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Windows XP Upgrade Tips - Will Your Existing Software and Hardware Work?

Jim Lynch


Support for Windows XP will be expiring soon and if your not-for-profit hasn't already planned to upgrade, now is the time to take the steps to do so.

Now that it's time to upgrade from Windows XP (it retires in early April 2014), you may well be wondering how much of your current software and hardware will work on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Fortunately there are some great free tools to help you figure that out.

At least I hope you’re planning to upgrade. April has been called the 'XPocalypse' for a good reason: When Microsoft stops support, PCs using XP and Office 2003 will face greatly increased exposure to malware attacks. Find out why it’s really and truly time to upgrade in my recent Get Ready for the End of Windows XP Support.


Older PCs Can Run Windows 7 and Windows 8

The good news is that pretty ancient PCs will run Windows 7 and somewhat less ancient ones will run Windows 8.1. At the Windows site, testers have successfully installed and run Windows 7 on a 700MHz Pentium III ThinkPad with 256MB of RAM and a 600MHz Pentium III desktop with 512MB of RAM. If you are still running IT equipment that is older than 15 year old P3’s, good for you! You have exceeded the full lifespan expectations of computers, but it’s probably time to get newer equipment.

I’m told by those who know such things that Windows 8 is largely Windows 7 under the hood, so it also runs on older computers. The 8.1 system requirements are a bit higher than Windows 7 (1GHz processor, and 1 GB of RAM). I tested it on a classic Windows XP computer, a Dell Optiplex GX 280 from 2005 and it worked fine.


Picking the Right Operating System

You can check to see if your PCs meet the requirements for Windows 8 by downloading and running the free Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. The Microsoft step-by-step instructions "Upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows Vista or Windows XP” is very clear and understandable.

To check your Windows XP computer's specifications:

  • Go to ‘My Computer’ on your desktop or on the Start menu
  • Right-click Properties

If you want to upgrade to Windows 7, you can use Microsoft's downloadable Windows Upgrade Advisor to see if your computer meets the minimum specifications. You may have noticed that Microsoft hosts different upgrade tools for Windows 7 and Windows 8.

On deciding which one to upgrade to, I like PC Advisor’s Windows 7 vs. Windows 8: what’s the best upgrade from XP?. I also wrote a piece about this about a year ago. Also check out my colleague Ginny Mies' Should You Upgrade to Windows 8? Questions to Consider.


Discovering What Software You Already Have

To find out what existing software you already have on your computers, you can download the free Spiceworks IT Desktop that inventories your software to determine what programs are running on your PCs.

If you’re running Microsoft Office 2003 or an even older version of MS Office, it’s time to upgrade that application as well. Microsoft is ending support for it in April 2014 and it also will be much more susceptible to malware intrusion. 

If it turns out that you have lots of older software that you need to have on a new operating system, you might consider upgrading to Windows 7 Professional because it has an XP Mode add-on that runs in a separate window on the Windows 7 desktop. You can download XP Mode here. It’s probably helpful to know that you will need your original XP installation disc and activation code to get it running. For more on this, check out Microsoft’s step-by-step Install and use Windows XP Mode in Windows 7.


How To Find Out If Your Other Software Will Work in Windows 7 or Windows 8

To see if your existing applications, hardware devices, or even device drivers will work in either Windows 7 or Windows 8, go to the Windows Compatibility Center where you can type in a product name. Another resource on compatibility of older software with Windows 8.1 after you have installed it is the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter.


Where to Get Your Windows and Office Upgrades

To get your upgrade software, find Microsoft Windows and Office Donations on TechSoup Asia here. Office 2010 and Office 2013 are available for donation to charities, foundations, and libraries. We also have both Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

If your PCs are seven years old or newer, they are likely 64-bit compatible. Wikihow has a good simple article on how to check to see if your IT equipment is 32-bit or 64-bit.


The Main Links

Not to be redundant, but here are the really important links from this admittedly dense piece (plus a few more):


TechSoup Resources


Microsoft Resources

  • Windows Compatibility Center where you can find out which of your existing applications and hardware devices will work in Windows 7 or Windows 8


From Around the Web

  • Wikihow article on how to check to see if your IT equipment is 32 bit or 64 bit

The blog was originally written by Jim Lynch and was posted in TechSoup.This version was edited and posted by Connecting Up. TehSoup Asia, Connecting Up and TechSoup are all partner organizations.