Can your system handle Windows 7?

Here's some advice on upgrading to Windows 7, defragmenting your hard drive, and handling Data Execution Protection warnings.

Much as everyone loves Microsoft's Windows 7, not everyone has made the move yet. Plenty of folks are clinging to Windows XP for dear life, while others just didn't see enough reason to upgrade from Vista. After all, it's not like Microsoft is giving Windows 7 away for free.

But reader Vito is ready for a change, and he wants to know if he'll have any problems installing the newer operating system on his current PC.

Good question, Vito, and a good time for me to offer a refresher course in Windows 7 upgrading.

Let's start with your system, which you said is an HP desktop with a quad-core processor, 5GB of RAM, and Windows Vista x64 (i.e. the 64-bit version of the OS). Good news: You'll have no trouble doing an in-place upgrade to Windows 7. Just make sure you choose the 64-bit version, as upgrades can't go from 64-bit to 32-bit (or vice versa).

Basically, any PC that has sufficient horsepower to run Vista will be more than sufficient to run Windows 7. The two have virtually identical minimum system requirements, and your machine already goes way beyond those.

As for upgrading a Windows XP system, that's an entirely different animal. For starters, there's no way to do an in-place upgrade without third-party help (like Laplink PCmover Professional). What's more, you might not have enough CPU and RAM muscle to run Windows 7 in all its glory. Sure, a few upgrades might help, but for most XP users I really recommend buying a new system. For as little as a few hundred dollars, you can get a faster, better-equipped machine that already has Windows 7 installed.

For more on this kind of upgrade, check out Lincoln Spector's "How to Upgrade from XP to Windows 7."

Keep Your Hard Drive Running Smoothly with Smart Defrag 2

If, while troubleshooting your PC, a tech-support person says you need to defrag your hard drive, you have my permission to laugh directly in his or her face. In the history of computing, defragmenting a hard drive (the process of relocating file fragments into a contiguous area of the drive) has never, ever solved any real-world problem with any PC.

Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it once in a while. And although Windows has its own defrag tool built in, there are better options. One of them is IObit's new Smart Defrag 2, which promises "the world's fastest defragmenting speed" and real-time, background operation.

I can't say for sure if Smart Defrag 2 is the fastest utility of its kind, but I did find it easy to use. After clicking analyze, I waited for only a minute or so while the program scanned my system and issued a recommendation ("Defrag and Fast Optimize"). That option took about 90 minutes to complete.

The program features a "boot-time" feature that can defragment system files during the boot-process -- files that wouldn't otherwise be accessible (because they're not safe to move while Windows is running).

Smart Defrag 2 is free, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try. That said, you may also want to check out Piriform's Defraggler 2.0, another freebie. The takeaway here: Defragmenting your hard drive every now and then is a smart move, and you don't have to spend any money to do it.

Tackle Pesky 'Data Execution Protection' Warnings in Windows

Reader Sue is having trouble with video files: Every time she tries to open one, Windows displays a Data Execution Protection warning, then a Dr. Watson error, and then closes the file. The files themselves aren't corrupt, she says, because they came from her digital camera and work fine on another PC.

Interestingly, Sue also notes that the problem PC is not connected to the Internet, but rather used offline for A/V projects. She wants to know if it's safe to disable DEP and, if so, how to go about it.

This is a bit tricky to troubleshoot, Sue, in part because you didn't tell me which version(s) of Windows you're running and whether or not you have any security software installed. See, DEP is there to help protect your PC from viruses and other threats. It's possible that your offline machine already picked up a virus, hence the DEP warning. And because the machine is offline, you're not getting the necessary security updates for Windows or your anti-virus software (assuming you're using any).

You also didn't tell me which program you're using to open your video files. If it's something other than Windows Media Player, the program itself could be in need of updating -- again a difficult task if you're not online.

Is it possible to disable DEP? Yes, though do so at your own risk. Microsoft's Data Execution Protection support page has the details. (It's intended for Windows XP users; I'm guessing that's your OS.)

Let me leave you (and other readers) with two thoughts. First, although keeping a PC insulated from the Internet may seem like a smart way to protect it from online threats, there's a downside as well: you don't get the software and security updates you need for protection against "offline" threats (like viruses introduced via flash drive).

Second, learn how to ask for tech help. I might have been able to solve Sue's problem (rather than just guess at it) if I'd known more about her operating system, security software, and so on. The details she gave me (like how CompUSA couldn't help, even after five tries) weren't the right ones. Help me help you!

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get -- and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

Tags windows xpFreeware / sharewareMicrosoftWindowssoftwareWindows 7operating systemswindows utilities

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Rick Broida

PC World (US online)

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