Should I Upgrade My Operating System or Reload

Windows Upgrade

So you want to upgrade your operating system or OS for short. Well, there is a right way and a wrong way to upgrade. Buying the “Upgrade” version sounds good, and sure it saves a lot of hassle reinstalling everything. That is, IF it does its job correctly. However, this usually results in slow machines, driver failures, or it just won't boot at all when it's finished.

Most commonly the drivers won't work as they were designed for the older OS and the new OS chokes, splutters, and dies when it tries to access these drivers. Other common issues are small anomalies within the OS itself. Sure it worked fine before, that's because the errors either were too small to notice or they developed gradually and you simply did not notice. When you upgrade the OS, all those “little” errors become compounded into major problems. Many times the installation of the new OS will go quite smoothly, but when it actually tries to boot into the new OS it will hit that old driver or it misinterprets command and will go right to Blue Screen and reboot throwing you into a loop. Any of these situations result in having to reload completely, which might prove quite difficult with an “Upgrade” version, and will cause data loss if you’re not careful.

My suggestion is to back everything up, inventory all your software before hand, and spend the extra couple of bucks for the full version of the new OS. Yeah, I know everyone is short on funds, but it can be a lot more costly in the long run. The first thing, however, is to check the specifications on the OS and compare it to your system. If your system does not meet the required specifications then this entire exercise will be for naught.

The best thing is to create a spreadsheet listing all your software packages and the order they need to be installed. I would suggest making two categories; one – has a list of all OEM and retail software, and the second – has a list of all downloaded software.

OEM and retail software are those that either came with the system or were purchased through a retail outlet where you have the actual installation disc. Once this first list is made, start locating the discs and storing them in a safe place. This way when you finally do install your new OS they will be handy in order to rebuild your system structure.

Downloaded software is, of course, all software packages that were downloaded directly over the Internet. You will need to list not only the name of the program but also the version as well as the website to download it from, unless you still have the original installation file. You will also need to take note of whether earlier versions are required to install before installing the version you are currently running.

Now that you have both lists completed, you will need to look up the specifications for these software packages and verify that the version you have are compatible with the new OS you will be installing. If they are not then you will want to find out how to get the updated versions. Some may be as simple as downloading a new updated version, others however may require purchasing a new version. Some manufactures due allow for a discount for owners of previous versions. I would suggest checking out the FAQ, frequently asked questions, section of the manufacturer’s website, if they have one – most do. If you can't find anything there than contact tech support, either through e-mail or phone.

Okay, now that we have the programs taken care of, let's look at the data end of it. Obviously you'll want to save your data. This includes documents, pictures, movies, music, etc… Anything you've personally created or been sent that is not part of the program directly. There are a few ways of doing this. Some ways will be cheaper than others, and some will require less technical skill than others. I'll start with the least technical and work up from there.

The first way I want to mention is using a thumb or jump drive. These small, physically, memory drives can be purchased in multiple sizes from 1gig up to 16, 32, and even 64 gigabyte sizes. Piecewise they can be as little as $5 for 1gig. Most places carry them now, even some of the grocery stores have them mixed in with the film aisle. You plug these into the USB port and the system will see it as another drive letter – f:\, e:\, g:\, etc… NOTE!!! Using windows 2000 or XP will normally recognize these without the addition of any driver software. However, Windows ME and 98 will require you to download the driver from the manufacturer's website and install it before connecting the thumb drive. If, by chance, you are still running Windows 95 then I'm afraid they won't work as the Win95 technology is just too old to support them. MAC and Linux versions will normally support these drives correctly without the need for further drivers.

The second method involves a CD or DVD burner. If your system has one of these, which most have some variant or the other, than buy yourself a stack of the appropriate media, and I would suggest the R (write) and not the RW (rewrite) as they will be more compatible and less likely to be erased by accident. Use whatever disc burning software you are used to, to start creating copies of your data. I would suggest making two copies of each disc and keeping them in two separate places. In this manor you will be assured that if the first disc gets lost or scratched, or the drive your trying to read it with just won't read the disc, you've got another disc to try. If you use a felt tip marker, a sharpie works rather well, you can label the discs.

The third way is to use an external hard-drive. Now this works rather well for backup purposes as it is a renewable source to place files. The nice thing about this that the CD/DVD discs do not provide is the updatability. However, because of the updatability of the drive that also means it can be erased or overwritten by accident. The other drawback to this is their frailness. Don't drop it. I can't tell you how many people come to me asking me to retrieve their data as they dropped their drive, or it fell over, or the cat knocked it off the desk. Yes, they can be a great backup device, but do be careful.

The last way I'll mention is using a second hard-drive. If you know how, you can slave a second hard-drive into your system, if it's SATA this makes it even easier. I suggest getting a larger hard drive than the one you currently have, usually the largest hard drive you can afford is best as you can always use the space. After you get your drive, open the case and disconnect the current drive. If you have an IDE drive and the new drive is also IDE then set the new drive up as a single drive, with nothing else attached to the cable, and install the OS onto it. If you currently have a SATA drive, or are adding a SATA drive to a machine that currently has an IDE drive, attach the drive to SATA1. Now, when the system boots go into the CMOS and make sure it is set to boot off the CD/DVD drive first and your new hard-drive second. Insert the new operating Disc and install the OS onto the new drive. Once you've completed the installation you'll want to go back into the CMOS and have it boot to the new hard-drive first and the CD/DVD drive either second or disabled from boot completely. Now that you have completed the install, turn the system off and reconnect the drives. If both drives are IDE then the new one should be set for Master and the second one set for Slave. If the old is IDE and the new is SATA, then just reconnect the old as is. If both are SATA, then reconnect the old to SATA2 or another besides SATA1. Then go into CMOS a double check that it is still set to boot from the new drive. Now when you boot not only will your data still is intact on the second drive but you will now have more storage space.

Following one these methods will provide you with the best possible functioning OS and greatly reduce your chance of Data loss. However, if you doubt your ability in any way, I would suggest having a knowledgeable technician do the upgrade. If your information is dear to you, or having your computer in down time would be difficult for you, then you'll want to lessen any possible mistakes. For the most part the process is not difficult, but it can be confusing. If anyone has any experiences they'd care to share, feel free to comment.