Let’s start with what Microsoft offers now – Windows 8 Pro Upgrade which comes by the way without Media Center, if you want it, you can get it for free for a limited time. First of all, to install Windows 8 Pro upgrade, your computer must be running Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 and of course, meet the hardware requirements (can be found here). If it does, you have two options to get the upgrade:
1. Upgrade online using Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant, which will also check for your system compatibility. This offer will cost you $39.99.
2. Buy the retail Windows 8 Pro Upgrade DVD, which includes 2 disks: one with the 32-bit version and one with the 64-bit. In the package is just one key for activation, so in case you have two computers, and think to upgrade both of them from the same box by installing the 32-bit on one computer and 64-bit on another, it will not work. This option is $69.99 at most retailers, however at some you will find it for $39.99 like I did.
Note: You cannot use any of this methods if you’re building a new computer, or have a computer with no operating system.
This is what I did. I was running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit on my desktop and upgraded online using the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant, but for the laptop, running Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit I got the retail DVD – I wanted to switch from 32-bit to 64-bit.
1. You have to download the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant which will check your computer compatibility, then, if there are any hardware or software issues it will let you know. My only software issue was Norton, but the assistant offered me the link to an update which solves that. That was of no importance to me, because I wanted to do a clean install in any case. On the hardware side, my computer does not support Secure Boot.
2. Next you go to the purchase screen. Note here, that you don’t have the option to choose which version of Windows to buy, the assistant does that for you based on the system that you currently run. So, if you have a 32-bit version of Windows you will get a 32-bit version of Windows 8. Same with the 64-bit. You will also get the offer to order the backup DVD for like $15 extra.
3. Completing the transaction, will get you to the download screen and you’ll get the activation key in the e-mail, then the download starts.
4. When the download is complete you can start the upgrade, burn a bootable DVD / create a bootable USB, or install later. Let’s say you’re not ready, if you close the assistant now and then run it again, it will start at the same screen – Install, create media(DVD or USB), install later. I chose to create a bootable DVD, didn’t want to pay the extra $15 to get the backup.
5. Further, the installation process runs the same, either you run it from the assistant, when the download is complete, or from the bootable media you created, or from the retail DVD you bought.
6. The installation: Compared to the previous versions of windows you need to enter the key before the installation starts. If you run Windows 7, you can keep your software and personal files, Vista – only personal files, XP – nothing. Personally I think it is a good idea to do a fresh clean install in any case.
7. When everything is done you’re presented with the option to choose the way you login into your computer:
a. Microsoft Account – you need a Microsoft Live Account that is used to sign in the computer and is also used with Windows 8 features like Apps Store, SkyDrive etc..
b. Local Account – the same like in previous version of windows. In this case, in order to use Windows 8 services like Apps Store, Game store or Sky Drive you’ll have to set up a Live Account later or use the one that you already have.
Upgrading from a retail DVD
You need the retail DVD when the download is not available to you for any reason, want a backup copy for future use (can be created with download), or switch between Windows architectures. Like I already mentioned, the retail package contains two disks, one with 32-bit version, one with 64-bit. If you don’t switch architecture, the installation goes the same as above. Insert the 32-bit disk if you have the 32-bit version of Windows and start the install, or the 64-bit disk for the 64-bit version of Windows.
If you run a 32-bit Windows and want to migrate to 64-bit, you’ll need the retail DVD. My laptop was running Windows 7 32-bit and I wanted to go with 64-bit Windows 8, that’s why I got the retail copy. In order to do that (from 32-bit to 64-bit lets say), you insert the 64-bit Windows 8 disk (if you’ll try to run within windows, an error message will pop up), restart the computer, load windows from the disk and start the install from the disk. After that, the installation goes as described above. Note: when moving from 32-bit to 64-bit, you cannot keep your software or personal files, also make sure your computer supports the 64-bit version of windows.
Now, impressions about Windows 8.
Finally Microsoft did something good. It’s different, it has a learning curve, they took a risk with the interface: if you’re an old school windows guy which needs the start button, you might not like it (the start button is still there, it ‘s just disabled). But is fast: around 10sec boot compare to 1 min boot with windows 7, cool modern tablet looking like interface (the desktop is there too if you need it), touch screen is a plus, tried that at Best Buy, but mouse and keyboard – no problem at all, work fine. Programs work fast and switching between them is fast. All the drivers included, even my printer which is connected to a wireless network. Installation was a breeze, took about 30 min for a clean install with disk formatting. As a final though: to upgrade or not, it’s up to you, do the research, I personally love it.