About a year ago, I bought an Inspiron 1545 with 32-bit Vista Home Premium installed. I took advantage of the $50 offer to upgrade to Windows 7, 32-bit. The box actually included 64-bit Windows 7 as well.
I want to make the switch to 64-bit Windows 7. How can I do this? Can I install the copy of 64-bit Windows 7 that I already have, or do I need to have the 64-bit version of Vista to do the upgrade?
Can I order a 64-bit copy of Vista from Dell? If so, how much will it cost?
In order to switch to 64 bit you will have to do a complete reinstallation. You can't "upgrade" from 32 bit to 64 bit. The full Retail versions have this option, but I don't know if the Dell supplied will do this. Most likely you will have to purchase a retail copy of Win 7 to do this. Dell will only supply what you have, they will sell you a Retail version at the same price as anywhere else, they can't sell you an "OEM" version.
HERE is the Dell Windows 7 64 bit driver downloads. You should be OK to upgrade to 64 bit.
The least expensive way to go is to buy an "OEM" version. This is the same as the full retail version except, like the Dell OEM versions, it can only be installed on one PC and there is no "free" support from Microsoft for OEM versions. You still get the same free updates from them, just there is no free support if you were to have a problem with the Windows 7 OS that you couldn't resolve. The probabilities of needing Microsoft tech support is slim but it has to be noted.
HERE is Win 7 64 bit Home Premium OEM
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Sounds like you got a retail copy of Windows 7 when it was being offered for 49.95. First though I would advise running the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to be sure your system is completely compatible. If there is no problems, just insert the 64bit disk and it will instruct you to do a clean install. Be sure to back up any of your personal files.
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I am currently running Windows 7 64 bit on two machines. A Latitude D820, and a PWS 7400. THe Latitude has 4 GBytes of RAM. THe PWS 7400 has 16 GBytyes of RAM. I have found that on machines with less than 4 GBytes, the 64 Bit operating system does nothing for you. On the other hand machine with 16 GBytes or RAM running 64 bit applications (which aren't many) scream
Just to add my own two cents:
The same Windows 7 key will work for both 32 and 64 bit flavors (at least for retail keys). Even if you didn't have the 64 bit media, you could download it and then use the key you already have. I believe that any similar edition (e.g. pro to pro) of Vista or Windows 7 is acceptable (from a license perspective) for an upgrade to 64bit.
Microsoft would prefer that you use their upgrade procedure to install Windows 7 upgrade editions. If you already had a 64 bit OS installed, this would save most of your data. In your case, it will wipe it just the same.
In any event, it is possible to do a true clean install of windows 7 with an upgrade key. Some question the legality of this process, but I do not see an issue so long as you have an operating system that would otherwise qualify for the upgrade. Googling windows 7 clean install should set you on the right track as I am not certain Dell would approve of a detailed description(?).
Lastly, I think that Windows 7 is beneficial even on machines that have 4GB of ram or less. First, it is safer (better ASLR, patch-guard, signed kernel driver enforcement, less viruses written for it). Second, it can allocate larger chunks of ram to individual programs.