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Issue #239: February 19, 2012

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Q: I have a basic netbook that came with Windows 7 Starter Edition pre-installed.  I have an opportunity to buy an upgrade to the Home Premium version for only $39.00, but I’m wondering whether this would take up a lot of space on my netbook?  Can you tell me the advantages and disadvantages of upgrading? 

Kristin S.
(Geek’s sister who doesn’t know how to be a Geek)
Fredonia, Wisconsin

A: The edition of Windows that your netbook came with is the absolute bottom line version of Win7, Kristin.  It is essentially a highly stripped-down version of Win7 Home Premium.  It contains only the bare minimum of features to run a few applications and get you on the Internet.  In fact, Microsoft had once intended Starter to be so very crippled that they were going to restrict it to running no more than 3 simultaneous applications, but that limitation was dropped.  One restriction they did implement was that it won’t support more than 2 gigs of RAM.  Doing that probably has a similar effect as limiting the sheer number of apps, because even if you can get multiple apps to load in 2 gigabytes, the system performance would likely slow to a crawl as it constantly swaps things from RAM to the hard disk and back.  The 2 gigabyte restriction shouldn’t bother you too much, since it’s not very likely that your netbook has more than 2 gigs anyway, and probably has only 1 gig. 

Nevertheless, the advantages to upgrading are numerous.  The Starter Edition does not include the Windows Aero theme, which gives Win7’s appearance so much of its pizzazz.  Even if you don’t choose to use Aero, you’ll at least gain the ability to change the desktop wallpaper, and other visual style elements.  Home Premium also includes multiple monitor capability, which would allow you to drive your internal screen and an external monitor simultaneously as two displays, assuming your netbook has a monitor port.  Upgrading will also get you the ability to switch between different user accounts without logging off, which may or may not be important to you, depending on how you use your machine.  Home Premium also sports some nice multimedia features that are disabled in Starter, including the Windows Media Center, support for DVD playback (probably via an external drive, since most netbooks don’t have optical drives built-in) and the ability to stream media stored on the netbook to other devices or computers on your home network.

If you’re expecting a performance boost out of the higher-end operating system, I’m afraid you’re in for a disappointment.  In fact, not only will it not run faster, it might run substantially slower, depending on what features you enable.  Many of the features I listed above (particularly Aero themes) require more memory, and more CPU horsepower to operate smoothly than do the more generic ones that are included with Starter.  Depending on the specs on your netbook, this could easily slow your system by taking up processor power and memory that are not required by Starter.

As far as taking up space on your netbook, nothing I read in my research indicated that the installed footprint of Home Premium was substantially different than Starter.  Microsoft’s System Requirements Page for Win 7 (see tinyurl.com/yedcfkc) doesn’t break it down by version.  In a way that makes sense, because Microsoft has been touting their “Anytime Upgrade” program, that allows you to purchase your way to a higher level on demand.  That implies to me that most – if not all – of the software necessary for the more advanced features may already be present on your system, just waiting to be unlocked.  Or not.

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