How-To: Install Windows 7 the Right Way


How to get Microsoft's new OS up and running on your rig

Got your hands on Windows 7? Excellent. It's time to install this bad boy. But you want to make sure you're installing it right. Our no-nonsense install guide shows you the right way to install Windows 7 and tells you exactly what you should do the moment your install completes.

1. Back Up Your PC

Before beginning a new OS installation, it’s crucial that you back up your documents and media—after all, we recommend a clean install to minimize cruft and maximize performance. The safest, easiest way to do this is to buy a new hard disk and replace your old one. With speedy 1TB drives around $100, it’s never a bad time to upgrade your storage, and using a clean drive to install your OS means all your files are already backed up; just connect your old hard drive when you’re done and transfer over what you need.

If you’ve updated recently, or don’t want to spend the cash, you’ll want to make sure to back up the files you need to a different partition or physical drive. The most important place to look for files is in your user profile directory, which contains your Documents, Desktop, Pictures, and Application Data folders. We generally recommend backing up the entire C:/Users/<your user name> path. Remember to grab any needed program data or game saves from your Program Files folder, and also make sure to grab any other important directories you’ve created on the disk that are outside these standard paths, such as C:/Download.

2. Start the Installer

Note : If you want to install Windows 7 from a USB key, read our instructions here .

Microsoft has made installing Windows 7 simpler than with any previous version of Windows. You just drop the DVD in the tray, and restart your system. At some point during the boot, you’ll be given the option to “Press any key to boot from CD/DVD,” or something along those lines—do so. (If you don’t get this option, go into the BIOS and move the DVD drive ahead of the hard drive in the boot order). Windows will load files from the disk for a moment, then the installer will launch. Select your language preferences, then click Install Now.

Accept the Windows license agreement and choose to do a Custom install. Now, select the system partition you want to install to. (If you’re installing onto a new drive, you may need to create a partition by pressing the New button). If you’re installing over an old partition, it’s a good idea to format it to remove the remnants of the old OS before you install Win7. WARNING: Formatting removes all data from a drive, so make sure you’ve backed up everything. This is the point of no return. That’s all Windows 7 needs to know, so go make yourself a sandwich while your new OS is installed.

3. Finish the Install

Once the install is complete, you’ll be asked for a user name and computer name. We generally recommend using a more creative name than “PC” or “Laptop” for your computer name, to make networking easier. You’ll be given the option to create a password for your account, but you can skip this if you want to. You’ll then be asked for your activation key, although you can skip this step as well—Windows 7 will run for 30 days without a key or activation. Next, you’ll be prompted to choose Windows update settings; we recommend “Use recommended settings.” Set the clock and choose your time zone, and you’re ready to start using your new system.

Next, what to do immediately after the install.

Post-Install Guide

It's time to get your new OS in order

1. Install Drivers

Windows Update does a pretty good job of automatically downloading and installing the drivers your system needs, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never need to manually download a driver again. We recommend that you start (as always) by installing your motherboard’s chipset/NIC drivers. It’s also worth it to manually install the latest drivers for your videocard. Even though Windows update will most likely find drivers for your GPU, it probably won’t be the most up-to-date version available. Use Windows 7 drivers whenever they’re available, but if they aren’t, we’ve had good luck using Vista drivers on Windows 7.

2. Configure User Account Control Settings

In Vista, one of the first things you had to do with any install was disable UAC to prevent those incessant “Do you really want to install this?” prompts. Fortunately, Microsoft has tweaked the default UAC setting in Windows 7. Now, it strikes an excellent balance of keeping you safe with minimal annoyance, popping up alerts only when programs attempt to install software or alter your settings. If you want a higher level of security, you can open the UAC manager (in the control panel under Security) and raise the UAC to the maximum level, which is similar to Vista mode and will trigger an alert for pretty much anything. Alternately, you can disable notifications entirely by setting UAC to its lowest setting.

3. Restore Your Data

If you took our advice and started with a fresh hard drive, all you’ll have to do to restore your old data is connect your old HDD to a secondary SATA port and transfer over all your old files. Copy over all the important data we mentioned earlier, but be sure not to simply copy your old user profile directory over to your new one. Instead, fish out all the documents and media you need, remembering to collect important files from the hidden AppData folder, which usually includes your browser profiles and Outlook data.

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