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How to do a clean installation of Windows 10

Windows 10 clean install process
Windows 10 clean install process (Image credit: Windows Central)

A clean installation of Windows 10 is the process of erasing the hardware and setting up a new fresh copy of the platform when a computer has a problem. For example, you can resolve performance, memory, startup, shut down, and apps issues using this method. Also, it's perhaps the best approach to remove viruses and other types of malware, and it can help to improve battery life.

In addition, it's an excellent solution to remove preloaded bloatware (unnecessary preloaded software) from Windows 10. You can use this method to decommission a computer without giving away your data. Or you can set up a new installation after replacing the hard drive.

Furthermore, if you had the same setup for some time, a clean installation is the recommended option to upgrade to the latest version of Windows 10 or upgrade from an older version (such as Windows 7 and Windows 8.1), minimizing the risks of problems during and after the process.

In this Windows 10 guide, we will walk you through the complete process to perform a clean installation.

How to prepare computer for clean install of Windows 10

As you prepare to proceed with a clean installation of Windows 10, it's recommended to complete some essential tasks to minimize issues and potential data loss.

If you already have a backup of the computer and files. You have an activation product key. The device can start from a USB flash drive, and non-essential peripherals are disconnected, then you can skip this part and jump to the bootable media creation and a clean install process.

Create backup

The install process of Windows 10 deletes everything on the drive, which means that backing up the entire device (or at least your files) is a crucial step unless you don't have anything important you want to keep.

Back up entire system

You should create a temporary backup to revert the settings or recover files if something goes wrong during the installation.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

You can choose many different solutions, but the easiest way to create a full backup is to use the legacy System Image Backup tool available on Windows 10. It's a deprecated feature, but it continues to work. The tool is also available for Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.

Back up files to OneDrive

If you need to back up your documents, pictures, and other important files, you can upload the data to OneDrive or another cloud storage service.

In case you use OneDrive, you can also use the backup settings page to sync your profile folders, including Documents, Pictures, and Desktop, to the cloud automatically.

To configure OneDrive backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Back up files to OneDrive" section, click the Back up files option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. (Optional) Click to clear the folder you don't want to back up in the cloud.
  2. Click the Start backup button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Once you complete the steps, OneDrive will back up the files on the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures user folders in the cloud.

Back up files to external storage

If you have a lot of data, syncing the files to the cloud can be expensive and take a long time, and the available space may not even be enough. If this is the case, perhaps the best option would be to copy the files to an external USB hard drive.

To create a file backup manually, connect an external drive with enough storage space to your Windows 10 computer, and use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Type the following path in the address bar and press Enter:%HOMEPATH%

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Select all button from the "Home" tab.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Copy to button from the "Home" tab.
  2. Select the Choose location option.
  3. Select the destination location.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Copy button.

After you complete the steps, repeat the instructions to back up the remaining accounts (as necessary). In addition to copying your files, it's also a good idea to create a list of the installed programs with their respective product keys (if applicable) to know the apps to reinstall after the installation.

If you usually don't sync passwords and bookmarks with an online service, now's a good time to export your browser credentials and links as you'll need them later to access your online services.

In case you don't have an external hard drive or one without enough space, we recommend the Western Digital Elements Desktop Hard Drive because of its portability, capacity, and price.

Check Windows 10 activation

Although after activating Windows 10, you no longer have to provide a product key for reinstallation in the same computer. Once the new installation completes, the system will automatically reactivate when it connects to the internet.

To confirm whether Windows 10 is properly activated, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Activation.
  4. Under the "Windows" section, confirm the activation. If the computer has been properly activated, you'll see one of these messages:
    • Windows is activated with a digital license: The installation has been activated, but it isn't linked to your Microsoft account.
    • Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account: The installation has been activated, and the license is linked to your Microsoft account.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

After you complete the steps, Windows 10 should automatically reactivate after the clean installation if your current setup is activated.

Obtain Windows 10 genuine key

If you have to set up an installation on a computer that never had an activated version of Windows 10, or you plan to upgrade from Windows 8.1 or Windows 7, you will have to purchase a valid license from the Microsoft Store (opens in new tab), Amazon, or another retailer.

Download essential drivers

Windows 10 can detect and install most drivers automatically. However, it's usually recommended to download at least the essential drivers before the process (such as for the network adapter and graphics card), as a precaution, in case the setup fails to add these drivers correctly, especially on custom computer builds.

You can use our guide to install device drivers on Windows 10.

Here's a list of the most popular manufacturers to download the latest device drivers:

Confirm Windows 10 requirements

If the device already has Windows 10, the following major update most likely will meet the minimum hardware requirements. However, if you're about to upgrade a computer running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you want to check that the device meets the minimum requirements.

Here are the minimum requirements to install the Windows 10 November 2021 Update (and higher):

  • Processor: 1GHz or System on a Chip (SoC).
  • Memory: 1GB for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit.
  • Storage: 32GB for 64-bit or 32-bit.
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  • Display: 800x600.

You can use these instructions to check the device technical specifications to confirm you can do a clean install of Windows 10.

Change boot order on firmware

It's also important to make sure that the computer can boot from a USB flash drive. If this is not the case, you'll need to change the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on the motherboard.

Change boot order using UEFI

On computers already running Windows 10 or 8.1, you can access the settings to change the boot order within the desktop interface.

UEFI settings on Windows 10

To change the UEFI settings on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Recovery.
  4. Under the "Advanced startup" section, click the Restart now button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Troubleshoot button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click on Advanced options.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the UEFI Firmware Settings option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Restart button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Inside the motherboard firmware settings, open the Boot page.
  2. Set the boot order to start from the USB flash drive with the Windows 10 installation files.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Save the changes.

After you complete the steps, the computer should now be able to start from a USB bootable media.

UEFI settings on Windows 8.1

To change the UEFI settings on Windows 8.1, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update and recovery.
  3. Click on Recovery.
  4. Under the "Advanced Startup" section, click the Restart now button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Troubleshoot option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click on Advanced options.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the UEFI Firmware Settings option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Restart button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Inside the motherboard firmware settings, open the Boot page.
  2. Set the boot order to start from the USB media with the Windows 10 installation files.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Save the changes.

Once you complete the steps, the device will start from a USB flash drive to proceed with the installation process.

UEFI settings on Windows 7

To change the UEFI settings on Windows 7, use these steps:

  1. Start the PC.
  2. As soon as it starts, press the F1, F2, F3, F10, F12, Esc, or Delete key to access the firmware.Quick tip: You may need to check your manufacturer support website for more specific steps to access the firmware settings.
  3. Inside the motherboard firmware settings, open the Boot page.
  4. Set the boot order to start with the Windows 10 installation files from the USB media.

After you complete the steps, you should be able to start the device using a bootable media.

Configure boot order using BIOS

If you have a legacy BIOS firmware, you can change the boot order with these steps:

  1. Start the PC.
  2. As soon as the computer starts booting up, press one of the function keys (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12), Esc, or Delete key.
  3. Inside the motherboard firmware settings, open the Boot page.
  4. Set the boot order to start with the Windows 10 installation files from the USB media.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Save the changes.

Once you complete the steps, the computer can now start from the USB flash drive to upgrade to Windows 10.

Disconnect non-essential peripherals

Typically, peripherals are among the most common reason for problems during a Windows 10 installation. If you have non-essential peripherals connected to the computer (such as removable storage and other USB and Bluetooth devices, printers, scanners, cameras, and others), it's recommended to disconnect them.

You only need a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and internet connection. After the setup, you can reconnect the peripherals (one at a time) to ensure they don't cause any issues.

How to create USB for clean install of Windows 10

You will need a USB bootable media to perform a clean installation of Windows 10. You can easily create one using many tools, including the Microsoft Media Creation Tool and Rufus.

Create Windows 10 USB with Media Creation Tool

To create an installation media using the Media Creation Tool, connect a USB flash drive of at least 8GB of space, and use these steps:

  1. Open the Windows 10 download page (opens in new tab).
  2. Under the "Create Windows 10 installation media" section, click the Download tool now button to save the file on the computer.
  3. Double-click the MediaCreationToolxxxx.exe file to launch the tool.
  4. Click the Accept button to agree to the Microsoft terms.
  5. Select the Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. (Optional) Clear the Use the recommended options for this PC option.
  3. Select the correct language, architecture, and edition of Windows 10.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.

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  1. Click the Next button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Select the USB flash drive (or click the "Refresh drive list" option to make it available).

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Click the Finish button.

Once you complete the steps, the tool will download the files and create an installer with the latest installation files, which you can then use to start the device and configure a fresh copy of Windows 10.

Create Windows 10 USB with Rufus

Alternatively, the Rufus tool can help you create an installation media for computers with UEFI or BIOS firmware.

Rufus is a free tool with many options to help you create a bootable media of Windows 10 faster. However, it's important to remember that it's a third-party option, which Microsoft does not support. As a result, use it at your own risk.

To create a Windows 10 USB installer with Rufus, connect a USB flash drive of at least 8GB of space, and then use these steps:

  1. Open the Rufus download page.
  2. Under the "Download" section, click the link to save the latest release on the computer.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Double-click the Rufus-x.xx.exe file to launch the tool.
  2. Click the Settings button (third button from the left) at the bottom of the page.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Under the "Settings" section, use the Check for updates drop-down menu and select the Daily option.Quick tip: These steps are necessary to enable the option to use the tool to download the ISO file of Windows 10.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Close button.
  2. Close the Rufus tool.
  3. Relaunch the Rufus tool.
  4. Under the "Device" section, use the drop-down menu to select the USB flash drive.
  5. Under the "Boot selection" section, click the down arrow button on the right and select the Download option.Quick tip: If you already have an ISO file, click the Select button, choose the Windows 10 ISO file, and continue with step 24.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Download button.
  2. Use the "Version" drop-down menu and select the Windows 10 option.
  3. Click the Continue button.
  4. Select the 21H2 (Build 19044.xxx - xxxx.xx) option to download the Windows 10 November 2021 Update.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Continue button.
  2. Use the "Edition" drop-down menu and select the Windows 10 Home/Pro option.
  3. Click the Continue button.
  4. Use the "Language" drop-down menu and select the installation language.Quick tip: In the United States, choose the "English" option, not "English International."
  5. Click the Continue button.
  6. Use the "Architecture" drop-down menu and select the 32-bit or 64-bit (recommended).
  7. Click the Download button.
  8. Select the location to download the ISO file.
  9. Click the Save button.
  10. Use the "Image option" drop-down menu to select the Standard Windows installation option.
  11. Use the "Partition scheme" drop-down menu to select the GPT option.
  12. Use the "Target system" drop-down menu to select the UEFI (non CSM) option.Quick note: If the computer includes a legacy BIOS, select the MBR option for partition scheme and BIOS (or UEFI-CSM) option target system.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Under the "Show Advanced drive properties" section, don't change the default settings.
  2. (Optional) Under the "Volume label" field, enter a descriptive name for the drive — for example, "win10_usb."
  3. Under the "File system" and "Cluster size" sections, don't change the default settings.
  4. Click the Show advanced format options button.
  5. Select the Quick format and Create extended label and icon files options.
  6. Click the Start button.
  7. Click the OK button to confirm.
  8. Click the Close button.

After you complete the steps, Rufus will download the ISO file from the Microsoft servers, and it'll create the bootable media to perform a clean install of Windows 10.

How to perform clean install of Windows 10

The installation process of Windows 10 has two main parts, including the setup and out-of-box experience (OOBE). In the setup process, that's where you will select some of the basic settings, and you'll find the options to erase the hard drive, configure the partitions, and clean install Windows 10. The out-of-box experience happens after the setup is complete, and it's the stage where you'll configure your settings, such as region, network, account, privacy, and other settings.

Windows 10 clean install process

After the preparation, you can proceed with the clean installation of Windows 10.

Warning: This is another friendly reminder that this process will erase everything on the computer. Before proceeding, it's always recommended to make a temporary full backup of your PC.

To do a clean installation of Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Start the PC with Windows 10 USB media.
  2. On prompt, press any key to boot from the USB flash drive.
  3. On the "Windows Setup," click the Next button.Quick tip: If your language, time and currency, and keyboard are different from the default selections, make sure to select the correct settings.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Install now button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. On a reinstallation, click the I don't have a product key option to continue (assuming that your device was already activated). Otherwise, if this is your first time installing Windows 10, enter the product key.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Select the edition of Windows 10 (If applicable).Quick note: The selection has to match the edition of your product key. If you don't select the correct edition, Windows 10 won't activate, and you'll have to redo the entire process.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Select the I accept the license terms option to continue.
  3. Click the Next button.
  4. Click the Custom: Install Windows only (Advanced) option to continue with a clean installation.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Select the partition with the current installation (usually "Drive 0") and click the Delete button.Quick tip: If "Drive 0" has multiple partitions, you have to select and delete each partition to allow the setup to use the entire hard drive for the new clean installation. The setup will create the required partitions automatically during the process. Also, it's not necessary to delete the partitions on secondary drives.
  2. Click the Yes button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Select the empty drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space).

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.

Once you complete the steps, the setup will install a fresh copy of Windows 10 on the device.

If you plan to decommission the computer, you do not need to continue with the out-of-box experience. If this is an upgrade, continue with the instructions below.

Windows 10 out-of-box experience

After the setup, you have to continue with the out-of-box experience to configure your preferences and create a new account.

To complete the OOBE on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Select your Region option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Yes button.
  2. Select your keyboard layout option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Yes button.
  2. Click the Skip button (unless you need to add a second keyboard layout).Quick note: If you don't have a wired network connection, you'll have to sign into the wireless network.
  3. Select the Set up for personal use option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Confirm your Microsoft account information to create an account.Quick note: The recommended process is to use a Microsoft account. However, if you want to use a traditional local account, you'll need to click the Offline account option from the bottom-left corner and continue with the on-screen directions.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Confirm your account password.
  3. Click the Next button.
  4. Click the Create PIN button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Create a four-digit Windows Hello PIN.Quick tip: If you want to continue using a traditional password, click the Cancel button to skip the process.

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  1. Select the privacy settings for the device (and don't forget to scroll down the page to review all the available settings).
  2. Click the Accept button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. (Optional) Click the Skip button, or select how you will be using the device to receive targeted ads, tips, and other recommendations and click the Accept button.

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  1. (Optional) Click the No, thanks button to skip the phone link process.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. (Optional) Click the Next button to allow OneDrive to back up the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders to the cloud. If you use another cloud service or prefer not to upload files to the cloud, click the Only save files to this PC option in the screen's bottom-left corner.

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  1. Click the Decline button to skip the Microsoft 365 setup (as necessary).Quick tip: If you have an Office product key, you can click the I have a product key option, and then the apps will install automatically.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. (Optional) Click the Not now button to continue without setting up Cortana.

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After you complete the steps, the settings will apply to the clean installation of Windows 10, and you should be able to see the default desktop experience.

How to complete setup after installation of Windows 10

Once the installation is complete, it's also good to check that Windows 10 isn't missing any critical updates or drivers and is properly activated.

Install updates

To download and install the latest updates, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Windows Update.
  4. Click the Check for updates button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Once you complete the steps, any available updates will automatically download and install. Also, a restart may be required to complete the update process.

Check missing drivers

To determine whether drivers are missing on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Device Manager and click the top result to open the app.
  3. Confirm that none of the devices has a yellow or red mark, and make sure nothing is listed as unknown.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If some hardware has problems, you may need to manually install the latest drivers from your computer manufacturer's support website. You can use this guide to install device drivers on Windows 10.

Install missing drivers

On Windows 10, drivers can also be part of the optional updates. If the computer doesn't have all the required drivers, you may be able to download them from Windows Update.

To download missing drivers on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Windows Update.
  4. Click the View optional updates option. If the option isn't available, it means that Windows Update doesn't have any driver updates for the computer.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Driver updates section.
  2. Select the missing driver.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Download and install button.

After you complete the steps, Windows Update will download and install the missing drivers automatically.

Confirm activation

To confirm Windows 10 was activated correctly, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Activation.
  4. If Windows 10 is activated successfully, you will see one of these messages:
    • Windows is activated with a digital license: The installation has been activated, but it isn't linked to your Microsoft account.
    • Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account: The installation has been activated, and the license is linked to your Microsoft account.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

In case Windows 10 didn't activate, the device will try to reactivate at a later time. If you're still having issues after a couple of days, you can use the Activation Troubleshooter to activate.

Reinstall apps

It's now time to reinstall the apps, including your preferred web browser, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera to browse the web.

If you use Spotify (opens in new tab) or iTunes (opens in new tab) to listen to tunes while working or surfing the internet, you can download these apps and others from the Microsoft Store.

Also, it's now a good time to download and install the Microsoft Office apps (opens in new tab) to start working with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and managing your emails with Outlook.

Restore files from backup

The last thing left to do is to restore your documents from backup. If you previously configured file backup with OneDrive, the data should already be available inside the OneDrive folder, but if the app didn't configure automatically, you can use this guide.

If you have a backup of your files on an external drive, reconnect the storage to restore the data into the default folders (Documents, Downloads, Pictures, etc.).

To restore files from backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Under the This PC section in the left pane, select the external drive with the file backup.
  3. Select the folders with the file to restore.
  4. Click the Copy to menu from the "Home" tab.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Select the Choose location option.
  2. Select the destination to restore the files — for example, the Documents folder.
  3. Click the Copy button.

After you complete the steps, the files will restore to the new location.

Although you can start a clean installation using the Media Creation Tool without a USB media and even the "Reset this PC" option from the recovery settings, these methods have their limitations and do not always work as expected. The bootable media is the alternative if you want the best possible clean installation method.

More Windows resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10 and Windows 11, visit the following resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

230 Comments
  • Still not getting windows 10 upgrade on my pc! Though i have reserved it and the get windows 10 notification appears. Help anybody?
  • Please try our Windows 10 forums! You'll get much better answers there, thanks!
  • Appreciate your help! Thanks!
  • It means that some peripherals in your PC are not yet compatible with Win10. This is why they did the whole reservation and wave release. If the validation tool detects something the will not work it prevents the windows 10 upgrade. You will have to wait untill they sort our the drivers and you'll get your windows. If you force Win10 install you might end up with your PC not working. If it's a camera the problem isn't so big but if you have a ...say.....SATA controller that is not yet supported you won't even be able to install Win 10. Seriosly, just wait untill you get it through Windows Update.
  • I reserved it for two computers I got the update for one and so far had nothing on the other, I would not worry b/c the message changed on the reserve windows saying it can take days or weeks before I get it.
  • Just use the Microsoft upgrade tool....
  • I waited for a couple of days but my reserved invite still hasn't come through so I manually updated as it mentioned in this article. I would recommend fully downloading as an ISO file first though as my install failed twice when directly installing from the website. The ISO file did it perfectly. One more thing, make sure you disable any antivirus programs you have running. Webroot kept blocking part of the install process which made mine fail at 20%. Now I have Windows 10 Pro working well although I had to update some drivers manually afterwards too. Hope this helps guys.
  • so you downloaded the iso and then mounted it on a licensed  windows 8.1 and then you whent with the set up and it dindn't request you any key?    
  • The upgrade never asked for any key. Fresh installation will ask.
  • If you're upgrading your current operating system, the upgrade will take the licence key of the current version of Windows your upgrading from. If you do a clean install (as per the instructions in this article) you will need to enter the key. Part of the clean install is formatting the hard drive, which will remove your current operating system.
  • even i had to install some drivers manually
  • Did you check the product key after the upgrade to 10? Are you sure out is not the generic key?
  • It's not a generic key, because all of my windows devices upgraded from the disc, all have a different product id.
  • Check the media creation tool. You will see the option to "Upgrade Now" I did that.
  • Make sure that your windows update is set up to install updates automatically (not download and warn you first or warn if there are updates available before download and install, just set it to install automatically).
  • Try this it worked for me.
    check whether your download is coming, look for a folder called:
    $WINDOWS.~BT
    In the root of your C:\ If its not there, check there are folders dated with todays date, here:
    C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download Files start here, before being unpacked into the location above. If those folders don't exist, type this at the command line:
    wuauclt.exe /updatenow
    (This worked for me, and my download has started) Hope that helps. If you have to hit Windows Update with a hammer, try this:
    1.Uninstalled the KB2976978
    (In an elevated cmd prompt)
    1.net stop wuauserv
    2.rd /s /q C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution
    3.net start wuauserv
  • I have the folder "$WINDOWS.~BT" on my work PC, but that hasn't been opted into upgrade. We're not upgrading any time soon.
  • Just use the upgrade tool on the ISO page. Search for "windows 10 ISO" and you'll find the page with the downloads. You can run the upgrade from there. Good luck!
  • Just download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool, google it you'll find it, and then choose upgrade once it has downloaded, after that you are free to do a clean install, this article should help...
  • Same process for Insiders? Because, the key used to activate my Windows 10 seems to be a generic one (as confirmed by many Reddit users). So, if I clean install Windows 10, would it get activated by itself?
  • Have the same question here...  Even my other computer that didn't have the insider version on it, got a generic product key after upgrading... (posted that on the forums, no one answered).
  • Yeah. I too posted my query on the forums but no one knows about it I guess.
  • everyone will get it best way to check if your windows is activated use slmgr/xpr if its an insider it will expire in 2016 if it a windows 10 genuine if will show permantly activated then your all good ...my windows shows 3v66t as key spoke to ms tech said its normal its your windows 7/8.1 key plus hardware ID that activates windows 10
  • Yup, I had already tried the "slmgr" command a few days ago. It said my machine was permanently activated. I have been an Insider since the very first build was released. I had, then, upgraded from Windows 8.1 Pro. Finally, that means I am eligible for a clean install :D The Mail app doesn't sync at all, the Start menu often crashes and the WiFi goes haywire all of a sudden without warning. This has compelled me to clean install Windows 10. Thanks.
  • I went through the same, I just did a clean install and it let me use the generic key. I haven't checked whether my Windows is activated though lol.
  • Tried a clean install in the surface pro 2 and failed to activate, the generic key stored in the bios didn't worked.
    A word of caution: I had to d/l the surface image from MS and reinstall windows 8, a generic windows install didn't allowed me to activate BitLocker.
  • The key is a default key that is blocked from being activated in another machine. What gets registered in the server is your hardware ID so if you connect to the internet to activate, it will search for your Hardware ID. This also means that any major change on the machine's hardware components will revoke your license for the free upgrade as a major hardware change will cause significant change on the hardware ID of the machine.
  • Geez 16 GB of ram! Hell of a machine! Though I'm very satisfied with mine 4 GB XD
  • It's a lot, but if you use virtual machines, it's a bless :) Also, in the Win10 case, helps you to monitor how agressive the OS is with the RAM. Yesterday Groove was using 10.5GB of my RAM (I too have 16), I reported it to MSFT immediately : /    
  • Hell if you have a discrete video card it will gobble ram
  • The most frustrating is the disk usage. It creeps up to 100% easily without even a single heavy task.
  • RAM is cheap today. 8GB is more or less standard by now.
  • Not to brag, but mine has 32GB of RAM. This is mainly because I also use Hyper-V
  • I've installed the update through Windows update with no hassle. I'd recommend waiting to upgrade until some minor quirks are ironed out, though. Btw very helpful guide, WCentral team, thanks.
  • I did a clean install, but my Windows 10 Pro was missing everything. No Edge, no store, no calculator, no people, no mail, calendar, nothing... Any ideas?
  • Do a reinstall again.
  • Try updating all the apps from the store. They might be corrupted or hidden.
  • There is no store in my Win10 version, not even one "metro" app...
  • You gotta download the apps separately. But edge should've been there. Don't know what the actual problem is.
  • As I said, there is not Store in mz Win10 version...
  • Try resetting your PC from recovery once.
  • Did reset again, same thing... Will try a clean upgrade from win 8.1...
  • I have the 32bit edition installed. Can i use this key to activate the 64bit edition?
  • No. 32bit and 64 bit keys are different
  • Maybe for Win7, after Windows 8 the x86 and x64 use the same key, you can choose.
  • No. it doesn't matter, as long as you upgraded first. you will be able to go from 32 to 64 as many times you want. because all that matters it's your hardware you registered or activated the key with. (apparently motherboard, which someone mentioned your north and south bridge could be the thing Microsoft uses)
  • if you upgrade from 7/8 32 bits to windows 10 (which would be 32 bits of course). if you clean install windows 10 64bits it should be activated. architecture doesn't change how Windows 10 will recognize your hardware and automatically activated. I haven't tested it. of course, but the only trouble you would have it's if you had 7 home premium and installed WIndows 10 Pro for example. but if you upgraded 32 bits and installed 64 bits later (which is obviously a clean install), it should work.and if you went back to 32 bits, it should work and it you have a 128bits imaginary windows 10 edition, it should work as well. again architecture doesn't change the key, doesn't change the hardware Windows 10 uses to automatically activate (after you did your first upgrade of course)
  • My Windows isn't activated anymore after doing a clean install on my venue 8 pro.
  • I forget the error given, but apparently some keys don't immediately get activated due to high server loads from Microsoft.  It took my key a few hours to be activated.  I'd give it a few hours before contacting Microsoft. 
  • C004C003 is the error code. I have the same. Clean install from Build 10240 TP.
  • Bern waitin since the release and im yet to activate the bastard
  • From the 15+ Dells myself and another IT friend have done, and them talking to Dell support, doing a clean install on Dells doesn't work until you've been through the upgrade to 10 first. After the upgrade and your machine is activated you can then do a clean install as the next time around the MS servers already have the hardware ID logged. Also check for and do any BIOS upgrade that is available for the machine - it's making a big difference in how well things work.
  • If you did the upgrade first and activated it, then clean installed, just click the "go to store" button in the activation screen, then click "try again" from within the store app. Done!
  • I've upgraded my main Windows machine that means my Key will now activate Windows 10 if I clan install? but what If I wanted to go back to windows 8.1 now my key is converted to windows 10 can I never go back?
  • Your key is not converted... You have to use the key finder tool to get your windows 10 key
  • Why? thats not what the article says, it says your old os key gets converted if you upgrade your old os instead of clean installing windows 10  
    It's important to note that even though Microsoft is offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade for users running a genuine copy of Windows 7 and Windows 8, the company is also allowing users to perform a clean installation. However, the only catch is that you must upgrade your current operating system to Windows 10 via Windows Update first, before you can do a clean install. This is to ensure your current product key gets converted to a Windows 10 product key and that your copy of the operating system remains activated
  • I see two mistakes in the article. One, the Windows 7/8 keys "will not" activate the installation when performing a clean install. Why? There's no need to use the key during that install because you would have already validated Windows 10 during the "upgrade" process. You would click "skip" and proceed with the installation and activate once the install completes through Settings>Update&Security>Activation. Two, I think the word converted should not be used. Maybe "aligned" or "associated" is a better way of looking at it. MS will not invalidate your use of the key with the pervious version of Windows you upgrade from. So if I ever wanted to go back to either Windows 7 or 8 (which ever I have), I would be using the original key. 
  • Your Windows 8.1 still works. But you can't downgrade from a clean install. You have to perform a clean Windows 8.1 installation and use your original 8.1 key. You can only downgrade from a upgrade process (although you have 30 days to do so).
  • Warning downgrading back to 8.1 from 10 will break your core apps. Some can get fixed by reinstalling them but some cant. They just force close after the splash screen. I had to do a PC refresh. Losing all my programs and updates. Spent 8 hours last night downloading 180 (1.5GB) of updates.
  • Downgrade? No such thing can be done. Want to get back to Win7/8? One will have to perform another clean install and use the original product key. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Nope, if you upgrade to Windows 10 you can go back to 8.1. Not sure about Win7.
  • I had the option. Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Go back to Windows 8.1.
  • I tried using the key for a msi computer with Windows 7. The clean install of windows 10 did not accept the mass oem key from msi. So doing a clean install what would one use for the key to activate it. This article really fails to answer the most important question 3-5 people have already asked me.
  • Note: sticker was completely worn out and so we pulled the product key using jellybean. W10 didnt accept the key. Updating via update failed numerous times.
  • did you upgrade your old OS first to windows 10 before doing a windows 10 clean install? I see you never updated Windows 7 to Windows 10, you need to that first for key to get coverted to windows 10 before doing a clean install.
  • Did you upgrade first before doing the clean install?
  • Tried upgrading first but keeps reseting to a blank screen then it say restoring to previous version. :(
  • Regardless of your upgrade issues. The upgrade has to be performed first. Then if you want, you can do a clean install. You'll have to try and work out the upgrade issues with MS. The Microsoft forums hopefully can have your answers. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Daniel Rubino commented on a comment about 20 minutes ago and now, question like yours (which does make sense) seems like being ignored. Very disappointing. And I hope that when they do reply, they wouldn't sound rude (e.g. Busy, check Windows 10 forum, etc.).
  • I second this^
  • It's not about being rude. it's about people can use FORUMS to ask these things. and if people read, and comprehend they would understand their mistake.   Let me explain you, this person didn't upgrade, this person just clean installed Windows 10 and thought by putting windows 7 key it would work. and no. Microsoft and FAQ and many articles have said " YOU NEED TO UPGRADE FIRST!" and then when you upgrade from 7 or 8 to 10, and your computer says ACTIVATED. you can clean install. why? becuase Windows 10 activation takes your hardware as the activation! so if your hardware (motherboard) matches what is already on MS activations. Windows 10 will automatically activate you.   Again, I am sure Daniel Rubino is a nice guy, but these kind of questions should be asked on a forum. AND if you are going to ask, you should just go back and read "what did I do wrong??" because it's simple! by reading this persons comment, you can clearly see, this person didn't understand how Upgrading works, even if it's well explained here, on WC and on Microsoft site and other sites. You first upgrade! so the activation will take place and then you can clean install and you skip the key if the set up asks. end. that's how simple it was. Why wouldn't Daniel Rubino ignore this? he might and he might not, I don't know, but it's not like he is tech support for people who can't read first how to install these things. we don't know all! yes, we aren't always the smartest person, but that's where people have to stop, and start reading the steps of how things are done.
  • I did try updating it. It was clearly the easiest path for me but unfortunately the upgrade kept restoring. Even when a fresh format for windows 7. Im just asking what a resolution would be.
  • For your info dude I have not installed win10 and am still running win7
  • It's not really a rudeness or being busy thing. The writers don't have all the answers, they are writers with technical knowledge, not necessarily technical experts. If you want to ensure that your question gets maximum exposure, it should be asked in the forums.
  • *possible* solution: Do a clean install of whatever version of Windows 7 you had, but don't connect to the internet. Activate over the phone and then connect to the internet. Then run the Windows 10 update tool.
  • I had multiple OS (multi-boot) on my laptop. Different versions.. Windows two 7 Home Basic, one Windows 7 Pro, one Windows 8.1 Pro and a Windows 10 TP.
    All Windows 7 & 8.1 are getting upgraded to Windows 10 Pro with generic key. How do I get my OS upgraded to get the new Windows 10 key?? I have tried updating using Windows Update as well as the ISO. No difference. Very frustrating...
  • You can also just do a reset for those that don't want create the media or deal with partitioning. There is even the option to keep your personal files that get put into a folder called Windows.old.
  • I've found it an easy and hassle free way to do it.  I'd recommend it to anyone who did several preview upgrades as it cleared out all my issues that were inherited from prior builds. It's just like hard resetting the phone.
  • +950
  • This gave me a bluescreen on my Surface Pro 3. "INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE"
  • You can upgrade your windows 8.1 or 7 and go to my computer and right click on C drive and clean files and clean system files.
    It's 100% like clean install of new windows:)
  • This ended up causing a blue screen just a day after upgrading. Back on 8.1 now.
  • So, as mentioned, there are 2 ways to UPGRADE to Windows 10: thru Windows Update & ISO. Will not both process convert your Windows 7/8.1 Product Key? Is the PK conversion ONLY available thru Windows Update?
  • ISO will take the pk with it Posted via the Windows Central App for Android.
  • Hi, quick question here, I'm still upgrading mine to Windows 10 using Download Tool, if sometimes in the future I want to do clean install, should I re-download the ISO file? Also, if I'm upgrading with this way, should I re-enter the product key? I haven't been able to backup that yet.. Any response will be appreciated, thanks!
  • Upgrading using download tool doesnt require a product key. If you want to perform a clean installation in future, you would need to use download tool for creating bootable DVD or USB. AND REMEMBER TO CHECK YOUR NEW PRODUCT KEY before starting clean installation by the tool author meintioned above in this post. 
  • You don't need a product key to clean install. Your key is linked to your hardware. If you had an activated Windows 10, Windows will activate automatically after clean installing.
  • ^this.
  • What's the difference between fresh install of windows 10 and resetting the already installed windows 10?
  • I would like to know this as well. After I upgraded to windows 10 I did a reset of the OS through settings.
  • Reset might not work for some issues.
  • clean install and reset work the same. but reset might fail, while if you use your dvd you are sure it will work since it's files on a dvd, not making some black magic like reset those. you can also keep files and wipe your disk if you are going to sell your pc. so you can get a clean windows but still have your files available. I think reset and delete all files without wiping the disk is the best thing. but it might fail because sometimes software can just do something to the files used for the recovery option. if it fails you are forced to use a dvd or usb,
  • I tried doing the "reset' from within W10 twice..Got a BSOD both times...So..I used the dvd I made from the .iso to install clean. I was prompted twice to enter a key, skipped both times. Checked that W10 was activated when it was all done...It was in fact. :)
  • I upgraded from Windows 7 to 10 through Windows update. And this article mentions, the 7 product key will be changed to 10 product key. But as my PC is running very slow on 10, I might need to go back to 7 with the DVD (I deleted Windows.old folder). So can I still use that product key to activate 7 or will it only work with 10 now?
  • Yes.
  • Your key should work on 7 because it's a win7 key. then you can do the upgrade again. if you activated Windows 10, you could do a clean install and WIndows 10 will be activated automatically based on your hardware. so you skip the key. if you want to reset the Windows, it will be just as fine as clean install, you only get a windows.old with nothing important. you can delete or preserve files. you won't have to worry about burning a dvd or anything you just reset and let it do its job. well it depends if you want to try the upgrade again, or go back to 7... you didn't explain that, but if you want to go back to 7 you can always use your key, it will work.   But Windows 10 doesn't need a key, your key is your hardware, that's what Windows 10 searches, if it matches it will say "oh this hardware was activated before, so it will be activated" that's why you can just put your windows 10 dvd and clean install without upgrading (after you did a first upgrade of course so it would activate your hardware from 7 to 10)
  • If your W10 is running slow I suggest doing a clean W10 install. Windows upgrades impact your system performance.
  • Tried resetting my pc. While it is better now, still not upto 7's smoothness. A full clean install is not viable as I have a lot of data to transfer that too without an external hard drive.
  • Well it seems it's easier just to Reset and delete all files no? it's not like not having Windows.old will magically make your PC faster or anything
  • Exactly my thought. Just upgrade to win10 and do a reset without keeping files and settings. That's no different than doing a clean install right? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • This technique doesn't work. The main issue is that if you use your windows 8.1 product key during a clean install, it won't accept it. If you skip the product key, you'll have an un-activated version of windows installed. After talking to Microsoft support, they basically want you to buy windows 10 if you truly want to do a clean installl. Otherwise it's an upgrade every time. My suggestion is to do a "fresh" install (don't save any previous files and apps).  This shoves your old drive into the windows.old folder and freshly installs windows. Then you can run disc cleanup and remove the windows.old folder. Then make an image of your drive for future recovery using your favorite imaging tool. I've not found any other way that works - and i've spent well over 3 days now testing different methods. Also confirming what everyone else found - the 2 computers i have upgraded to 10 are showing the same generic key and that key will not work for install.
  • It does work. You tried to use your 8.1 key, which is wrong. You shouldn't enter any key at all at any point. If you upgraded to 10 from 7 or 8.1 and clean install afterwards, Windows will activate automatically. Your key is linked to your hardware.
  • "Also confirming what everyone else found - the 2 computers i have upgraded to 10 are showing the same generic key and that key will not work for install."   Browsing the article above indicates me, that the explanations are wrong. Upgrading to Windows 10 from a Win 7/8.1 system doesn't gives you a "Windows 10 key" - only a generic key is used. Activation will be done via a Machine ID generated from Setup and transmitted to Microsofts Activation servers.  During a clean install of Windows 10 later on the same machine, the request for Windows 10 product key must be skipped (an option is available). Otherwise your machine can't be activated. 
  • Note: you do NOT need your Windows 8.1 or even a 10 upgrade key to activate Windows 10 on your PC. All you have to do is do the in-place upgrade, then use a USB stick or DVD to install the OS after wiping the hard drive. Click SKIP when it asks you for a key, and when you sign in on the PC with your Microsoft account (same one you were already using), Windows 10 will activate automatically, no key required.
  • Exactly, 8.1 key doesn't work with Windows 10. After a true upgrade, MS stores your licence on their server along with your hardware info. If you do a clean installation after the upgrade, the whole activation process is automatic. You just have to wait. No keys required.
  • It seems that you don't need to sign in with your MSA as you said, a local account should work too. As Zapella said, your hardware info is what matters.
  • Well I didn't perform a clean installation, I just used the media creation tool to upgrade to windows 10, and everything is working like a charm, expect for my display adapter driver, which gave me a low resolution, but I solved it after many trials and finally used windows update to download the latest driver, after I uninstalled the previous one, and I even got two additional updates for windows 10 pro
  • You actually don't need the product key. The clean install will activate it automatically, provided you don't change the hardware. This makes sense... Why would Microsoft expect users to extract their key with an archaic 3 rd party program, just to make use of their much advertised free upgrade for the entire populace? Should be easy right? And it is.
  • Handy article, however I would say it would've been best not to suggest to delete all the partitions off the hard drive lol.... Just the partition they wish to install on unless they want to clean the hdd "completely".
  • That's the definition of a clean install: deleting absolutely everything, including partitions.
  • Went the manual route for my laptop running Windows 8.1 Pro. Downloaded the ISO - so I can back that up too for later use if needed - loaded onto a USB stick, and used that to do the in-place upgrade. By the time I made it into Windows 10 settings it was already activated. Then I turned around and did the the clean install - had already fully backed up and was ready, and I had been planning for a clean install anyway - which interestingly went much quicker than the upgrade. Again, activation was already done by the time I checked on it. Pretty good so far, though the system seems a bit sluggish at times. Might just be initial shakedown happening, or maybe I need to verify the drivers are current. The mfr has drivers for 7 and 8.1, but not for 10.
  • Can I upgrade later through ISO or I have to do this through media creation tool only?
  • ISO will work fine, just make sure you get your license upgraded to a Windows 10 license by first updating through Windows Update, as mentioned in the article.
  • After creating a bootable USB drive, could I use the same USB on two separate computers to do a clean install?  In my case, my desktop and laptop currently run W7 Pro 64 bit.  After upgrading both pc’s independently, would the one USB drive containing W10 Pro 64 bit work on both pc’s to clean install the OS or would I have to get two separate USB drives, one for each system?  Does the USB get tied to that specific machine which a clean install is performed on?
  • You can use the same USB on as many computers as you like, as long as they have the same windows edition (for Pro you need an USB with Pro, for Home you need an USB with Home,...).
  • Thanks J! In total my household has 5 pcs to upgrade, I'm glad I won't have to buy 5 separate USB drive for each pc.
  • And they have to be the same language if I'm not mistaken. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Did it thanks! :) Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • If you do everything right, you'll never need to use any key at all. You don't need to know your windows 10 key.
  • Might as well buy Windows 10 Home. Clean install; all the way.
  • Once I get it clean install only thru gimagex(wonder if the media creation tool is like w8's where it'll decrypt the install esd as folder windows payload) as I hate being bored with the long drawn out process that the setup app uses
  • Hi All, I did a clean install in the same way as its mentioned in the post except taking the key with Magical Jelly Bean, but after the clean install my Windows is not getting activated. Error code: 0xC004C003​ - This product key doesn't work. I contacted MS team and got the reply as its due to server slowness issue, but I'm not convinenced becuase its alredy two days my lap in this mode :(.. Anyone faced the same issue and got it resolved please post your comments below.  
  • As long as you upgraded to W10 first (and it showed as activated). If you tried straight clean install without first doing an upgrade, then the only way I've come across for it to work is to rebuild to a clean version of whatever the machine came with(don't waste time on the updates for it either, literally bang on the upgrade from a USB as soon as it's activated), then upgrade, then clean install (at which point it doesn't need a key as the hwid is registered with MS).
  • I get the same error code after doing an upgrade of my Windows 10 Developer Preview last night. It was fully updated and activated before I did the upgrade. I upgraded to my own language and it kept only my personal files. The error code means that the key has been blocked.
  • Same here. Did an upgrade from Win 8.1 to Win 10, extracted the product key, did a clean install of Win 10. This morning massage pops out that Windows is not activated
  • It's must be noted that the requirement to get Windows 10 through Windows Update is only if you want to perform a clean install. If you use the ISO tool to install it, you just skip the cd-key and upgrade the installed OS, then it activates itself from within Windows 10.
    So it's safe and fast to just update it with the ISO tool.
  • I had the Insider activation until I did a clean installation with my Insider MSA and 10240 ISO... now I lost the activation (as Insider)... Is there any way to recover the Insider activation or something? 
  • Exact same issue here
  • Me too :/
  • did you guys skip entering the key at install prompt like some posters are suggesting?
  • Yes, skipping.
  • I have a question, does the 32+64 version take more space than just the 64 one? My USB drive is just 8 GB, and I'd like to make an install with both just in case. Same with DVDs, is it more than one disc?
  • It does as it has the directories for both. Download it if you need both, and just check the size before dumping to a USB. If it's to big to fit on your USB just copy all the other files/folders except the x86/x64 folders and just copy the one your after. Or buy a 16GB USB - but I think both installs will fit on an 8GB.
  • Upgrade to win 10 then do a reset...better and no chance of dealing with wrong keys