My Experience Upgrading to Windows 10

With the availability of Windows 10 on July 29th as a free update, I had decided some time ago that I was going to be making the change as soon as possible.  Well, that opportunity came already this last Saturday.  This post is a short description of that process for me.

I have worked with Microsoft operating systems since the days of MS-DOS 3.3.  I have installed every version of Windows from 3.1 on up except for Windows Millennium (which was a publicity stunt, not a real OS upgrade).  Except for the upgrade from 8 to 8.1, I have always done my upgrade by formatting the hard drive and doing a clean install.  I had planned to do the same thing with Windows 10 not only because of my history, but because I was having some system file corruption due to my backup software reacting badly to my hard drive.


My first step was to download the media creation tool from Microsoft so that I could do the installation via a USB drive.  My computer did not get the lovely windows logo in the system notification area due to the aforementioned system corruption.  With my USB stick ready and all of my stuff backed up I proceeded to boot from the USB drive to do the installation.

One of the first screens asked me for my Windows key.  Making an assumption that since the upgrade was free I could use my Windows 8.1 key, I plugged that in.  No dice.  So I booted back into Windows 8 and did some research.  I found an excellent article on Forbes that explained that to get the free upgrade you have to an in-place upgrade, activate Windows 10 there, then you can do the clean install and all will be well.  Following that advice I used my USB installer to do a Windows 10 upgrade in place.  It actually went very smoothly which was a bit surprising for me given my OS corruption, finishing the whole process in an hour or less.

After I activated Windows 10 I rebooted to the USB drive and did a clean install.  Each time that it asked me for my key I just chose to skip it.  When I went back to check it showed that my system was activated, so somehow Microsoft has that key tied to my hardware. (Update Aug 7: It looks like the key is tied to your motherboard and a few other components.  So you should be able to reinstall on that same computer for years to come without needing to re-enter the key.)

A couple of notes:

  • When you install Windows 10 there is an option to choose express settings.  I would recommend that you not do that.  Most of the options have to do with privacy so check them carefully.  I ended up turning most of them  off.  Here is more information about that, including how to go back and change them after the installation.
  • When I did the in-place upgrade there was an option to clear all programs and files which I believe would have done the same thing as my booting from the USB drive and doing a clean install that way.  I did not do that partly because I wanted to see how the upgrade would go with all my programs and files staying intact, and partly because of my OS system corruption I did not want to take any chance that it would follow me. (Update Aug 7: From what I am hearing the option to clear all programs and data is very close to same thing as installing from scratch and formatting the drive.)
  • My computer came with Windows 8.1 from the factory which means that the product key is stored in the BIOS.  I suspect that if I had done a clean install and bypassed all of the screens where I needed to put in my Windows 10 key that it would have still activated fine because Windows 10 would have read that from the BIOS eventually.  Because I needed a fully working computer on Monday morning I did not have time to try this out.

Drivers & Software

A lesson that I learned a long time ago is that if there is a single driver that you should have on hand before installing a new operating system is for your network card.  With that you can connect to the internet and download all other drivers and even most software these days (I have almost all of my software installed and I have yet to even connect my CD/DVD drive).

As it turned out the only driver problem that I had with Windows 10 was my wireless card (Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 7260).  Before the upgrade I looked through Intel’s site and could only find the driver for the Bluetooth part.  The card showed up in the Windows 10 compatibility list with a link for additional info to Intel’s site which didn’t work.  Turns out the driver is included with Windows, but it is really flaky.  It kept dropping the connection which caused problems during some of the setup (especially connecting it to Azure Active Directory).

My initial fix was to turn off the ability to use N and force all of my wireless connections to G.  That gave me more stability, but did not fully solve the problem.  I went back to Intel’s site and finally found the driver which fixed the problem (although two days later I am having a couple of dropped connections for a few seconds.)

Note that Windows Update now assumes that its drivers are always best and will automatically install newer versions as they come out.  I like that idea for 95% of drivers as it did a really good job of installing the drivers that I need, way better than any previous version of Windows.  The 5% that I have a problem with are the video card drivers.  I have personally had major issues with video card drivers that Windows upgraded and caused my computer to crash.  If there are some updates that you do not want Windows to automatically install, Microsoft has released a “patch” that allows you to hide them.

Yesterday I reloaded all of the programs that I use on a regular basis.  The only program that I had any kind of problem with was TntMPD (for which there is now a temporary fix).  Because I am on a high speed internet connection, I found it faster to download the full installers rather than connect my USB DVD drive and pull out the disks.  A note to anybody setting up a new computer, Ninite is a huge help, installing all of your free utilities automatically and in a short period of time.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Windows 10 is obviously still very new, but it has gone through 9 months of open beta and as of July 31st there were already over 65 million computers with it installed.  If you are not really eager to test it, I would still recommend holding off about a month.  That will let other people find the problems and just as importantly give device manufacturers time to get their drivers updated and working.

I have used Windows 8 from the beginning and mostly on touch screen computers so I did not have the angst with the new paradigm that so many other people did.  The start menu is back with some of the best features from the old start menu and the Windows 8 start screen.  Honestly, I had gotten so used to the start screen that I find the start menu kind of constricting, but I can see why other people like it.  My favorite new feature is the way that Windows 10 works differently in desktop vs tablet mode.  I have a Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga which is a convertible and I switch quite often.  In desktop mode everything can be in resizeable windows, even apps.  In tablet mode they automatically switch to full screen including the start menu.  I was given the choice on how this would work, which I appreciated, but I find it really intuitive.

On a side note for people on slow/metered internet connections, one of the benefits of going with Windows 10 Pro is that you can share Windows updates with others on your local network.  You are going to want to take a good look at the settings though and make sure you are not sharing those updates on your internet connection as well.


2 thoughts on “My Experience Upgrading to Windows 10

  1. Hey Paul,
    Thanks for documenting your experiences here and in the How to Upgrade post. I’m finally upgrading a few of our home PCs to Win10 before time runs out. One of the laptops was pretty crusty with lots of old junk on it (a gaming laptop that my son used all through college) so I wanted to wipe it. After reading your blog posts I did the in-place upgrade from Win7 to 10.

    The first time I didn’t use the media creation tool, but just used the upgrade version that Windows Updates downloaded. It did not give me the option to decide what to keep, so everything was still there – all the apps installed and data. Wanting a fresh install, I then installed from within Windows using the media creation tool kit and a thumb drive. This did give me the option to choose what to keep and I selected None. After a smooth install, I noticed I still had a LOT of hard drive space used up and was surprised to see all of my son’s old data there! Its like I told it to keep my files but not the settings, but I’m sure I chose NONE!

    Since I figured that many old files might be mixed into various directories that Win10 still uses, I didn’t want to try and dig through deciding what to keep and what to delete. So now I’m going back through the install a third time by booting from the thumb drive and doing a fresh install, formatting the partition during the process.

    This is the first of (at least) 3 Win10 installs I’ll be doing (and the least important computer) so it is good to get the experience. I just wanted to share my findings. I bet there will be a LOT of people doing the free upgrade this month before the opportunity expires, although like you said, Microsoft could choose to extend it at the last minute. Thanks again for documenting your process; this was very helpful as I researched the options!

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