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As I write this FAQ I am in the middle of upgrading my system from the retail upgrade 32 bit version of Windows 7 to the 64 bit version. There is no path for doing this, so that means a clean install. I bought two new hard disks to increase my storage abilities and I set up a mirror between them, effectively giving me one new hard drive with absolutely nothing on it. Microsoft doesn't make it easy to do what I wanted to do, so I thought would create a FAQ on the various options available to someone in this situation. If you don't own a prior version of Windows legally upgradable to WIN7, stop reading here. The purpose of this FAQ is to give instructions to someone who wants to legally install an upgrade that they have purchased when the hard disk they are installing it on is blank. This information assumes the user has an upgradable prior version of Windows. The user might be upgrading their hard disk or replacing a failed hard disk. In any case, this shouldn't be difficult, but it can be.
The Goal: Successfully activating a legal copy of Windows 7 Upgrade after a clean install.
1) On the blank media install your previous version of Windows, activate it and then perform a clean install with the previous version on the disk. This method has its limitations. first of all you might be upgrading from Vista, which also might have been an upgrade. It was with Vista, that this all started getting difficult. That is all too much to worry about. You are going to create a lot of files on your system that will need to be deleted once the process is completed. Deleting this much information from a newly installed hard disk could possibly leave the data that remains, fragmented on the disk. For many reasons, I eliminated this possibility.
2) The remaining methods are mentioned on Paul Thurrott's web site. I want to thank Paul for this invaluable information.
I don't know why I didn't try the first step, which if it had worked would have meant Microsoft has improved this process since Vista. I just wanted the process to work and Paul said the install again process would work 100% of the time. It took 30 minutes to do the first install and then another 45 minutes to do the upgrade. This apparently is the best way to do this with Vista as well. I will review the steps I took.
1) Install Windows 7 from the media. Do not enter in your product key.
2) After the install is complete, insert the Windows 7 media and run setup from the DVD.
3) This time, do not perform a clean install. You need to do an upgrade, which is the first option.
4) Activate Windows
My last upgrade from Vista to WIN7 took two hours and forty five minutes. I had a lot of software and settings to migrate. This time the upgrade took 45 minutes, since there was basically nothing to migrate. From start to finish, you can go from a blank hard disk to a Windows 7 upgrade in one hour and fifteen minutes. My system is three years old, so this process could go a lot faster on a modern system.
DSLR: http://www.dslreports.com/forum/r24878846-Info-Upgrading-from-Windows-XP-to-Windows-7-How-to (Custom Installation VIDEO)