Five Different Versions of Windows 7–Which Is Right for You

windows 7 logo 3

So let’s begin our Windows 7 coverage with trying to simplify the many different versions of the OS. Unlike with Apple’s Snow Leopard, where it’s more of a one-size fits-all approach, with Windows 7 you got a nice selection of editions: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Happy-Go-Lucky… Ok, fine, we just made up the happy go lucky part, but as you can see, there are a whole lot of different versions, and so let’s try to simplify that into what you should looking for when getting a Windows 7 upgrade or when looking for a new PC, and what you should be looking for specs wise to make sure whatever version of 7 you get works well.

Ok, so let’s knock one of these guys off the bat right away. As  some of you may be noticing, there really is no Home Basic, which basically is like the other versions of 7 like Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate, just lacks the nice looking and surprisingly useful Aero. Home Basic also isn’t sold by Microsoft in the US, Europe or other developed countries, instead being sold only in developing countries.

That still leaves Starter, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. These are the much more common versions of 7 that you’ll see when your looking in Best Buy or online for a new PC. Let’s break’em down.


The Starter version is the netbook version of 7. It’s cheaper and therefore easier for manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus and Acer to put on their very low-cost netbooks. That doesn’t though mean that the other versions can’t run well on the low-spec’d netbooks. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: while we were at IDF, Microsoft showed a low spec’d HP Mini netbook (512 MB of RAM and standard Intel Atom processor), running Windows 7 Ultimate– with all its bells and whistles — just fine.

So what is the difference in this cheaper version of Windows 7? Microsoft is giving netbooks a real watered down version of 7 here, so watered down that you can only run 3 apps at once. Not cool in my opinion, though if it means that netbooks stay cheap and boot up and work fast (and that I can upgrade to a higher version of 7 if I want), it’s not the end of the world.

Windows 7 Starter HP Mini 1 Windows 7 Starter HP Mini 2

Windows 7 on an HP Mini Netbook

So, you want Windows 7, but you want a more powerful, full featured version for your laptop or desktop PC. Alright, that’s  what Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate are for.

Home Premium

windows 7 home premium

Home Premium, is the successor to the Windows Vista equivalent, also named Home Premium. Here your getting a lot more than the Starter version, and this is the version we think most people will get, as your standard new laptop should have it at the least. You get pretty much all of the new 7 features– the updated Windows 7 Media Center (which works a lot better than Vista’s), the new Aero features– known as Aero Peek and Aero Shake/Snap, they’re really cool looking and productive new add ins to 7. Aero Peek lets you just drag your mouse over an icon in the new taskbar and it will hide all your other open windows to let you view just that window (say you got a new IM and you’re in iTunes, just drag your mouse over your IM in the new taskbar and it will show you the IM without you needing to click through windows). Aero Shake/Snap are really two different features, though I find that they work so well together that I put them into one. Aero Shake lets you take one of your open windows– say a Word document your working on– just take your mouse, click on it and “shake” it, and all your other windows are cleared. Aero Snap let’s you put two windows right next to each other like you got 2 screens. It automatically resizes the windows to fit the sides, and is something I personally find this very useful for things like writing papers and having your research open right next to each other.

windows 7 home group

Windows 7 Home Group

Also new in 7 Home Premium is Windows Home Group, which let’s you share your music, videos, pix, documents and even printers with other Windows 7 PC’s on your home network.

Windows 7 Home Premium also supports 64-bit applications (the future of software writing, and something anyone investing in a PC should make sure to get–it’s pretty standard now on most PC’s you find in stores and online), and better multi-touch and general touchscreen support (which is also something we expect to see coming to a lot of new PC’s in the future).

These Aero, 64-bit  and multi-touch support, and Home Group features are also found in the Ultimate and Professional versions of 7.


windows 7 professional

Windows 7 Professional is like Vista Business–  nice, but not really worth the extra money for what most of us will use it for. As mentioned above, it’s got the new Aero, Windows Media Center and Home Group, and some better networking features that the business users will love. It also brings in something called XP Mode, which basically gives you a virtual XP  that runs inside of 7 (like Mac users run Windows in a Mac. The XP copy is downloadable and does not cost any additional money to use– though you will need to reinstall the software you want to use on XP in the XP mode as it is separate from 7). Otherwise, there’s not much more to see here for the non-business user.


windows 7 ultimate

Windows 7 Ultimate pretty much combines all the versions of Windows 7 and gives it to you in one package. Put together all the different features of Home Premium and Professional coupled with some extra features like more language support (yay?) and BitLocker, which provides another layer of protection for your data (both your hard drive and portable storage) if your are one of those super cautious types.

If you want everything  7 has to offer than there is no better choice than to go with Ultimate, though that choice will most likely cost at least another $100 over the Home Premium version.

So, what should I get in my next PC?

So you’re getting a new PC  or are looking into the many different versions of 7, what do we think you should look for?

Based on what most of us use our PC’s for– internet, iTunes, school work, and even the occasinal games– we feel that you should at least look for Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (definitely don’t buy a new PC now with Vista even if your told you’ll get a free copy of the equivalent version of 7– why bother with the upgrade process if you don’t have to?), with at least 4 GB of RAM, a 320-500 GB hard drive, and at least a dual core processor like an Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Turion X2. Get something along those specs (which you can get for well below $1,000 for either a laptop or desktop from HP, Dell, and many other PC makers both online and in stores), and we think you should be more than fine using your new 7 PC for many years to come.

So there you have it– what the difference is between the Windows 7 versions, and our thoughts on it. What are yours? You looking for a new PC? You thinking of switching to a Mac instead of sticking with Windows?

And stay tuned, we’re finishing our review of 7 as you read this, so keep an strong eye out for that.

You can check out Microsoft’s full comparison chart of Windows 7 here, and you can see Microsoft’s comparison chart of 7 and Windows Vista and XP here.


Posted on October 25, 2009, in Computers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Why, I most certainly beg to differ! The rumor that Windows 7 Starter can only run three programs at a time is false. Admittedly, I would choose XP Home over 7 Starter any day, even so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: