windows vista

Microsoft won’t be offering a free Windows 10 upgrade to any old Windows Vista PCs you might have around. Only Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs get to join the new Windows 10 era for free.

But Windows 10 will certainly run on those Windows Vista PCs. After all, Windows 7, 8.1, and now 10 are all more lightweight and faster operating systems than Vista is.

The Cost

RELATED: Windows 10 Is Almost Here: Here's What You Need to Know

Upgrading a Windows Vista PC to Windows 10 will cost you. Microsoft is charging $119 for a boxed copy of Windows 10 you can install on any PC.

Still considering upgrading? You might have used — or still be using — the Windows 10 preview as a “Windows Insider.” Microsoft has made some confusing statements, but the reality is that you won’t be able to upgrade to the final release of Windows 10 unless you have a Windows 7 or 8.1 license. Windows Vista licenses aren’t allowed to upgrade.

However, it seems you can continue using preview releases of Windows as a Windows Insider. If you upgraded a Windows Vista machine to the Windows 10 preview, it’ll remain on the unstable, preview release path unless you pay for a Windows 10 license. Want to use Windows 10 for free on a Windows Vista-era PC? Stay on the unstable, Windows Insider testing builds! You’ll continue getting new features before everyone else — but they won’t always be stable.

It’s Time For a Hardware Upgrade, Not a Software Upgrade

If Windows 10 was free, it’d be a fine upgrade for your old Windows Vista PCs. But it isn’t. So you have to consider whether $119 for a Windows 10 license is really worth it.

Windows 7 was launched in July 2009, which means all those Windows Vista PCs out there will be six to eight years old when Windows 10 launches.

Those Windows Vista PCs are getting quite long in the tooth and lack modern processors, graphics hardware, and — most importantly — solid-state storage. Modern computers are becoming less and less expensive. There’s a good chance you can get a laptop or desktop PC that comes with Windows 10 for just a few hundred bucks. At $119 just for a Windows 10 license, it’s really not worth the upgrade unless you have a big, beefy, powerful PC that for some reason still runs Windows Vista. But, even if it was powerful back then, that old PC has been far surpassed by modern hardware.

That $119 you’d put toward a software upgrade just isn’t worth it — you’ll get much more improvement out of a hardware upgrade. Yes, it costs more than $119, but you’re better off putting that $119 toward some new hardware that will come with Windows 10 and saving up for a while.

If you do decide to shell out for a Windows 10 license, you’ll have to perform a clean install instead of an upgrade install. You should back up your files ahead of time. Windows won’t attempt to automatically migrate your settings and files.

When an Upgrade Might Be Worth It

If you plan on building your own computer instead of buying one that comes with Windows 10, you’ll need to buy a Windows 10 license anyway. So, if you are sure you’re building your own computer, you could buy a Windows 10 license now, install Windows 10 on your Vista computer, and then remove Windows 10 from your old computer when you get a new PC and use the Windows 10 license on the new computer. That’s the only situation where it would make sense to upgrade a Windows Vista computer to Windows 10 — and most people won’t even want to build their own PCs.

Corporations with Windows volume-licensing agreements will also get access to Windows 10, and they could upgrade their Windows Vista PCs to Windows 10 for what might be no extra licensing cost. This might be worth it.

If, somehow, you can get your hands on a cheap Windows 10 retail license, you could absolutely use it to upgrade an existing Windows Vista PC. As long as you remove it from the old PC in the future, you can then use that license to install Windows 10 on a new PC.

Vista PCs Get Security Updates Until 2017

Windows Vista is still under “extended support” until April 11, 2017. This means your old Windows Vista PCs are still getting security updates for a few more years. They aren’t completely unsupported, like Windows XP PCs are.

If you are on Vista, you have some time before your PC becomes completely unsupported. Modern software does still support Windows Vista, too. Vista will never get Microsoft’s Edge browser, but it can use the latest versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox just fine.

Those old Windows Vista PCs can make good Linux PCs, too.

Yes, if Microsoft offered Windows 10 for free — or even for a small fee — to Windows Vista computer, it would be worth the upgrade. But, even then, you’d probably want to consider replacing that aging hardware anyway. If you’re still using a Windows Vista-era PC, Microsoft wants to encourage you to upgrade your hardware to have a better experience with Windows 10.

In some cases, hardware may not work properly if the manufacturer fails to provide Windows 10 drivers but does provide Windows Vista drivers. But Windows Vista and 10 have similar driver architectures — the big change was from Windows XP to Vista — so this problem shouldn’t be as common as was with the shift from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Image Credit: Stephan Edgar on Flickr

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Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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