Now that Windows 10 is available for free to any users of Windows 7 and Windows 8, it is somewhat of a no-brainer to upgrade.
This marks a very real drive by the company to get its user base onto the latest and greatest version of its successful operating system. As it is also one of the first to be available online only, installing Windows 10 is a different proposition altogether.
There are many ways to install Windows 10; if you want to upgrade to Windows 10 from 7/8.1 for free then you’ll need to use the install in place using one of the two methods outlined below.
While installing in place with older versions of Windows was a scary enough process that we wouldn’t have recommended it, it’s a far easier thing with Windows 10. The first way is the most straightforward but will take longer. If you’re apprehensive to use Microsoft’s latest and greatest, go for the latter method instead which is faster but involves a little more work.
It’s worth noting that if you have a retail copy of Windows 7 or 8/8.1, you can transfer your licence to a new computer by first installing Windows 7/8.1 on another computer and then upgrade to Windows 10 using one of the methods below. Once Microsoft’s offer of a free upgrade to Windows 10 expires on 29 July 2016, you’ll no longer be able to to this. In other words, once you’ve upgraded you’ll be on a new licence with more restrictive terms about you can and can’t do with your copy of Windows 10.
Method One: Windows 10 reservation tool
1. While we didn’t have any problems during our installation, it’s always a good idea to backup your computer prior to installing any new software – particularly something as important as a new operating system. Should anything go wrong, at least, you’ll still have duplicates of all your files.
2. In advance of installing Windows 10, you’ll need to ensure that all the latest updates available for your existing installation of Windows (7 SP1 or 8.1) are installed. Go to Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Windows Update (Windows 7) or Control Panel\System and Security\Windows Update and follow the on-screen prompts to install all available Important updates.
3. Once these updates are installed, you’ll see a tiny Windows icon in your System Tray. Click it and follow the on-screen prompts – a wizard will check your computer for compatibility and ‘reserve’ your copy of Windows 10 in Microsoft’s staggered worldwide download queue.
4. When your reserved copy of Windows is ready, you’ll see a dialog box prompting you to download the installer. Accept and the long wait begins. The exact size of the installer will vary depending on your existing setup, but it will be in the region of at least 2.5GB.
5. Once the installer has downloaded, another dialog box will prompt you to finally start the installation itself (hooray!) either straight away or at a later time. The lengthy download will be followed by an equally lengthy ‘preparing for installation’ phase, so scheduling for installation will be a good idea. Follow the on-screen prompts to start installation – it’ll be another lengthy process, but it’ll be worth it.
Method Two: Windows 10 Media Creation Tool
1. Backup your existing Windows installation, as in step 1 above.
2. Install all available Important updates, as in step 2 above.
3. Find out whether you’re running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows. Under Windows 7, you can find this information in Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\System. Under Windows 8.1, it’ll be in Control Panel\System and Security\System
4. Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. Although intended primarily for creating a Windows installation DVD or USB stick, you can also use it to upgrade Windows in place. Make sure you download the right version for your PC – either the 32-bit version or the 64-bit version.
5. Once the Tool has downloaded, run it and follow the on-screen prompts to download and install Windows 10. As with Method One, download and installation can take a long time, so don’t do it if you’re in a hurry.
Method Three: Performing a clean install of Windows 10
The upgrade process in Windows 10 takes old files, settings, and programs from a previous system to a new one. You can, however, refresh your computer completely by carrying out a clean install. However, the activation process can be trickier.
A clean install can come in handy if you want to dodge the ton of bloatware that manufacturers install. It is also necessary when you have replaced a hard drive.
By far the easiest way to do a clean install is to use Windows 10’s Reset function. This differs from the Windows 8 Reset function as that feature used a recovery image from manufacturers that was customised for their software. Sure, that would include the specific drivers from them, but this also included bloatware and in some cases (*cough* Lenovo) undesirable software such as Superfish.
Windows 10 purports to have a system in place that rebuilds Windows without the need for a separate recovery image. This cleans up the system and keeps the latest files. This also means that you don’t have to run Windows Update directly after a reset.
Microsoft claims this resetting brings “Windows devices back to a pristine state” with only Windows files installed.
To reset your Windows 10 PC, open the Settings app, choose Update & security, choose Recovery, and click the “Get started” button under Reset this PC. Choose “Remove everything.” This will wipe all your files, so be sure you have backups.