You’re not interested in a clean install, you don’t want to fuss with wiping your computer, you just want to take the plunge and upgrade to Windows 10. It might be a relatively straight forward process, but it’s always useful to bring a guide. Read on as we walk you through the upgrade process.

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 point people at the installer and tell 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.

RELATED: How to do a Clean Install of Windows 10 the Easy Way

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 Get Started?

To upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10, there is a very small list of things you need (or need to do) to get started, as well as few best practices to take care of along the way.

Make Sure Your Copy of Windows is Activated

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+W to pull up the Setting search, type “activated” into the search box, and then open the “See if Windows Is Activated” result. 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, hit Start, right click the “Computer” option, and then select the “Properties” command. The resulting window shows if your copy of Windows is activated.

Back Up Your PC

Hopefully, you’re already backing up your PC regularly. If not, be sure to make a full backup before you get started. The update procedure is non-destructive (you won’t lose personal files or installed apps), and we don’t anticipate you’ll run into any problems. But, better safe than sorry. At the very least, make sure you have your important files backed up.

RELATED: What's the Best Way to Back Up My Computer?

Better yet, consider making a full image backup of your PC using either Windows’ built in System Image Backup or a third party tool like Macrium Reflect. With a full image backup, you know that you can restore the image and have your PC running again just like it was when you made the backup.

Turn Off Any Third Party Antivirus Tools

RELATED: How to Use the Built-in Windows Defender Antivirus on Windows 10

Some third party antivirus tools have been known to interfere with the Windows update process. It’s better to turn them off or uninstall them before performing your update. You can always reinstall a Windows 10 version after the update is done if you want to use something other than Windows Defender.

Grab the Windows 10 Update Assistant

The Windows 10 update tool is pretty straight forward, and you can find the download right here.

One other thing to note before getting started, though. The update tool will figure out the right version of Windows you need to update to. It determines if your current version of Windows is 32-bit or 64-bit, and updates you to the same version. You cannot move from a 32-bit installation of Windows 7 or 8 to a 64-bit installation of Windows 10 using the update tool—even if your PC supports it. If you’re running a 32-bit version of Windows and want to move to 64-bit, you’ll have to do a clean install instead. If you’re curious to know which version you’re using before getting started, check out our guide to figuring out if you’re running 32-bit or 64-bit Windows.

RELATED: What's the Difference Between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows?

RELATED: Should You Upgrade to the Professional Edition of Windows 10?

Likewise, the update tool will figure out the appropriate edition of Windows, as well. If you’re running the Pro edition of Windows 7 or 8, you’ll be updated to the Pro edition of Windows 10. If you’re running a Home edition, you’ll be updated to the Home edition of Windows 10. You can’t change editions during an update. You’ll either need to do a clean install (if you purchase a valid copy of the Windows 10 Pro edition) or unlock the Pro edition by purchasing it at a later date.

In short, whatever bit-version and edition of Windows you are running on your about-to-be-upgraded machine, that is the version of Windows 10 you’ll end up with after the update.

Running the Upgrade Installer

When you’re ready to upgrade, run the installer tool (named MediaCreationTool) to get started.

You’ll first be prompted to upgrade the PC now, or create installation media for another PC. Select “Upgrade this PC now” to begin the upgrade process, and click the “Next” button. The tool begins downloading the Windows 10 installation files. The time that takes just depends on 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 last update check before kicking you over to the final confirmation page.

By default the installer selects the largest “what to keep” selection it can, meaning it will keep all your personal files and installed apps safely in place. If that’s what you want to do, go ahead and click “Install” to get started with the installation. Otherwise, click the small “Change what to keep” link specify what you want to keep during the update process.

If you clicked the “Change what to keep” link, you’ll see a screen that lets you make a choice about what you want to keep during the update. Your choices include:

  • Keep personal files and apps: This option retains all your personal files, all installed applications, and your current Windows settings. Choosing this option is the same as if you’d skipped the screen altogether.
  • Keep personal files only: This option retains all your personal files, but removes any installed applications and current Windows settings. You’ll need to reinstall the applications you want after Windows is done updating.
  • Nothing: This option removes all your personal files, all installed applications, and your Windows settings. It’s the closest you can get to performing a clean install using the update procedure and, honestly, you might be better off just doing a clean install if you’re thinking of using this setting. The update tool does move your personal files a folder named windows.old, so you can recover them for a while after the update. Still, you should make sure any important files are backed up, anyway. You can find more info online at

Select your option, and then click the “Next” button to continue. You’ll be returned to the recap screen you saw in the last step and you can then click “Install” to get started with the update.

During the update, your PC will reboot a few times as the installer works. When it’s done, you’ll have the chance to do a little configuration.

Configuring Windows After The Upgrade

Before you can sign in to Windows for the first time after updating, you’ll be asked to configure a few options. There are quite a few little setups and tweaks you can perform here, and we recommend you take advantage of them. The first thing you’ll be prompted to do is verify your user account. This should be the same account you used under Windows 7 or 8.1. If you want to set up a new account, you can click the little “I’m not…” link at the bottom left of the screen. That would let you, for example, create a new online Microsoft account rather than use your existing local account.

If you create a new account, the screens you run into will be slightly different than if you just select the existing account (which is what we’re going to detail here). Nonetheless, many of the options will be the same.

RELATED: Understanding Windows 10's Privacy Settings

After selecting your account, the next thing you’ll be asked to do is verify some privacy settings. You have to scroll down a bit to see them all, but they’re all included in the two images below. Mostly, it’s about what kind of stuff Microsoft can send to your PC and what your PC can send to them. The super privacy-concsous among you may want to just turn everything off (and that’s fine), but take the time to poke through the options. If you need help, be sure to check out our guide to Windows 10’s privacy settings.

RELATED: How to Use and Configure Cortana on Windows 10

Next, you can choose whether or not you want to turn on Cortana—Microsoft’s digital assistant. If you don’t turn her on now, you can always do it later.

RELATED: How to Set Your Default Apps in Windows 10

And finally, you’re introduced to some of Windows 10’s new built-in apps—apps that will become the default for opening the types of files they support unless you click the little “Let me choose my default apps” link at the bottom left of the screen. Again, it’s also easy to change your default apps later on, so don’t fret too much over this decision.

After that, Windows will check for the latest updates, possibly restart your PC, and then you’ll be ready to sign in to Windows 10.

Now is the time to check on your apps to see if they survived the upgrade process (and update them if necessary), as well as to plug in your peripherals and make sure that all your hardware works (and update the drivers if necessary). You can then get down to enjoying Windows 10.

Have a pressing question about Windows 10? Shoot us an email at and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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