For a brief period when Windows 7 was first released, Microsoft was offering a Family Pack of 3 licenses for the low price of $149 – that’s about $50 per license for an upgrade-only version of Windows 7. At that time I had intended on purchasing a Family Pack but before I could get around to doing so, the offer ended and I couldn’t find anyone selling it any more. Fortunately Microsoft decided to bring back the Family Pack around October of this year. I wasn’t going to let another opportunity to upgrade 3 of my home PCs to Windows 7 for such a great price. I added the item to my cart over on Newegg.com and was about to make the purchase when I noticed the price had dropped. For 2 days only, you could buy the Family Pack for only $135 with free shipping (Costco.com now carries it for only $125). I didn’t wait around this time, and I bought it that same night. It showed up 3 days later. The upgrade party was soon to begin.
Now two months later, I have successfully upgraded 3 of my existing, aging, yet still usable PCs to Windows 7 and I couldn’t be happier. I posted a blog about upgrading my old Inspiron laptop to Windows 7 and it soon became the only computer I enjoyed using. Going back to the XP machines, I felt like I was missing something, some of the ease, some of the refinement, some of the options I was getting used to in Windows 7. So I was happy to get them all upgraded. (Well, all but one. But its day will come soon enough). As much as I’d love to build a couple of new computers to load a clean version of Windows, the best I could do for now was just the upgrade, but even on these old machines, Windows 7 works amazingly well. What’s great about the upgrades also is that they give you both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows, so you can decide which version meets your needs. For all 3 of these old PCs, I went with the 32-bit version just to ensure hardware compatibility and since I have no more than 2 GB of memory in each one.
The first machine to get the upgrade was my main home PC. This PC is the one I’ve had for about 5 years now. It’s got a Pentium 4 Prescott 640 CPU with an Asus P5P800 motherboard. It’s running 2 GB of DDR400 ram with a Radeon 9800 Series graphics card. It’s got a 1TB WD Black HDD for storage and Windows XP was installed on an 80 GB WD drive that was actually a couple years older than the PC (the PC died and got rebuilt once upon a time). Here was my first dilemma – there was no way I was going to install Windows 7 on that tired, old 80 GB IDE HDD whose read/write speeds were abysmal (not to mention that drive ran loud and hot). I wondered, since the Family Pack is technically only an “Upgrade” version of Windows 7, would there be a way to do a clean install on on new HDD in an old PC? With the help of a couple of Google searches I found the answer – of course there is!
The first question people may ask is, is it legal to do a clean install on new HDD in an old computer which has XP with an Upgrade only version of Windows? In my opinion I say yes, and here’s why; my qualification for being able to do an upgrade is that my computer must already have a legal, existing version of Windows on it. That’s it. Since I have had XP on this machine for over 7 years now, this computer qualifies for the upgrade. The problem with the upgrade is that since old HDD which contained the previous version of Windows was removed and a new HDD was installed, Windows 7 cannot verify that the upgrade installation meets the requirements. That’s the theory anyway. I had an unusual case I suppose because I was able to install Windows 7 and activate it with the new HDD without any license errors or any Regedit workarounds. (This worked for one PC but not for another). I should point out that the old HDD with Windows XP has been shelved, to be used as a back-up drive or a spare drive, and will not be installed into another working machine ever again. That license of Windows has been consumed in the upgrade. That’s the caveat that makes my upgrade legal, discontinuing the use of that license of XP completely.
My second computer is the HTPC connected to our Sony LCD in the family room. It’s running an AMD 3800+ Athlon CPU ($22 Newegg blowout) in a Biostar motherboard ($34 Newegg open-box special) with 1 GB of DDR400 RAM. In this case I did a 100% by-the-book upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. I have a WD 640 GB HDD in this computer with 40 GB partitioned off for the OS and the remaining 600 GB for data, movies, music and TV shows. Installing the upgrade over Windows XP went without any issues on the partitioned portion of the drive and all the data remained untouched. The activation was able to detect that a previous version of windows existed and was successful without any workarounds. By far the easiest of my 3 upgrades. I bought a Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250 which plays happily with Windows 7 Media Center and records and plays HD shows without issues. Also with integration to Netflix, Windows 7 Media Center and the HTPC have definitely brought the PC out of the den and into the family room.
The last PC to get the upgrade was an old HP computer I bought from work. It’s got a Pentium IV 3.4 GHz CPU, 2 GB of DDR400 RAM, and a dying Seagate 80 GB HDD. This was another case where I was going to have to install the upgrade onto a new HDD in the old computer and shelve the old HDD. It squeaked, and clicked, and popped, and made some of the most horrifying noises I’ve heard come out of HDD. I couldn’t believe Windows would still boot every time I turned it on. So once again, I took an older (yet perfectly fine) WD 320 GB HDD and installed that into this old computer. I popped in the Windows 7 Upgrade disc and began the installation. This time Windows wouldn’t accept the activation key – said it was invalid – first time this had happened of all three installs. So I proceeded with the install by leaving the product key blank (thank you for at least allowing that Microsoft) and was able to do the registry edit trick to get it activated. Here’s the link for how to do that. Super easy, and it worked like a charm. I also bought another TV tuner card, the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1250, for this PC, which is in our master bedroom and connects to our Toshiba LCD HDTV. We’ve watched several HD movies from Netflix and they all have played perfectly.
And that’s about it, 3 older PCs with Windows 7 and all running awesome. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to actually building a new PC with some modern hardware in it, but until then, I am getting by on the two HTPCs for entertainment, my main PC for doing whatever else it is I do on it (mainly my daughter uses it) and my Dell Core 2 Duo laptop for everything else (like blogging, yeah). I definitely recommend the Windows 7 Family Pack for anyone with at least 3 computers that are even several years old. It will bring new life to them for at least another couple years and make your computing experience just a little bit better.