Microsoft has released the beta version of its Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, a free utility that tells you if your PC is ready to run Windows 7. It scans your computer, checking internal components, external peripherals, and programs, and alerts you to potential compatibility issues. It also offers upgrade suggestions, such as which drivers to replace, should you make the move to Windows 7.

It's a good idea to run Upgrade Advisor, which takes only a few minutes, if you plan to install Windows 7 Release Candidate, which is also available as a free download. (The RC expires August 1, 2010.)

After downloading and installing Upgrade Advisor, you'll see an opening screen that advises you to connect all of your external devices, such as hard drives, cameras, MP3 players, and so on:

I ran the Upgrade Advisor on a 2-year-old Gateway MX8734 notebook that with a 1.6GHz Intel Pentium T2060 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive. This system runs Vista sluggishly-no surprise given the 1 gig of memory-and based on initial reports from Redmond, I thought it might perform better with Windows 7. However, a recent report by our US-based sister site PC World’s Test Center says that may not be the case.

The compatibility check took about 6 minutes and found a few potential issues. While the Gateway's processor, memory, and hard drive met Windows 7's minimum requirements (I expected this), Upgrade Advisor recommended that I download the latest driver for the Realtek Wireless 802.11b/g USB 2.0 network adapter before installing Win 7. It didn't find potential conflicts with any installed programs.

Upgrade Advisor also pointed out that Windows 7 doesn't include Web filtering (Windows Mail and Parental Controls), and it included a link to Microsoft's Windows Live Essentials site, where you can download the free Family Safety utility.

Upgrade Advisor runs on Windows Vista and Windows XP Service Pack 2.