Upgrading from XP to Vista
I’ve seen a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) being spread around the web about the Windows Vista upgrade process. Things like “you have to install and activate XP first” and “you have to do an upgrade – you can’t do a clean install”, et cetera. In an ideal world, we could all afford the $400 for a new retail copy of Windows Vista Ultimate, but when you realize you can save almost $200 by buying the upgrade instead, it seems pretty compelling to at least consider. To cut through the questions and hype, I had to experience it for myself.
I decided to put the upgrade process to the test and see if saving the money is worth the hassle.
If I was going to do the “Vista experience”, I figured I’d go all out. Instead of going to the store and buying a boxed Upgrade version, I went online to the Windows Marketplace and purchased a download edition. The Marketplace is pretty straightforward, with the exception of deciding between the 32bit and 64bit editions. Even though I am pretty sure I selected the 64bit edition, I ended up with the 32bit version. Also, I don’t remember selecting Circuit City as a vendor, but that’s who got my purchase. I had no say in the matter.
The download consists of three files: an executable and two .WIM files – a boot image and the actual Vista install image. The total size for all three files is about 2.5 gigabytes. On my 7 MB/s internet connection, the download took over an hour. The servers were somewhat slow, as I was only getting about 300K-400K on average. While those were downloading, I prepped my retail Windows XP Professional installation. I deauthorized my iTunes account, uninstalled most of my applications, and defragmented my drive. I backed up all my things and by the time I was finished, the Vista installer had been downloaded.
I eagerly started the installer, only to be met with an error about the install image being corrupt!
Angrily, I re-downloaded the “install.wim” file (the big one – 2.3 gigabytes!) which came through much faster the second time around – it only took 20 minutes. I guess I got lucky and landed on a less-busy server. The Windows Marketplace is nice in that you always have access to your downloads once you buy the product.
The second time around was better. My install image was not corrupt and the installation proceeded. On my fairly current system (Athlon X2 5000+, 2 GB of fast RAM, Radeon X1900XT), the install only took about 25 minutes. Once it booted into Vista, everything was smooth sailing. It activated, updated, and now I’m writing this article from a full, clean Vista Ultimate system.
Vista Upgrade’s “clean install” really is clean
I chose the “clean install” instead of upgrading. This basically takes your entire old OS and Program Files directories and puts them into a single folder on your primary HD called “windows.old”. It wipes out your registry, thus the install is as clean as a “real” clean install. There’s a lot of psychology involved in the idea of clean installs. Some people insist on them, but functionally, there’s no difference except for the inability to partition and wipe your HD when you install Vista.
If you really want a truly “clean” upgrade, you can do what I did on a test computer: install Windows XP however you want. I took a blank HD, used a retail Windows XP Pro disk to format and partition the drive, installed the bare minimum XP install which only took about 10 minutes, and then immediately ran the Vista upgade. When finished, I deleted the “windows.old” folder. Problem solved. Clean install. Certainly clean enough to be worth almost $200 in savings.
The only potential drawback is if your storage drivers aren’t present on the Windows XP CD. Then, you would still have to go through the hassle of installing a floppy drive just to load storage drivers (or creating a slipstreamed, custom install CD with your drivers).
Is my XP license still valid after upgrading to Vista?
Did upgrading my copy of XP Pro to Vista invalidate my XP license? Unless the Microsoft representative I spoke to on the phone was in the wrong to do this, it does not. On a test machine, I took a blank HD and installed my copy of Windows XP Pro (retail) on a new system. This is fully legal and valid, since it’s a retail edition and you are allowed to transfer the license. It did not pass the automatic activation, and I had to call in. I gave the rep my installation ID number and he asked a single question: “How many computers is this copy of Windows XP currently installed on?” and I truthfully answered “one”. No more questions. He rattled off the new installation ID and the phone call was finished. I stopped him before he hung up: “Wait, this used to be on another computer and I upgraded it to Vista. Will I have to reactivate every time I install this copy on a new machine, say if I replace my motherboard?” He replied, “Yes. Everytime you replace a component you will be required to reactivate the software. Thank you for calling Microsoft.” We already knew this, but the new lesson learned is that my Windows XP Pro retail license is still fully valid. Just to be absolutely sure, I ran WGA checks on it, and it passed validation.
For a great majority of users, the Vista upgade is a fully valid option if you want to go forward with Microsoft’s new OS. You save a great deal of money and only have to deal with the loss of time that installing (or prepping) Windows XP takes. On a fast computer, this should add only 10 to 15 minutes to your total install time. Not a bad deal for saving so much money.
Be sure to see our simplified guide to deciding which version of Windows Vista is right for you.