The upgrade process for Windows 7 is pretty straightforward – if you’re doing an in-place upgrade from 32 bit Vista to 32 bit Windows 7 or 64 bit Vista to 64 bit Windows 7. It gets tricky when you want to perform an upgrade from 32 bit Vista to 64 bit Windows 7.
You can’t do an in-place upgrade. An in-place upgrade is where Windows 7 is installed while Vista is running. Your programs, documents and settings are preserved.
To migrate from one architecture to another, as in the case of 32 bit to 64 bit, you must perform a clean or custom install. Unfortunately, the upgrade version of Windows 7 must be able to check to see that you are eligible for the upgrade.
We spent a ton of time tonight searching through the Windows documentation. We had just purchased a new hard drive and a Windows 7 64 bit upgrade to install on that hard drive, using the eligibility of an existing 32 bit Vista installation. We tried several times to perform a custom installation, but every time we were asked to enter the product key, Windows reported that the key was invalid.
The secret to getting this type of upgrade to work lies in a free tool provided by Microsoft called Windows Easy Transfer. It’s promoted as the tool to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. It is recommended for a custom install to upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7, but we didn’t see anywhere that it was required. We had no interest in moving any files or settings to the new installation, so it wasn’t an obvious tactic.
Using Windows Easy Transfer apparently saves the information from the Vista installation so that Windows 7 recognizes that the upgrade is valid.
Here’s the correct process to perform a clean, custom installation using a Windows 7 upgrade.
- Download and install Windows Easy Transfer
- Use Windows Easy Transfer to copy all your settings and files to an external hard drive
- Reboot your computer from the Windows 7 DVD
- Select custom install and follow the prompts
- When you are finally prompted to enter your upgrade product key, Windows will search and find the external hard drive with the files saved by Windows Easy Transfer and approve the upgrade
If you find a place where Microsoft states that Windows Easy Transfer is required to upgrade from Vista 32 bit to Windows 7 64 bit, please let us know in the comments. If you know of another way to perform this type of upgrade without using Windows Easy Transfer, that’d be good to know as well.