When it comes to Windows 7, do you really need a PC with Microsoft's minimum specs? We got five PC users to install the OS on underpowered machines to find out.

When it comes to giving an old PC a new lease of life, Linux has long-been the favoured OS because it's lighter than Windows, it's secure enough to let you sidestep CPU-hogging antivirus programs and it's free.

However, Windows 7 could be about to change this. Think of Windows 7 as Vista after an extended stay at a health farm - trim, buffed and Botoxed. Even netbooks can run it.

In the past it usually made little economic sense to reinstall Windows on an older PC, as buying a new retail copy of Windows would often cost more than the PC was worth. But with Windows 7, Microsoft plans to offer a 3-upgrade-licence 'family pack' of the Home Premium edition for $150 (£92) in the US (UK pricing hasn't been revealed yet).

Based on what Microsoft has already said, users will likely be able to (clean) install Windows 7 on a machine running XP without having to install Vista first.

Also, Windows 7 continues Microsoft's legendary backward compatibility for applications. For instance, I was able to get my 12-year-old copy of Office 97 running on Windows 7 with no hitches.

Microsoft says the minimum specs for Windows 7 are:

  • 1GHz CPU
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 16GB of drive space
  • DirectX 9-capable graphics card or integrated chip (true of most releases 2002 and after)

But do you really need a computer with the minimum specs as outlined by Microsoft to run Windows 7?

At Windows fan site Neowin.net, testers have claimed success with a 700MHz Pentium III ThinkPad with 256MB of RAM and a 600MHz Pentium III desktop with 512MB of RAM.

At another site, The Windows Club, someone claims to have run Windows 7 on a circa-1997, 266MHz Pentium II with 96MB RAM and a 4MB video card.

We decided to see just how low we could go with Windows 7 ourselves. So we asked five users - including yours truly - to successfully run Windows 7 Ultimate RC on a variety of older and underpowered hardware, from a seven-year-old white-box desktop to a Dell netbook. Here's how they got on.

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NEXT PAGE: Sprucing up the old work laptop

  1. We find out how low you can go
  2. Sprucing up the old work laptop
  3. Resurrecting a seven-year-old desktop
  4. Rejuvenating a low-end consumer laptop
  5. Running on a modern but underpowered netbook