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Check the hardware for Windows 8 capability Windows XP is 12 years old, and many computers running it will be unable to handle either Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Microsoft offers a Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant to help users figure out whether their hardware can support Windows 8.

But mainstream support for Windows 8 won't end until 2018, and extended support will go until 2023.

(It's probably pointless to upgrade to the little-loved Windows Vista, for which mainstream support has already ended.

Upgrading an old machine to newer versions of Windows If the hardware is good enough to support Windows 7 or 8, you'll still have to do a "clean" installation that completely overwrites the hard drive.

There is no option to "upgrade" the operating system from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8 in a way that preserves all your personal files, applications and settings.

MORE: Are Windows 8.1's Security Improvements Worth the Upgrade?Pick an operating system Before kicking off the migration process, it's important to decide whether to move to Windows 7 or to Windows 8.Windows 7 has the advantages of using the familiar Windows interface and being well entrenched in the marketplace.When migrating, it's important to take a look at the configuration and account privileges on the new operating system to make sure the settings are secure, said Andrew Avanessian, vice president of professional services at Avecto, a computer-security firm in Manchester, England.Many XP owners used administrator accounts as their primary accounts, which exposed their systems to various privilege-escalation attacks.

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Mainstream support — i.e., free telephone or online support — for Windows 7 will end in January 2015, although extended support, which includes security fixes, continues until 2020.

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