How to Upgrade to Windows 10

I have now upgraded quite a number of computers to Windows 10 and it really has gone very smoothly, perhaps the smoothest of any Windows upgrade I have ever done.  For a story of my experience on my own computer, you can read a post I wrote soon after the experience.  Since then I have had a number of questions from people asking if and when they should do the upgrade and how to do it.  This post is an attempt to handle as many of those questions as possible.

The Windows 10 upgrade is free for people on Windows 7 and above.  You have one year to claim that free upgrade, that means you have until July 29, 2016.  I believe Windows 10 has been out long enough and installed on enough devices to be safe, but you also have almost 11 more months to do the upgrade.  So there is no rush.

Here are the steps that I have used for the computers that I have upgraded and what I am recommending to others:

1) Backup your computer:  You should already have a backup plan for your computer, but if not, now is the time to start.  There are many articles online about how to do a backup, so I won’t try to explain it all here.  I have been doing two types of backup before the upgrade.  First I do a full system image in case I have to restore to a working computer or if there was some obscure file that I missed in my second type of backup.  Second, I simply make a copy of my documents, desktop, pictures and music folder to an external drive.  This is a lot easier to just copy over on the newly updated computer.

2) List your computer programs: I make a note of all of the computer programs that I use on a regular basis.  This gives me an installation list for after the upgrade so that I can get everything setup quickly.  If I don’t do this, I seem to go through a week where everything I do seems to require installing a program first.  By making a list you also take note of any programs that need a license code that you might only have electronically. Those are easier to find before you wipe everything. There is also some software, such as programs from Adobe, that you need to deactivate so that you have a license to re-activate once you have installed it on your refreshed computer.

3) Update your BIOS: This step is not for the faint of heart, and is not necessary if you are not comfortable with it.  Windows 8 and 10 interact with your system BIOS (the part of your computer that controls how each piece of hardware boots up and interacts with Windows) in a different way than previous versions of Windows.  If your computer is less than a year old or came with Windows 8 this is less important than if it came with Windows 7.  If you have no idea what I am talking about, then just skip this step.  This is one of those things that if you do wrong, you can toast your computer, and yes I can say that from personal experience.

4) Create your upgrade media: There is a good chance that Microsoft has placed a nice little icon in your system tray to help you upgrade to Windows 10.  Instead of using that, I have been creating a USB drive to do the upgrade (note that you will need a USB drive that is at least 4GB that can be erased).  That allows me to download once and install on many computers, and just makes the end process simpler.  Head on over to Microsoft’s media creation tool website and download the file that you need.  This program helps you to create a USB drive that can then be used to upgrade any other computer.  Microsoft has a page explaining what tool to choose based on your current version of Windows.

5) Do the upgrade: Once your USB drive has been created you can use it to upgrade our computer.  You will need to run the upgrade from within Windows.  Because it is free for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, Microsoft needs to verify that you are currently running a legitimate copy of one of those operating systems.

During the upgrade, you can choose to keep (a) all of your programs, settings and files, (b) just your personal files, or (c) nothing.  I have done option (a) on several computers and it works fine.  The problem is that if you have anything not working quite right on your computer now, that carries over.  I like option (c) because it gives you a completely clean computer.  When starting with a new operating system I really like to start out that way.  This is especially helpful if you received a bunch of bloatware with your computer and have never been able to get rid of it.  There is an article from Tom’s Hardware that will show you screenshots of what it looks like to upgrade from within Windows.

If you are planning to install a new hard drive at the same time that you upgrade Windows, you will need to upgrade Windows first on your current hard drive, then put in the new hard drive and install Windows onto that.  Again, Microsoft needs to verify that you have a properly licensed version of Windows to qualify for the free upgrade.  When you put in the new hard drive and install Windows on it, you will be asked twice for a product key, just skip that.  It will still activate because the new key is tied to your computer.

6) Setting things up: If you choose to keep nothing, you will go through the setup after the computer reboots as if it is a new computer.  There has been a lot of outcry about the privacy settings, but they actually are not all that different from Windows 8.  I ended up turning most of them off.  For more information, there is a great post that explains what to choose, even if you have already finished with the installation.

One of the things you will need to setup is a new user account on the computer.  There is a question for those on Windows 10 Pro on whether the computer is owned by you or your company.  Choose that it is owned by you, which will allow you to setup a local user account or connect with a Microsoft account.  I have liked the benefit of using a Microsoft account, but I also see the point of just creating a local account.  If you work for a company that uses Office 365 (as LBT does), contact your IT support person to see what you should do about this later.

Windows 10 allows you to share your Windows Updates with other computers.  That is great on the one hand because one computer in your home can download the updates and then share them with others.  That is a huge bonus especially if you use a metered internet connection (for example, you are on a cellular data plan and pay per MB).  There is a huge downside though…the default setting in Windows 10 is to share those updates with other computers on the internet too!  That means that if you are on a metered connection you are now paying to share updates to others.  There is an article from PCWorld on how to change this setting.  You may also want to set your Wifi connection to metered in Windows 10 as that has an effect on a lot of services within the operating system and software that checks this setting.

7) Put things back together: And now you get to reinstall all of your software and put your files back on the computer.  This is where that list in step 2 above comes in handy.  Even though I had DVD’s for most of my purchased software, I found it much easier to just go online and download the latest version (of course, at the moment I am in world of fast internet).  Another great service is Ninite where you can choose common free/open source software like browsers and utilities and have them automatically installed for you (side note: many installers for free programs like Java also install junkware on your computer if you are not careful, but Ninite only does clean program installs).  Copy back your files from step 1 and you should be back in business.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Is Windows 10 worth the hassle of installing?

A: If you are happy with your computer now, you don’t need to upgrade.  You may want to just wait until the next time you buy a new computer and get it with Windows 10.  If you are on Windows 8, I can tell you now that Windows 10 does a great job of cleaning up many of the annoyances that you may have.

Q: Should I upgrade now, or should I wait?

A: If you have a big project coming up now is not the time to do a major upgrade.  It is a good idea to allow for a week where you do not have a hectic schedule to do an upgrade like this.  That does not mean that the upgrade takes that long.  I have finished all of mine within an 8 hour work day, and some have even taken just a few hours.  But there is always something that you forget to re-install or maybe works just a little different in Windows 10.  So allow yourself a week to figure out those types of things.  You have a year to do the upgrade to get the free version, so don’t rush into this if you don’t want to.

Q: Will my computer work with Windows 10?

A: If your computer was purchased in the last two years it is pretty definite that it will work.  I would even extend that to any computer that came with Windows 7.  There might be some issues with drivers, but I doubt it.  If you got the little Windows 10 upgrade notification in your system tray, then it means that Microsoft has upgraded a computer with the same parts as yours and it has worked so you can be pretty confident.

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3 thoughts on “How to Upgrade to Windows 10

  1. Always Good advice, Paul. A colleague here in Liberia (yes, with Internet sometimes slow) said he upgraded from Windows 8.1 just by clicking on the Windows 10 Upgrade Notification. He said it worked well and he has not problems.

    If I do it, I will follow your advice, but sometimes it is good to know others’ experiences.

  2. Thanks for sharing this great info, Paul.
    I have a comment, and also a question.

    Re making a note of all the programs you use regularly – I agree with this, but I would go a step further – making a Belarc Advisor profile is quick, and will save a list of all your installed programs, some of them even with license codes, as well as a list of hardware. It comes in handy in case the new OS doesn’t install the right driver for some obscure piece of hardware in your system.

    And my question is about internet access while doing the upgrade…
    As an experiment, I did a Win 10 upgrade on a newish Dell laptop a few days ago, and I deliberately kept it off the internet during the upgrade process.
    The upgrade still installed OK, and Control Panel > System, Windows showed as activated – no nag screen to go online and register with MS, etc.
    So I went online, brought up Device Manager, and there were two unknown devices. I clicked on them and chose to get a driver from Windows Update, and it installed fine for both devices. I was impressed.

    I wonder what would have happened if I had kept my newly installed Windows 10 offline, then put in a new HDD and installed Windows 10 from scratch?
    As the computer hadn’t been online during the upgrade, it would appear to MS as if the upgrade had never happened – so it would not install the license – right?
    Or does Windows 10 somehow put its key into the BIOS during install?

    I wonder if there is a way post-Windows 10 install to check whether the machine has registered the license with MS, before installing a new hard drive?
    I can imagine this would be an issue for those with flaky internet.
    Or is this not even an issue?

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