There are several factors to consider to ensure you get the right version of Windows 7. If you are thinking of finally taking the plunge and buying Windows 7, Microsoft have made your life unnecessarily complicated – you need to buy the right version for your computer and needs.
Which Type? First you need to decide which type of Windows 7 you want – by far the most popular for home users is Home Premium and fortunately it is one of the cheapest too. Other options include the Professional version which is targeted at businesses and the expensive Ultimate version which also adds hard drive encryption but is poor value for money in our opinion.
Upgrade Or Full Version? As the name suggests, you can only use the Upgrade version if you already have a genuine licensed version of Windows XP or Vista installed on your computer to upgrade from. If you do, you could buy the Upgrade version as it is cheaper than the Full version. If you do not, you must buy the Full version of Windows 7.
Warning: If you buy the Upgrade version and ever have to replace your hard drive and reinstall Windows, remember that you will need to install the previous version of Windows first before installing Windows 7 as an upgrade to it – risky if you have no way of installing the previous version again!
32-Bit Or 64-Bit Version? The major difference between 32-bit and 64-bit versions is that 32-bit versions can only read and use up to 3 GB of memory (RAM) whereas 64-bit versions can read and use up to 8GB or more. Computers today increasingly come with 4GB of memory or more to satisfy the high demands of gaming and video editing so 64 bit versions of Windows are more common as they can make full use of these larger amounts of memory.
If your computer has 3GB or less RAM you can choose either version but we recommend 64-bit in case you want to add more RAM later. If your computer has 4GB or more RAM you should choose the 64-bit version or part of your RAM will be wasted and your computer will be slower than it should be.
OEM Or Retail Version? Finally, you need to choose between the OEM and Retail versions. OEM versions are much cheaper – Amazon sell the Full W7 Home Premium OEM for just $89.99 compared to $189.99 for the same Full Retail version – a whopping $100 difference!
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) versions come in either 32-bit or 64-bit versions whereas Retail versions include both (you choose which of the two to install – you can only install one) – but hopefully by this stage you will have decided whether you want 32-bit or 64-bit so there is likely no real benefit in either edition.
OEM versions are licensed for computer system builders – there are different opinions as to whether home users can legally buy and install it for themselves but the fact that major stores happily sell it to the public suggests it is probably ok. Retail versions are obviously fully licensed for the general public.
The license for W7 OEM versions is linked to the motherboard in your computer when you install it i.e. you can only use this copy of W7 on that one computer – so if you scrap your computer and buy another you will not be able to reuse W7 on the new computer. If your motherboard dies and you replace it (and only it) you may be able to persuade Microsoft that it is still basically the same computer and continue to use it but it is up to them to decide – if they said no you would need to buy W7 again…
The license for W7 Retail versions allows you to install W7 on any computer as long as it is not on more than 1 at a time i.e. if you scrap your computer and buy another you will be able to reuse W7 on the new computer as long as you destroyed or removed it from your old computer.
Which Should I Buy?
It is your choice but we recommend W7 Home Premium 64-bit in an Upgrade or Full version depending on whether you are upgrading from a legal copy of XP/Vista or not.
As for OEM or Retail, OEM is less than half the price (although it can only be used on the one computer). If you plan to keep your computer for a few years then it is probably worth the risk of having to buy it again if the computer dies – because if you had to buy a new computer it would probably come with its own copy of W7 pre-installed anyway.