Migrating To 64-bit Windows 7 Professional From 32-bit Windows XP Professional

The Information Technology Departments in the Business/Public Service Division at Greenville Technical College where I teach subscribe to the MSDN Academic Alliance which provides our students and faculty free download versions of select Microsoft products. Starting in September 2009, we were able to download either the 32-bit or 64-bit versions of Windows 7 Professional. Jumping on the opportunity to install Microsoft’s latest operating system and move from 32-bit to a 64-bit data path, the week of October 12, 2009 I began migrating from Windows XP Professional Service Pack 3 to the new Windows 7 Professional.

Before starting the migration project, I had several concerns:

  • Would the 64-bit version of Windows 7 have a driver for the ATI SB600 SATA RAID controller on my MSI K9AGM motherboard which I am using for a RAID1 array?
  • Could I dual boot between 32-bit Windows XP and 64-bit Windows 7?
  • Would the 64-bit version of Windows 7 have a driver for my EVGA Nvidia 8600 GT video card?

If the answer was “no” to any of these questions then the migration to Windows 7 would not work as planned. Before starting this project, I searched the Internet for answers to these questions and I found none. I did read several articles and posts that said if 64-bit Vista drivers are available for your components, then use them in lieu of true Windows 7 drivers. My research proved that Windows 7 drivers are few and far between right now, but there are many Vista 64-bit drivers available for components released in the last few years.

So, I am happy to report that the answer to all three of these questions is “YES” and the migration has run smoothly and Windows 7 Professional is dual booting and running great.

Here is an overview of the migration project to Windows 7 in the order that it progressed:

  • First, while using Windows XP Professional, I ran Disk Management to review the partition table on my computer. I have a RAID1 partitioned with three primary partitions in addition to one extended partition containing one logical drive and no remaining partition space. I had previously mirrored two 320GB Western Digital SATA hard drives to make the RAID1 and Ghost imaged my old hard drive to the RAID1. As a result, I ended up with about 110GB of unallocated, unpartitioned space. I copied the data out of the old extended partition’s logical drive to one of the other primary partitions. Then I deleted the logical drive and extended partition. I created a new extended partition in the 110GB unallocated space and created two logical drives in the new extended partition. Next I used PartitionMagic 8.0 to modify the partition table on the RAID1 to include the deserted space from the old extended partition to increase the first primary partition to about 100GB. At this point I formatted the two new logical drives and I was ready to install Windows 7 in the first primary partition.
  • My hope was that Windows 7 would have a native driver for the RAID controller embedded in the MSI motherboard. After a failed first installation attempt I knew that was not the case when the Windows 7 installer could not find any hard drives on the machine. I downloaded a Vista 64-bit SB600 SATA RAID controller driver from the MSI website and copied it to a floppy disk. The installer program prompted for additional drivers early in the installation similar to the old F6 key in the Windows NT/2000/XP installer. After the installer located the RAID1 the installation continued.
  • The Windows 7 install was over in about 30 minutes, much faster than I expected. The second attempt was successful. The 64-bit version of Windows 7 coexisted and dual booted with the 32-bit version of Windows XP with no problems.
  • Once I logged into Windows 7, I was happy to see that Windows 7 had native drivers for the EVGA Nvidia video card, although it did not provide the resolution required.
  • Next I ran Windows Update and installed about 15 security patches and a new Nvidia driver for my video card. This video driver package also included the Nvidia Control Panel.
  • It became apparent that the default native PNP monitor driver installed by Windows 7 was not going to provide the optimal 1680×1050@60Hz resolution for my Dell E2209W 22″ monitor. Luckily installing the driver I downloaded from Dell to use in Windows XP did the trick and I was able to get the desired resolution.
  • Next I installed Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Web Expression Suite, Microsoft Visio, and some other Web development software I use. I also installed an old version of DacEasy Accounting. After a few environment adjustments to the path, it works well in Windows 7 too. The only software problem I ran in to was with Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Professional; that issue is worth its own blog post later.

Summary:

In you have made it this far in this post, you may have assumed correctly that I was one of the millions of loyal Microsoft users and supporters that did NOT use Vista. I am glad that I did not. The reason is that if I had struggled with Vista as so many did, I would not have enjoyed this migration to Windows 7 as much as I did. Windows 7 Professional is fantastic!  It actually performs as advertised, at least so far. Almost everything I have tried to install and use has worked well. My hardware which is about two years old is working as well as it did with Windows XP, but faster now that the operating system is 64-bit. I now can enjoy the added features and security of Windows 7, along with the reliability of good old Windows XP.

If you are waiting to install Windows 7 until the first service pack comes out, like we used to do with prior operating system releases from Microsoft, my suggestion is do not wait…go ahead and jump in. Microsoft has done a excellent job with Windows 7…it is the operating system Vista should have been.

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