[Warning: Do not try installing Windows 7 on older PCs without parental supervision]
We have a policy in the office to change out a batch of computers every so many years. And this year there were three computers in the office that needed a refresh. Because I had done an earlier trial run with someone in the office, I knew that about 99.99999% of our business apps could handle 64bit just fine and of the few that couldn't, we could virtualize an XP or set up a computer in the corner to be the designated XP that people could remote desktop into and share the application. So I deployed three new Windows 7 64bit to people in the office.
But now here's where the fun starts. Now we have people in the "food chain". Those computers that I'm replacing are middle aged. Not elderly. They might need a bit of face lifts (better video card) and perhaps a tummy tuck (I max out the RAM by going to www.crucial.com to see how expensive it is to upgrade them to more memory). Now because I'm the master patcher/go to person at the office, the more versions I have to update and deal with, the less efficient I am. Thus I try to keep the number and type of different versions of operating systems and Office to a minimum. Office 2007 is much nicer to patch than 2003 as it doesn't require that you feed it a cdrom during service pack updating and what not. So I looked at those middle aged computers and did something that I honestly don't recommend. I installed Windows 7 64bit on them and they worked. Now why am I being two faced here and telling you not to do what I just did? Because I'll be the first to admit it's not the most pleasant technology experience in the world. While Windows 7 installations is one of the easiest and fastest to do (with about 15 to 20 minutes between boot from DVD to a working operating system), the fun begins AFTER the operating system is installed and you see if it likes two major things:
We have everyone in our office using at least two monitors. Yes, even the receptionist at the front. It allows her to look at the calendars of all of the partners inside of Outlook and see who's expected to arrive at the office as well as doing her normal tasks. But we have a few folks that have three monitors. And that one particular upgraded workstation was my problem child. Brand spanking new HP workstations come with several PCI Express slots (the ones where the video cards get plugged into) so that you can get a machine with one dual monitor card as well as TWO dual monitor cards. My middle aged machines come with ONE PCI Express slots and multiple PCI slots. If that's greek to you, just call them one of the long ones and three of those white ones inside the computer. In this one computer, the existing PCI express card didn't like to play nice with a salvaged PCI card from another machine. And that's when I found out that trying to find a PCI card online with a Windows 7 driver is about as successful as the search for the fountain of youth. I finally did get it working with a different PCI express card, but the moral of this story is two fold:
First - your best bet is STILL to buy Windows 7 on a brand new machine. You won't be surfing www.newegg.com trying to find PCI video cards that support Windows 7. You will ensure that the drivers were tested and built to work. Second - two montors is relatively easy to do with a dual head card, getting three and four works the best with matching cards. Of course, you can more easily get two matching dual head cards in a brand new computer.
The second major sticking point is printers (and other devices). I knew already from my testing that I had 64 bit printer drivers for my HP Laserjet 8000 and our two multi function Ricoh scanner/copier/printers. I forgot to check if the locally attached printer (a Laserjet 1012) had a 64 bit printer. So when I attached the printer, it didn't quite find it's own printer. So the first trick you can try is to see if there is a printer number close to the one you are attaching. There was a Laserjet 1015 which worked a little bit. But then we hit the issue of "unsupported personality". The topic is discussed here: http://forums.pcworld.com/index.php?/topic/60170-hp-laserjet-1012-and-windows-7/page__st__20 If you merely do basic printing you probably won't see this issue. But if you do printing from applications like Quickbooks and other accounting apps you'll see it. So the solution? Turn off the machine and turn it on again every time it happens. Yeah.. I know not a good solution. So you have a couple of options here. The first option is to follow the rule of "the kids on the playground". The more inexpensive the printer, the more it will work best with the era of the operating system it was sold with. The Laserjet 1012 was an inexpensive printer discontinued back in 2006. The Ebay going price is $30. HP is currently offering a trade in program for any brand of printer to replace it with a new one -- http://hp.tradeups.com/Customers/19/GetQuote.aspx. So your first decision will be is whether or not it's better to donate the printer to a charity or trade in your printer for a new one. In my case there was another printer in the office we could trade out and it would work. But it's a lesson to watch what kind of printer we buy in the future. Cheap may not pay for itself in the long run.
That said I have at home an HP Laserjet 4L that is as old as the hills and still using it on Windows 7 and it's still running just fine.
So the other moral of this story is, if at first the printer doesn't work, don't beat your head against the wall. Go donate that printer or trade it in for a new one. When buying printers in the future, remember that cheaper may not be better. See what sort of printer driver it has. If you can't tell, ask on a forum.