How to install Windows 10
Could Windows 10 really be the last ever version of Windows? That is will it be an operating system that upgrades and evolves without needing a major version increase?
Read on to find out more, including how to cleanly and safely install Windows 10 on your machine.
Windows 10 is currently split into seven different editions, the key two being Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro edition, which mostly mirror the home versions of Windows that we’re used to.
Windows 10 Home ($119, approx £99.99, AU$179) is the standard version that Microsoft intends for use in, yes, the home. There’s little left out: you’ll get hot new features such as Cortana and the Edge web browser, as well as Windows-standard security tools such as secure boot and Windows Defender.
If you’re currently using Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic or Home Premium, or the standard Windows 8.1, this is the version you’ll get as part of your free upgrade. Windows 10 Pro ($199, £189.99, AU$299) is designed for slightly more advanced operation, and includes a few more features, including the ability to host a Remote Desktop session, additional data security with Bitlocker and the Encrypted File System (EFS), additional networking components, and Hyper-V, which allows the creation of virtual machines.
In addition, the Pro edition will off er the option to defer updates for a limited time (the Home version applies updates automatically without user intervention) and ups the RAM support from 128GB to 512GB. Professional or Ultimate versions of Windows 7 and 8.1 will tick over to Windows 10 Pro.
Other versions include Windows 10 Enterprise, which is tailored specifically for business use on stability-critical systems, and a similar skew for academia, Windows 10 Education – both are available only to those who qualify for volume licensing, so they’re unavailable for use in the home.
Windows 10’s core code is also making its way to mobile devices with the Mobile and Mobile Enterprise editions, which will replace Windows Phone 8. Proving Windows 10’s versatility even further, there’s Windows 10 IoT Core, a stripped-back version tailored to small devices that make up the Internet of Things; think the likes of the Raspberry Pi, low-powered computers designed for specific tasks.
Get installing Windows 10
Installing Windows 10, as you’ll find out, is a reasonably straightforward process, akin to version upgrades you may have previously performed. Upgrading from within Windows is even easier – it’s a slick and seamless process that requires little to no input.
In our testing, we lost no files or installed programs, although be aware that you may see a few default Windows apps disappearing – Windows 7’s versions of, for example, Solitaire and Hearts will not transfer to Windows 10, because Windows 10 has its own.
Thankfully Windows 10 maintains a high level of compatibility with previous versions, and we’re yet to encounter any software that doesn’t work exactly as it did on the Windows 8.1 desktop. If you’re eligible for the free upgrade – that is, if you’re running a properly licensed copy of Windows 8, 8.1 or 7 with at least Service Pack 1 installed – you’ll see a windows logo in the taskbar at the bottom-right corner of your desktop.
Click it, register your intention to upgrade, and you’ll get the full, unfettered Windows 10 absolutely free. But there’s more than one way to upgrade, and several things to bear in mind when you do so. Here we cover everything you need to know!
Which way to install Windows 10?
We’re going to show you how you can install Windows 10 if you don’t want to go for the simple in-OS upgrade.
This will be either a clean install or a virtual machine install. The latter will leave your current machine pristine – perfect for testing out the advanced features of Windows 10 without the risk of losing any data.
The clean install
Let’s start with a clean install. If you have a copy of Windows 10 on DVD, put it in your optical drive, restart your machine, and it’ll boot from the disc. If it doesn’t, you’ll likely need to change a setting in your computer’s BIOS/UEFI to put the optical drive first in the boot order.
We can’t be specific about exactly what setting to change and how, given the wide variety of BIOS and UEFI systems out there, but watch out for a message displayed on your PC’s screen at boot time – you might see a small window in which to hit an allotted key, usually [F2] or [Del]. If you know the model of your PC, or the model of your motherboard in the case of custom-built desktop PCs, check your manufacturer’s website for further instructions.
The above process is also true if you’ve transferred an ISO image to USB for installation; while there are a few more steps to take before you can get started as long as your install media is set to boot first, you’ll be fine. You’ll probably need to ensure you have your drive inserted into a port before you boot to BIOS in order to set this up.
The actual installation process couldn’t be easier, particularly if you’ve installed Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 from scratch before. Once you’re running the installer, just follow the instructions displayed on screen. The Windows 10 install process is even more simple and foolproof than ever before, and if you’re careful not to let it overwrite a partition you’re using, you’ll likely have no problem.
But wait! Hold fire if you’re looking to dual boot Windows 10 with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1; before you install, unless you already happen to have a spare partition, you’ll need to use the Disk Management tool within your old OS to resize your primary partition and separate off a little space for Windows 10 to install into.
The tools are almost identical in each OS. But wait… again! Before you can resize your main partition effectively, you’ll need to make sure all of your files are arranged by defragmenting it, leaving a portion of space at the end to be reallocated.
Right click your primary drive in Windows Explorer, select ‘Properties’, open the Tools tab, and click ‘Defragment now’. Now just click Defragment Disk to start the process.
Launch the Disk Management tool by opening the run dialog with [Windows]+[R] then typing diskmgmt.msc. The interface shows the partitions that exist on your machine – you’ll probably have at least two, a small recovery partition and a much larger main partition, and it’s the latter we’re interested in.
Check in the volumes list at the top of the window that your chosen partition has enough free space (at least 16GB for 32-bit Windows 10 and 20GB for 64-bit, though we’d obviously recommend allocating a fair amount more). If you’re short on space, you’ll need to clear some files before continuing.
Right click your target drive in the Disk Management tool and select ‘Shrink Volume’, then input the amount of space you’re looking to claw back. Be aware that the tool is looking for this in MB rather than GB, so add three zeroes to the end of your intended space in GB.
Click ‘OK’ and the tool will go to work, and you’ll be left with an area on your drive labelled ‘unallocated space’. We now need to turn this into a partition. Right click it, select ‘new simple volume’, and click ‘Next’. You can give this new partition any letter you like.
Keep clicking ‘Next’ until you see the formatting options. Make sure you choose ‘NTFS’ as the file system, and label your drive (‘Windows 10’ perhaps?) before formatting the space. If you ever want to revert the changes and get the space back, you can use Disk Management’s Delete Volume and Extend Volume tools to expand your primary partition once more.
A final option, if you’re looking to test Windows 10 in a non-destructive way, is to install it inside a virtual machine. You can do this with any kind of media – DVD, USB or ISO – and though you’ll suffer a performance hit, this method gives you the chance to experiment without any risk.
Grab the latest version of VirtualBox, install it (and its components), and run it. Click the ‘New’ button, type in a name, select the appropriate version of Windows 10 in the Version drop down list, and click ‘Next’. Leave all of the settings at their defaults, and click ‘Next’ and ‘OK’ until you see your new install added to the main VirtualBox interface.
Now, with that VM selected, click ‘Settings’, go to the Storage page, click the disc marked ‘Empty’ under ‘Controller: IDE’, then the CD icon on the right-hand side of the window. Choose the appropriate install drive (or disc image, if you’re using an ISO file) then click ‘OK’. Click the ‘Start’ button, and your install will commence.
If you’ve downloaded an ISO version of Windows 10, you’ll need to turn this into valid bootable media before you can install it. If you have a writeable disc like a DVD-R, this is super easy: just pop it into your PC’s drive, right-click the ISO, and select the appropriate option to burn it straight to the disc.
To transfer your ISO to a bootable USB stick, first make sure your target stick has a capacity of at least 8GB, and remove any files you want to keep, as the drive will be completely wiped as part of the process. Next, download Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool – ignore the name, this is valid for any version of Windows – install it, run it, and select the ISO file you’ve downloaded as the source and your USB drive as the destination. Let it run, and you’ll soon have a bootable USB stick ready to install Windows 10 on your target machine.
What to do before you install
While it’s highly unlikely that anything will go wrong in the course of an upgrade to Windows 10, we’d still recommend being safe – a new Windows 10 install is a good excuse for a backup! If you’re heading for a clean install or an upgrade, you’ll want to make sure you don’t lose anything valuable in the process.
Safe data is data stored in three distinct places – its original location, and two geographically distinct copies. This means an additional partition isn’t really going to cut it, given that it’s the exact same physical location as the original data; you need to use a high-capacity external drive, and some kind of online cloud storage.
Most free services – Dropbox, Google Drive and the like – only offer a limited amount of space, so only place your most critical files online if you’re not willing to pay. Services such as Carbonite or CrashPlan, which generally charge a monthly subscription fee, offer a much more extensive range of backup options, and will generally do all the hard work for you.
Finding the files
The key location to have backed up is your personal folder, which will sit within the Users folder on your main drive. This includes all of your libraries – Documents, Photos and the like – and your Windows desktop. But do be warned it won’t cover absolutely everything safely.
There’s a small chance you’re extremely organised, and you know where every file of a given type resides on your hard drive. There’s a much larger chance that everything is scattered in various separate places, so you’ll need to dig everything up.
Use Windows’ search facility to find what you’re looking for; open up Computer in an Explorer window and use the search bar at the top to search for, for example, *.jpg to find all of your photos, or *.mp3 for your music.
Select the files from your searches and copy them to your external drive and, if you have available space, to your chosen cloud service.
If you have a big enough external drive, there’s a way to be ready for any eventuality – completely back up a mirror image of your current hard drive, Windows and all. We’d recommend Macrium Reflect Free for this; it’s a particularly straightforward way to clone a drive, and while it doesn’t have advanced features like incrimental backups – these are saved for the paid-for versions – it does what you need it to do.
How to fix those post-install blues
Occasionally, things don’t work out. And this might be the case with Windows 10. We’re not judging you. Maybe something’s gone wrong.
Perhaps you tried the Insider Preview and now want to clean it off and install the full version, or maybe you’re suff ering from installer’s remorse and want what you once had.
If you’ve upgraded from a previous version of Windows, anything from XP up, there’s a chance you can simply roll back to your previous installation – settings, software and all, including any files, such as photos or documents you’ve added to your Win 10 installation – without any trouble.
After installing Windows 10, and before doing anything else, rename the folder ‘windows.old’, which will be sitting in your C: drive. Call it something like ‘win8. old’. Windows looks for ‘windows. old’ when doing a rollback, and it’ll be replaced any time you install a new build of Windows – meaning that installing a new version of Windows 10 will overwrite it.
Once you’ve renamed the folder, it won’t be overwritten. Alternatively, you could copy this folder to an external drive.
If you’re ready to switch to your previous version, first change the name of your renamed folder back to ‘windows.old’ (first renaming the current ‘windows.old’ folder, if there is one), or copy it back onto your drive if you’ve stored it elsewhere.
Next, use Windows 10’s search function to find ‘recovery options’, and click the top entry in the list. Under ‘go back to an earlier build’, click ‘Get Started’, click through the options, answer the questions, and be prepared for a bit of a wait.
Alternatively, you’ll likely be given a Windows Rollback option when you boot your machine, particularly if you’re using a preview build of Windows 10 – this will do the exact same thing.
Note that you’ll lose any programs you may have installed on Windows 10, so you’ll need to install these again on your new (old) operating system, but you should find that personal files stay.
You’ll also have to use your old password; if you’ve changed it for Windows 10, this change won’t be passed back.
Bear in mind that Windows 10 will leave its mark in the form of a folder called ‘windows.xxx’, stored in your C: drive. This can be reasonably large – around 20GB – so you’ll want to get rid of it once you’ve booted into your old OS.
The disk cleanup tool will do this automatically. The reverse is also true, of course; if you’re settled in Windows 10 and are sure you won’t want to go back to your old OS, you can safely clear off your ‘windows.old’ folder and free up a little room.
If things have gone so wrong that you’re unable to use Windows 10’s rollback feature – if, for instance, you’ve inadvertently replaced your windows.old folder with one containing a previous build of Windows 10 – you’ll need to restore from a backup.
If you followed our advice about using Macrium Reflect on the previous page, this will be reasonably straightforward. Begin by setting up the Macrium Reflect recovery environment on a USB stick or DVD-R (use another computer if your current one is not working properly) boot into that, and use your backup to re-write the old operating system to the drive.
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