Which Windows 7 Version Is Right For You?

Which one is best for your needs and budget?

Oli Scarf/Getty Images

Windows 7 comes in three flavors, and each has a different combination of features and prices. To help you sort out the confusion and find the right Windows 7 version for you, here's the critical information you need to know.

  • Windows 7 Home Premium Edition

The entry-level Windows 7 version is Windows 7 Home Premium Edition. It's the least expensive version, but also comes without several features you might want.

Home Premium is, as the name implies, more for use in the home than in a business setting.

That said, it has plenty of capabilities, with built-in Windows Media Center, the ability to burn CDs, and a backup program that allows you to make a complete copy of all the data on your computer. 

Home Premium is $119.99 for an upgrade version (meaning you have an earlier version of Windows already on your computer), and $199 for the full version. 

Home Premium should be your pick if you use your computer only at home, and never connect it to a corporate network. It has everything you need.

  • Windows 7 Professional Edition

The next step up is Windows 7 Professional Edition. It adds new functionality like the problem steps recorder, but is also more costly. Windows 7 Professional adds abilities like encrypting your files for better security; joining a domain (which is typically done in a work environment); and using more RAM, to speed up your computer's operations.

It also includes Remote Desktop, most often used as a troubleshooting tool that lets others connect to, and even control, your computer (yes, you should be very careful about whom you let do this). 

Professional is $199.99 for the upgrade version, and $299.99 for the standalone version. This is the version for you if your computer needs to connect to a smaller corporate network, and you want to save some money over the Ultimate edition.

  • Windows 7 Ultimate Edition

At the top of the food chain is Windows 7 Ultimate Edition. It adds security features and additional languages, but will also hurt your pocketbook the most. One of its best features is BitLocker, which allows you to encrypt an entire hard drive or USB drive, rather than just encrypting on a file-by-file basis. 

As is the case with Professional, Ultimate is a business-focused version of Windows 7, meant for living on a corporate network. To that end, it's got features for searching network drives and accessing corporate email. Ultimate is $219.99 for the upgrade version, and $319.99 for the full version.

Ultimate is for those who use their computers on a large corporate network regularly, as it plays nice with all that's offered in that environment.

One Windows 7 Edition not profiled here is Windows 7 Starter Edition, which comes with most netbooks. I didn't include it because it's not an option; it's either already installed on your netbook, or not. You can't upgrade from another version of Windows, say Windows XP or Windows Vista, for example, to Windows 7 Starter.