FAQ: Windows 7 hardware requirements and compatibility

Use this FAQ to learn about Windows 7 hardware requirements and notebook compatibility factors, and find out when you should recommend 32-bit vs. 64-bit architecture.

Your customers may have already decided that they are ready to upgrade to Windows 7, but it's up to you to determine if their systems actually meet the minimum hardware requirements for Microsoft's new operating system. Windows 7 expert Ed Tittel outlines these hardware requirements and answers other frequently asked questions on Windows 7 compatibility. Find out whether you should recommend Windows 7 in 32-bit or 64-bit architecture and learn about the impeding factors for upgrading Windows 7 on netbooks.

What are the minimum hardware requirements for Windows 7?

The minimum requirements for Windows 7 are modest by today's standards:

  • 1 GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit) -- just for the OS, not applications or data files
  • DirectX 9 graphics processor with Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 1.0 or higher
  • Internet access

As with any Windows-based OS, a faster processor, more RAM and ample free hard drive space generally mean a better computing experience. RAM is especially important. For example, upgrading the RAM from 1 GB to 2 GB on a 32-bit system should give the end user a dramatic increase in responsiveness and apparent speed.

Microsoft has an Upgrade Advisor tool to assess whether a system is prepared for a Windows 7 installation. You can obtain the Upgrade Advisor from the Microsoft Download Center, or visit the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Web page.

Should solutions providers recommend Windows 7 in 32-bit or 64-bit architecture?

One of the essential differences between 32-bit and 64-bit systems is that a 64-bit computer lets you use more than 4 GB of RAM, which can be a huge boost for users who run graphics or CAD software, or multiple applications or multiple virtual machines (VMs) at the same time.

For best results, match a computer's processor to the OS. A 32-bit computer should run a 32-bit OS, and it can't run a 64-bit OS. However, you can run either OS on a 64-bit computer. If your 64-bit computer has 4 GB or more of RAM, and doesn't run older, specialized 32-bit software or drivers, go with the 64-bit OS to get the best performance.

To check a system for 64-bit capability, open the Start menu, right-click Computer and select Properties. The System section states whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system.

Note: You cannot easily switch between Windows 7 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64). If you're using one and desire the other, your only option is to perform a clean, or custom, install.

How do solutions providers know if Windows 7 is compatible with their customers' hardware and software?

Windows Vista drivers work in Windows 7, and Windows 7 provides more hardware compatibility than Vista. The new Windows 7 Devices and Printers applet displays icons for peripheral components connected to your PC -- just click an icon to access any device's settings. You can also use Devices and Printers to install non-Plug-and-Play hardware.

On the software side, Windows 7 should run most current software. In addition, Windows 7 XP Mode enables users to run applications designed for XP, extending the life span for legacy applications.

Can customers upgrade their netbooks to Windows 7?

As long as a netbook meets the minimum hardware requirements, it can run Windows 7. Because most netbooks lack optical drives, you can run the Windows 7 setup from a USB flash drive or external optical drive.

More resources on upgrading to Windows 7

  • Microsoft Windows 7 cheat sheet
  • Windows 7 troubleshooting tools and tips
  • User Account Control: Windows 7 vs. Windows Vista
  • Windows 7 performance monitoring tools
  • Windows 7 news
  • Windows 7 Center
  • Windows 7 blog
  • Read Ed Tittel's answers to other frequently asked questions on upgrading to the Windows 7 operating system.

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