Windows 10 is out today. Of course I’ve been getting questions about whether to upgrade from Windows 7 to 10, and I’ve been seeing mixed advice on upgrading, though some of that mixed advice is regarding Microsoft history that isn’t completely relevant today.
My advice is to upgrade immediately if you’re running Windows 8 or 8.1, and to wait, perhaps six months, if you’re running Windows 7, but I still think you should do it. I’ll explain.
The conventional wisdom with Windows 7 was that if you were happy running a machine on XP, you’d be happy with 7 on the same hardware. This account of running Windows 10 on an outmoded single-core Atom netbook says the same thing is true of Windows 10. On seven-year-old hardware, Windows 10 runs better than XP did.
Now, I’m not sure I’d bother upgrading a Pentium 4 from Windows XP to Windows 10–I think you’d be better off spending $100 for a low-end dual-core motherboard and 4 GB of RAM, then running Windows 10 on that, because not only will it run faster, but it could take as little as three years for the new hardware to pay for itself in lower electricity consumption.
But for a machine that’s already running Windows 7 well, the risks of moving to Windows 10 are minimal. It’s not at all like moving from Windows XP to Vista or Windows 7 was. The driver model is the same with Windows 10, so any hardware that worked with Vista or 7 will work with 10, even if it has to use the old drivers. There’s little to no reason why any software that ran on Vista or 7 won’t run on 10 just as well.
And from a resource perspective, Windows 10 is actually less demanding than its recent predecessors. I’ve actually run it successfully on a system with a 16 GB SSD. It was cramped, but not much more cramped than Windows 7 on a 40 GB SSD was.
This is anecdotal, but I have a Gigabyte motherboard with a 2-core CPU and 16 GB of RAM that I bought a couple of years ago for security experiments. It ran Linux with no difficulties whatsoever. For a while I tried running Windows 7 on it, but it was always slow and a bit unstable, so I gave up before I activated it because I didn’t want to burn a Windows 7 license on something that ran it so poorly. That same system runs Windows 10 flawlessly–I’ve been running the Windows 10 Technical Preview on it since the initial build 9926 in January.
It used to be that most new Windows releases made radical changes from the previous one. There were a small number of exceptions: Windows 98 and 98SE, which were similar enough to Windows 95 that the Win95 drivers would work with them in a pinch; Windows XP if and only if you were upgrading from Windows 2000; and Windows 7 if you were upgrading from Vista.
Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 are all heavily derived from the infamous Vista. Under the hood they’re all Vista with a few tweaks; the major changes are in the user interface. Windows 7 and 10 have tolerable user interfaces; Vista, 8 and 8.1 did not.
Most of the nightmare Windows upgrades have been due to orphaned hardware that didn’t have drivers available that worked with the new version. But since Windows 10 is compatible with Windows 7 software and drivers (or even Vista, for that matter), you’re not going to find much of anything that doesn’t work with 10.
The other traditional advice with Windows upgrades is to wait until Service Pack 1. That’s always been flawed advice–Windows NT 4.0 service packs 1 and 2 had more problems than the original build–but it really doesn’t work in this case. Although Microsoft charged money for it, Windows 7 was really a Vista service pack–there was less difference between Windows Vista and 7 than there was between Windows XP service packs 1 and 2. And the same thing is true of 8, 8.1, and 10. You really can think of Windows 10 as Windows Vista Service Pack 7.
The other thing to consider is that Windows 7 is aging. It’s a six-year-old operating system, no longer getting stability and performance updates from Microsoft, and come 2020, it won’t get security updates anymore either. Windows 10 will get stability and performance upgrades for at least five years, and security updates for 10 years from the day you start using it.
There was a time when computers couldn’t last five years, but those days are gone. If you take care of a machine, you can get 10 from it, or more. I’m typing this on a 10-year-old laptop that shows no signs of dying or obsolescence. I have another desktop machine that’s nearly 10 years old that still runs Windows 7 fine. Due to its power consumption it’s always going to be a secondary machine but it’s a fine secondary machine and there’s no point in sinking more money into it.
I will say you’re likely to be happier with a clean reinstall of Windows 10 than with an upgrade from Windows 7, but you can always try upgrading, and then if the machine falters down the line, do a clean reinstall and then reinstall your hardware and software.