Why Do I Want To Do This?
While there is something to be said for a pristine new clean installation there’s also something to be said for upgrading your OS and keeping your applications, files, and folder structures all in place.
Upgrades aren’t without the occasional hiccup but from a time-saving and ease-of-use standpoint they’re much faster and easier than doing a full wipe and then dealing with importing all your old files and installing apps.
Just because it’s a pretty simple process (or should be if everything goes smoothly) doesn’t mean there aren’t things you need to do before you upgrade and important choices to make during the upgrade process. While a lot of sites are just pointing people at the installer and telling them to just download it and run it, we’re taking the time to give you some pregame tips and walk you through the process.
Note: if you want to do a totally clean installation and not an upgrade, please see our article How to Clean Install Windows 10.
What Do I Need?
To upgrade from Windows 7/8 to Windows 10 there is a very small list of must-haves and a few recommended items (which we’ll cover in the next section Pre-Upgrade Housekeeping). Let’s take a look at what you need before proceeding and then highlight some best practices.
An Activated Copy of Windows
The most important thing is that your current version of Windows is properly activated. Although Microsoft alluded to the idea that Windows 10 would be a sweeping upgrade that would even install on pirated and/or unactivated copies of Windows that plan never came to fruition and you most certainly need an activated copy under the current deployment model.
To check if your copy of Windows 8 is activated, press Windows Key + W to pull up the Setting search and type in “activated” to access the “See if Windows Is Activated” menu. Alternatively, you can look under Control Panel -> System to see the status of the machine.
To check if your copy of Windows 7 is activated you can click on Start Button, right click on “Computer”, and select properties. The resulting status menu will show if your copy of Windows is activated.
The Appropriate Windows 10 Update Tool
Although the Windows 10 update tool is pretty straight forward you need the right version for your hardware. The first step is determining if you are running a 32-bit machine or a 64-bit machine. While you can read about the nuances of of each in our article HTG Explains: What’s The Difference Between 32-bit and 64-Bit Windows 7 you can check what version of Windows you are currently running by simply looking in the same place in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 that we highlighted in the previous section on checking your Windows activation. The same panel/menu that tells you if your computer is activated also tells you your “System type”.
In Windows 7 it will simply tell you that it is a 64-bit or 32-bit operating system but in Windows 8 it will actually (and helpfully) both tell you if you’re running Windows 32-bit or Windows 64-bit as well as what the actual architecture of the underlying hardware is and if it supports 64-bit computing. (e.g. you have Windows 8 32-bit installed but the hardware actually supports 64-bit). There’s a huge catch here though: you can’t upgrade an installation of Windows from 32-bit to 64-bit even if the hardware supports it; you have to do a clean install.
With that in mind, whatever bit-version of Windows you are running on your about-to-be-upgraded machine that is the version of the download tool you need to download if you wish to do an in-place upgrade and not a clean wipe.
You can find the download tool here. Select the correct version, 32 or 64-bit, to match your current Windows installation.
Running the Upgrade Installer
When you’re ready to upgrade run the installer tool, labeled MediaCreationTool, to get started.
You’ll first be prompted to upgrade the PC or create installation media for another PC. Select “Upgrade this PC now” to begin the upgrade process and click “Next”. This begins the download process which is a long or short affair dependent entirely upon your Internet connection speed. We zoomed to 100 percent in a matter of minutes on a speedy cable connection, but if you’re on a slow connection you might be watching the meter for some time.
When it finally finishes downloading and unpacking the installation media you’ll be prompted to accept the terms of the license agreement. Click “Accept” and the installer will do a final update check before kicking you over to the final confirmation page.
By default the installer will select the largest “what to keep” selection it can. If you want to make changes to what it is keeping click the small “Change what to keep” link as seen in the screenshot above. You’ll be prompted to select to select which kind of installation you want.
Here in this section you’ll select to keep personal files and apps, personal files only, or nothing at all and your apps, files, and settings will be deleted. The little micro-summaries under the entries aren’t perfectly clear so feel free to click on the “Help me decide” link for more information. We’ve included the relevant text from the resulting pop-up message here for clarity.
What can I keep when I upgrade?
What you can keep depends on the version of Windows you’re running on your PC, so you’ll only see the options available to you. Here’s what you might see:
This keeps your settings like Ease of Access, your desktop background, or Internet favorites and history.
This keeps any files that are saved in your User folder, like the Documents and Desktop folders.
This keeps apps that will work after you upgrade. To get a report of apps that you currently have on your PC that will work, and those that won’t, run the Upgrade Assistant, available online at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkId=261871 before you upgrade (you’ll need to close Setup to run the Upgrade Assistant). Some apps might work after you upgrade but you’ll need to reinstall them. You’ll see a list of these in the report. You’ll need your original installation media to reinstall them.
Note: If you’re upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1, you won’t see “apps” as an option of things to keep, and you’ll need to reinstall your apps using the original installation media.
This deletes everything, including all of your apps, and replaces your current version of Windows with Windows 10. Your personal files will be moved to the windows.old folder. You can find more info online at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=12416.
That’s a lot more helpful than the little summaries on the actual selection menu. The most obvious and smooth transition is offered by “Keep personal files and apps”. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7, however, be prepared to reinstall applications as significant changes between the Windows 7 architecture and the Windows 8/10 architecture necessitate it.
When you’re ready click “Next” to proceed and it will return you to the final screen. Confirm that on the “Ready to install” screen it shows what you want (e.g. you selected “Keep personal files and apps” and that’s what it says). After confirming the installation click “Install”. Your PC will reboot a few times as the installer works and when it’s done you’ll be returned to the Windows login screen.
Configuring Windows After The Upgrade
When the login screen pops up for the first time, you’re not quite done yet. There are quite a few little tweaks you can perform before booting into Windows 10 for the first time and we recommend you take advantage of them.
As soon as you log in for the first time you’ll be prompted to accept the “Express Settings” or click the tiny link to “Customize settings”. You should definitely click “Customize settings” to see what Microsoft has set as the defaults and confirm whether you want them set as they are.
The first screen is called “Personalization” but should really be called “Can we send a bunch of information about you to Microsoft?” The privacy conscious will want to turn off everything in this menu. (If you later discover you just can’t live without a personalized Cortana experience you can always turn it on again).
The second screen is focused on browser protection, hotspots, and error reporting. SmartScreen is useful if you use the Microsoft Edge browser or the Windows Store. Privacy oriented folks will likely want to turn off page prediction as it sends your browsing data to Microsoft. The connectivity settings really only matter for laptops and tablets (as your desktop PC isn’t roaming around connecting to hotspots).
The final screen shows you the four new default Windows apps for photos, web browsing, music, and movies/TV. If you click “Let me choose my own default apps” it doesn’t actually let you choose the apps at this moment but merely allows you to uncheck one or all of the four default app selections (you’ll be prompted to make your default choices later when you open your preferred web browser for the first time and so on). When you click “Next” this final time you’ll be sent, after a short wait, to the Windows 10 desktop.
Now is the time to check on your apps, see if they survived the upgrade process (and update them if necessary) as well as to plug in your peripherals, check that all your hardware works (and update the drivers if necessary) and then get down to enjoying Windows 10.