I'm currently running Vista 32-bit and want to do a clean install to Windows 7 32-bit. Would it be better to perform a custom install with the upgrade disc or format the drive first, and then do it? is there a difference between custom and clean?
There's no real difference between the two, except that the custom install will keep your files where the clean install will erase everything (so you should make a backup first).
IMHO, it's better to do a clean install when switching from an OS version to another. This way, it gives you the opportunity to clean all those superfluous documents/applications you've kept for years and that eats a lot of space, correcting some mistakes you may have done (uninstalled software that are still in the registry, etc...), start from scratch with your favorite tools (up-to-date antivirus, fresh new graphic card drivers, defrags and cleaning tasks, etc...).
It may take some time to backup everything you really need (firefox profiles, game saves, documents, etc...) but once it's done, you start all fresh and clean and your system will obviously be faster.
A Clean install will not save any data from the current OS. Many people prefer a clean install as it prevent any old settings from interfering with the new OS operations. The down side is that you have to reconfigure any applications you reinstall.
A custom install is where you can chose to install different software components instead of getting the default set up. Unless you are very knowledgeable about the OS, I would not recommend trying a custom install. It is mainly used when you need to set up very specific OS installations on a large number of systems. Like a company switching from WIN XP to WIN 7.
A Clean install is usually defined as formatting the driver (either by the user or by using Setup) and then installing the OS.
A custom install is defined by Microsoft as installing the OS on the same partition as a previous installation of Windows. Note that this is not the same as an upgrade.
Let's pretend your harddrive has one partition and contains a previous install of Windows (let's say Vista)
The difference between a custom install and a clean install are the following:
That's pretty much it. Your old boot files are overwritten. You start out with a clean copy of the Windows folder, Users folder and Program Files folder.
This option has existed for a long long time, but the implementation has changed. A custom install of Windows 3.1 onto a partition with a previous copy of Windows 3.1 will only move the old Windows folder into Windows.old.
This option had also existed under 95 and XP. But like I said earlier, the implementation was slightly different.
So I'd like this to be a PSA and educate people into the fact that you don't have to friggin reformat your harddrive to install a clean-as-a-baby's-behind copy of Windows on your machine.
For more citation, look here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/help/upgrading-from-windows-vista-to-windows-7-custom.
the days of 'custom installations' have long since gone (gone actually with the demise of win9x, and the few choices one had during the installation back then could hardly be considered as 'customization'). if you want to cusomize a windows installation you'll need to write your own installation script or use 3rd party programs (such as nLite, vLite) to remove unwanted/unnessecary components.
as noted elsewhere, this requires a certain experience level and/or the will to learn as such customized installations are rather unforgiving, make a mistake and it's back to the drawing board. :)