After doing my usual obsessing over whether or not to install Windows 7 and then whether to install the 64-bit OS version, I finally decided to bite the bullet and install Windows 7 64-bit OS on my main desktop PC. I’ve always wanted to upgrade from a 32-bit to 64-bit OS (primarily so I can gain access to more than 3 GB of RAM memory), so I saw this as my change to do so. I didn’t expect any noticeable speed improvements going from 32 to 64-bit for my individual applications (as my current 32-bit Vista machine was working just fine), but I often run 5 or more applications at the same time so having the ability for the OS to use more than 3 GB of RAM was a really good thing for me.
Since I wasn’t having any big issues with running Vista, it was harder for me to decide on doing the upgrade to Windows 7. From what I could tell during my beta testing of Win7, it was basically an “improved” Vista OS. It wasn’t as earth shattering as when I upgraded from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. I understand from what I’ve read that Win7 has been re-written, tuned up, and is more efficient than Vista, so that was a very slight reason for me to do the upgrade. Eventually I would upgrade to Win7, so why not do it now?
So, I threw caution to the wind and began the process of upgrading my main desktop PC (home-built Intel Quad 2 Core machine with 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB 7200 RPM disk drive, and 256 MB Video card). Since I was planning to do a clean install (where all the data on the main hard drive would be wiped out), I copied all my user files over to a 2nd external drive for safe keeping. Once that was done, I inserted the Windows 7 Professional Upgrade Install DVD in the DVD-ROM drive and booted up from that device. I then followed the steps to delete the existing partition on the main 500 GB hard drive and begin installing the new 64-bit OS. From the time I booted up my machine with the install DVD to when I was able to log in after the OS installation, only 15 minutes had past. So, I was able to do the complete install in only 15 minutes, a real world record when it comes to Window OS installations!
I then installed (from a USB drive) the device driver for my Belkin N+ USB Wireless Adapter so I could use that device to connect to the Internet via my home wireless router. Once that was established, Win7 then activated itself and began to download and install various updates from Microsoft’s servers. After the OS was completely configured and ready to go, I began downloading and installing all my important applications, plugins, etc.
Now, I knew that in going to the 64-bit OS I would have some issue with hardware drivers and possibly some older applications running properly. Below is a list of issues that I identified after the installation and how I dealt with them:
- My existing Hauppauge WinTV-150 TV Tuner card did not have the proper driver to work on the 64-bit OS, and the manufacturer was not going to create one for this older tuner card. I knew this ahead of time (identified by the Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor program), so I bought a new Hauppauge WinTV-1850 MCE tuner card to replace it. Fortunately, this newer card worked just fine with the Windows 7 Media Center application and setup was a breeze (even with configuring it to work with Comcast’s set top box).
- My two-year old Canon LiDE 30 scanner did not have drivers for the 64-bit OS, and again the manufacturer was not going to create them (of course, they want you to buy a new one). So, I broke down and spend $60 US and bought a Canon LiDE 100 scanner (which did have the 64-bit driver).
- On my 32-bit Vista machine I was using a USB-to-DB25 adapter cable to connect an old HP LaserJet printer to my desktop PC (because the motherboard on my PC didn’t have a LPT printer connector). This setup worked just fine on my Vista system, however, the microchip inside the adapter cable didn’t have a 64-bit driver available. So my printer is down until the new cable adapter I order arrives from Newegg.com (costing $10 US).
Luckily, my Zune HD connected up and worked fine under the 64-bit OS, as well as my copy of Microsoft Office 2007 (32-bit), Visual Studio 2005, and several applications based on Java 6.
I was really disappointed when I found out that I couldn’t use Internet Explorer or FireFox 64-bit versions because Adobe Flash wasn’t ported to the 64-bit platform. Since Flash animation is used on nearly all web sites, it didn’t make sense for me to use the 64-bit versions of either browsers. So, I installed and currently use FireFox 32-bit as my main web browser.
Another thing to note, is that Windows 7 Media Center (which I use for recording TV shows with my TV Tuner card) no longer generates DVR-MS formatted files, but now creates files with a WTV extension. As such, all the tools and utilities available to edit DVR-MS files no longer apply for the Win7 generated files. So the scripts I set up for use with the DVRMSToolBox (DTB) utility to automatically scan for and cut out commercials, and then convert the edited file to WMV format for my Zune HD no longer work. I needed to add in another conversion step to convert the WTV file back to DVR-MS format to use those tools once again. Luckily, Microsoft supplied a WMV-to-DVR-MS translator with Windows 7 (called “wtvconverter.exe”).
So after about two days of installing applications and drivers, and tweaking settings, I’m back up in production mode. Do I see a big change in performance? Honestly, I don’t. My updated system does seem “faster”, but not that much faster than my previous Vista 32-bit system. Also, some of the perceived speed up may be my imagination, as I’m expecting Win7 to be faster than Vista. I guess the main reason why I upgraded was the unknown possibility that it “could” be faster, and it would be hard for a techie person like myself to not try to achieve that goal.
So here’s my recommendations:
If you’re happy with your Vista PC or laptop and you feel it’s running just fine, I say stick with it and don’t upgrade. You can probably wait it out until you need to upgrade your hardware and get Windows 7 pre-installed. The changes to Windows 7 isn’t that great to justify switching from Vista. Also, a lot of the flashy graphics and gadgets you see with Windows 7 can be duplicated for Vista with freeware add-ons available on the Internet.
Now, if you’re like my wife who has been having numerous problems with her Vista system (slowness, freezing, etc) then I do recommend you upgrade to Windows 7. I also recommend doing a clean installation, where you wipe out all files on your main drive to eliminate the chance of having a stray “bad” DLL file lingering around in the new OS. Upgrading her machine is next on my list (after she backs up her important files), and I’m sure I’ll encounter a whole different set of issues since her machine is a pre-built HP tower (with special device drivers, no doubt).
So far as switching from a 32-bit to 64-bit OS, I don’t see a big change in performance going to the 64-bit level. Most applications are written and optimized for the 32-bit OS, so they won’t run any faster under 64-bit. The only real advantage at this point is the ability to access more memory for the overall system, thus allowing you to run more applications simultaneously more smoothly. That alone is the main reason why I made the switch to 64-bit. If you have older devices such as scanners, printers, and TV tuner cards, I suggest you do some research ahead of time to verify whether they will work, or will not work under the new 64-bit OS.
I predict that by the end of next year, nearly all machines will be running 64-bit OS. It appears that most computer manufacturers are installing Windows 64-bit on new machines that have over 2 GB of memory, so the market will be flooded with 64-bit OSes very soon. As such, the issue with device driver compatibility will be a thing of the past. So if you’re ok with being an “early adopter” (or “sucker” by another name), go ahead and plunge in feet first and have some fun!