Downgrading Windows 7 to 32bit from 64bit can be done fairly cleanly

Downgrade 50%

Downgrade 50%

Yes, you can downgrade a Windows 7 system from 64 bit to 32 bit with only a little bit of inconvenience and cost in time while (contrary to most web advice) you  get to keep all your documents and folders AND your 32 bit programs and their settings !

Recently I obtained a laptop with Windows 7 (Ultimate) 64bit with only 2 gigabytes of ram memory.

After a bit of use, the laptop turned annoying to use because it was constantly running out of memory with only a browser running a few Tabs. It didn’t actually crash (permanently lock up or BSOD) that I can recall, but it would regularly slow to a crawl and give warnings to close programs because all memory was used up.

Since the laptop RAM slots were full, we couldn’t add any more memory, I decided to downgrade the 64bit system to 32bit to free some RAM memory up.

Oddly, I could find nothing on the web to tell me how much less memory the 32bit version would use. The best I could find was some articles with vague indications 32bit would use less ram, but nothing quantitative (other than MS which tells you to have 1Gb RAM for a 32 bit install and 2Gb for a 64 bit install), so I was relying in small measure on hope.

One of the difficulties in measuring memory use is the new and probably better way Windows 7 does memory management which now takes into account virtual memory, though how – is not yet clear enough for me.

Nevertheless , after having (mostly) successfully done the downgrade I can now report that —

It can be done, AND you can keep all your files, documents and folder structure.

Even better, contrary to essentially all pundits’ warnings, you can even keep your 32bit programs and their settings without reinstalling (the programs) — IF you have desktop links to the programs and you have backed up the desktop links.

Your 64bit programs simply won’t work. You will need to get 32bit versions of your 64 bit programs – if they exist.

A couple of Caveats / Cautions:

    • Cost? You’ll need to obtain a new Registration/Activation Code. Microsquish uses a different Activation-code for 32bit and 64bit. MS may try to charge you for a new code, but if you have a legal 64bit copy they shouldn’t charge you.
    • You will lose your Windows System settings – such as mouse, keyboard etc.  Apparently you cannot (I didn’t test it) use the Easy Transfer Function to save System settings. There are some third party commercial (not-free) programs that claim to save these for you, but I didn’t test them either.

So here we go –

    • Of course, Backup everything — on a disk with a file system — where you can retrieve the select files you need.
    • Get a 32 bit Win-7 Install disk ready (DVD from an ISO or 4+GB USB drive). If you don’t want MS to charge you for a new OS, it should be the same type (Replace Win-7-Pro 64 bit with Win-7-Pro 32bit – NOT Win7-Ultimate. You might consider calling MS in advance to see what their ever-changing policy is as of today. There are some programs that claim to save your activations state, but I tried two which didn’t work for me.

(Note: The “Custom” install does Not inherently format your drive, does not delete any folders or sub-directories,  does not delete any document files, or change the partitions – unless you want it to. It does rename your current/previous “windows” folder to “Windows.old.”)

NOW you have your 32 bit Windows 7 running – in a “freshly installed” fashion. No additional programs are running. To get your previously installed 32 bit (64 bit programs won’t run any more), continue —

    • “Restore” the desktop icons(/pif) files for the programs you used on the 64 bit installation. (This will quite often let you run your 32 bit programs in the “Program Files (x86)” folder without a new install. Some programs that depend on setting stored in the Registry may balk at trying to help you.
    • Shazam or “Bob’s Your Uncle” your 32bit Win-7 is up and running and so are your programs – with all of your data !

Memory Reduction: Since I only took approximate ram usage measurements before the switch, and because of Windows new memory management I can’t tell you exactly how much less memory is used. Using Task Manager before and after, I estimate  the 32bit version before loading any programs, uses somewhere between 75-200 megabytes less than the 64bit version.

In any case its enough. I can say that in a week of use I haven’t run into either the slowdown problem or the low memory warning – even though I’m running two browsers at the same time, each with several open tabs!

So for my purposes – it worked ! — so far.

Now all I have left is to convince MS registration to give me an activate code for my OEM License that came with the laptop. Any hints ?

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