Microsoft offers Windows 10 as a free upgrade for computers running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Also, similar to previous releases, the operating system is available on different editions and two versions: 32-bit and 64-bit.

While upgrading from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro is not free, what many people are unfamiliar with is that Microsoft won't ask for more money to upgrade from a 32-bit to a 64-bit version.

However, the upgrade path only allows moving from a qualifying version to its equivalent edition on the same architecture. This limit means that if your PC is running a 32-bit version of Windows 8.1, after the upgrade you'll be stuck with the 32-bit version of Windows 10 -- even if your computer's processor can handle the 64-bit version. The only solution is to make a clean installation of the operating system and reconfigure all your apps and settings.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to verify whether your computer in fact includes support for a 64-bit version and we'll guide you through the upgrade process to Windows 10 (x64).

Make sure Windows 10 64-bit is compatible with your PC

A 64-bit version of Windows can only be installed on computers with capable hardware. As such, the first thing you need to do is to determine whether your computer has a 64-bit processor.

You can easily get this information from the Settings app.

  1. Use the Windows key + I keyboard shortcut to open the Settings app.
  2. Click System.
  3. Click About.
  4. Under System type, you will see two pieces of information: if it says 32-bit operating system, x64-based processor, then it means that your PC is running a 32-bit version of Windows 10 on a 64-bit processor. If it says 32-bit operating system, x86-based processor, then your computer doesn't support Windows 10 (64-bit).

Alternatively, you can open System Information to gather the processor information:

  1. Open the Start menu, do a search for System Information, and press Enter.
  2. Under System Summary, on the right side, look for System Type. If you see x64-based PC, then your computer is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows. If you see x86-based PC, then you can't install another architecture of the operating system.

Also, even though most current PCs will run Windows 10, if you have an older computer, you'll also need to make sure the processor includes the required features. According to Microsoft's support page in Windows 8.x and later, the operating system requires three essential characteristics, including Physical Address Extension (PAE), No-eXecute (NX), and Streaming SIMD Extensions 2 (SSE2). Additionally, Windows 10 (64-bit) also requires CMPXCHG16b (CX16) feature to be present in the processor.

The Windows Setup wizard always checks for hardware compatibility before the installation begins. If these features are not supported by the processor, Windows 10 won't install.

If you want to verify that your computer includes support for these features, you can use a command-line tool called Coreinfo from Microsoft's Windows Sysinternals.

  1. Visit Windows Sysinternals and download Coreinfo.

  2. Open the folder you downloaded Coreinfo, right-click the zip folder, and select Extract all.

  3. When the Coreinfo folder opens, click on File, and select Open command prompt.

  4. Type the command coreinfo and press Enter.
  5. Coreinfo will now list the processor information and make sure PAE, NX, SSE2, and CX16 are present (you can use Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut to open the find command). If the four features are present, then you can upgrade to Windows 10 (x64).

Make sure there 64-bit versions of device drivers

Also, you also want to ensure that other components in your system, such as video and sound cards are 64-bit compatible, as 32-bit versions of drivers won't work.

If your computer is only a few years old, it's more than likely that there are 64-bit drivers available. However, older components may not even be supported anymore. Before switching from a 32- to a 64-bit version of Windows, check your manufacturer's website to see if there are 64-bit drivers available.

Make a full backup of your PC

You will be doing making significant changes on your computer, as such it's a good idea to make a full backup of your system before upgrading.

You can use our previous guide to make a full backup of Windows 10, Windows 8.1, and even Windows 7.

Remember that you will also need to backup your personal files to an external drive or OneDrive, as they will be deleted during the installation process.

Make a clean install of Windows 10

Because there is not a direct path from 32-bit to a 64-bit version of Windows 10, the only solution is to make a clean installation of the operating system.

Quick Tip: Before making a clean install, it's a good idea to make sure your copy of Windows 10 is properly activated. You can view this information on Settings > Update & security > Activation.

Create Windows 10 installation media

  1. Connect a USB drive with at least 4GB of available space.
  2. Visit Microsoft's Windows 10 download page.
  3. Click the Download tool now button and save the Media Creation Tool on your desktop.

  4. Double-click the MediaCrationTool.exe file.
  5. Read the license terms and click Accept.
  6. Select the Create installation media for another PC option.
  7. Click Next.

  8. Uncheck the Use the recommended options for this PC option.
  9. Make sure to select your language, edition, and, more importantly, the architecture, which in this case is 64-bit (x64).
  10. Click Next.

  11. Select the USB flash drive option.
  12. Click Next.

  13. Select the removable drive from the list.
  14. Click Next.

  15. Once the installation media is created, close the Media Creation Tool.

Install a 64-bit version of Windows 10

  1. Restart your PC with the installation media connected and begin the installation of Windows 10.
  2. On the Windows Setup, click Next.
  3. Click Install now.
  4. As you previously have an activated version of Windows 10, you can skip the option if you're prompted to enter a product key.
  5. Accept the licensing agreement and click Next.
  6. Click the Custom: Install Windows only (advanced) option.

  7. Select and delete system partitions -- usually: Drive 0 Partition 1 and Drive 0 Partition 2.

  8. Click Next and follow the on-screen directions to complete the installation.

After the installation, make sure to go to Settings > Update & security > Windows Update to download the latest updates and drivers. If some of the drivers are not available through Windows Update, make sure to check your computer's manufacturer website download and install the 64-bit version of the drivers needed.

Now, it's also the time to install any previous app and restore your personal files from backup.

Windows 10 64-bit benefits

Between a 32-bit and a 64-bit version of Windows, there are no differences in features. However, there are productivity benefits. For example, the 64-bit version addresses the 3.5GB of RAM limitation found in the 32-bit version of the operating system. This advantage means that on computers with at least 4GB of RAM, you'll be able to run more applications simultaneously. Other applications like Google Chrome will be able to handle more opened tabs, and you will be able to run more memory-intensive applications, such as AutoCAD, Photoshop, and video editing programs.

It's worth pointing out that while we're focusing on Windows 10, Microsoft doesn't support a direct path between architectures for previous versions of the operating system either.

More on Windows 10

For more tips, coverage, and answers on Windows 10, you can visit the following resources:

Which version of Windows 10 are you running? 32-bit or 64-bit? Tell us in the comments below.