions I ever made.

    A geek friend told me never to upgrade, just replace the PC if you really hate the operating system. I will remember that in the future. I hate to say it, but MACS are looking pretty good right now.

  28. jesus galaviz

    wow this is exactly what happened to me expect i dont have a 2nd floor. The price of win7 ultimate didnt matter to me becaus ei have a msdn account so i get all my window software free. The only problem i did have was choosing whether to clean install or upgrade. well it turns out i had no dvds to burn win7 to so i had to install from a usb and when i wanted to test the usb i decided to just get the win7 key n write it in to the windows anytime upgrade n it was so much faster for me …. and ultimate 64 bit is a lot better. I dont remember why i didnt install it since the beginning. i think i was too excited with the new i7 n graphics card to even care what i was running

  29. Naruto

    I’m sure that we can’t upgrade to Windows 7 Enterprise.

  30. rhobby

    could i get key for upgrade my computer

  31. FXDawg

    I’ve been using windows 7 ultimate since it’s beta stages and I love it. I have Pro here at work and I’ve been very happy with it too. I did try to upgrade my HP laptop to home premium but, I’m so happy there. I did a fresh install on a new HDD but it seems to hang alot. I even upgraded to 2 gb of RAM. I have come to the conclusion that there is some hardware configuration problem with the laptop that doesn’t like windows 7. When I boot to the old XP disk it runs fine. So I have to agree with the earlier statement about not upgrading a machine from XP to Win 7.

    Also, why do some people have to resort to name calling? If someone is having an issue and is mis-directing their frustration, why can’t we just calmly, intelligently, and in a helpful tone, show them where they may be having an issue? I mean c’mon, Dell is houshold name and should be one you can trust as worthy of your money. I, personally, would never buy a Dell, but I believe Dell owes us a product we can assume will work well because they put their name on it. I don’t believe it is the buyer’s fault that Dell, now, builds sub standard configurations.

    Imagol4, I would direct my enery toward Dell and basically torture them into helping you. The statements, (however, innappropriately they were presented), I believe are correct and it is a hardware configuration problem. Dell is notrious for buying components from the lowest bidder and compatibility is a very small consideration. windows 7 has been working very well for me for nearly 2 years (this includes the beta testing) and I run pretty resource hungry programs such as Revit, AutoCAD MEP and Navisworks. Don’t let Dell brush you off, demand help in cleaning up their mess!! They Built it, They Sold it, They put their Name on it, they owe you a working product!! I really don’t think you have a windows 7 issue. It’s too bad because I think you would really enjoy the OS on a better configured machine.

    Good luck!

  32. DavidK

    I upgraded from Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 7 Pro using Microsoft’s anytime upgrade. The whole process took about 20 minutes including reboots and was extremely easy. After the upgrade MS sent me an email with my new license key (although the key had already been installed during the upgrade and the key they sent via email was informational only)

    My question is: What if something happens to my laptop and I need to rebuild? If I have an image of the laptop then I’m probably ok, but what if I need the media? MS Anytime Upgrade gave me no option to purchase or receive the upgrade media.

    Anyone else had this problem and if so were you able to get the media?

    Thanks.

  33. AntiTroll

    @col. – Whay do Linux geeks always have to post some anti MS sh*$ in any MS post they can find?

    @DavidK – As far as I understand, if you need to reinstall Windows 7, your anytime key should unlock the new features during the install.

  34. Charles Raedy

    Is there a free program program that converts web pages to pdf. I am using google chrome.

  35. deenie

    I am running, surprisingly, Chesssmaster 9000, a Win 98, ME, XP program, in Win 7 Home Premium 64-bit. I just put the disks in and did the install. I just found the old disks today and thought “What the heck, nothing to lose” and it worked. Wow!

  36. ritchie

    i have hp with xp..probs from start..freezing..crashing.my notebook..i find mostly caused by so called ms security progs..they even barred me downloading media player from their own site! i’m outta here with windows which i’ve had since 3.1 up to xp…i’have ps3 slim with printer …no crap bombardment when ur on line…2 t of memory..net works better than n e thing i ever had…and i’m getting asus 2 android for out n abour stuff..microsoft adios…theres a myriad of other stuff ps3 can do..wotk with photos..vast music storage…free legal movie..video..film download..n youtube movies without constant crashing..all for 189 pounds..prob less in usa..stay cool guys..

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