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How to upgrade Windows Vista to Windows 10

Microsoft is retiring Windows Vista on April 11, which means that if you're using a computer with the decade-old version of the OS, the time has come to upgrade. However, this is not to say that Windows Vista will stop working after its life support cycle ends. After April 11, 2017, your device will no longer receive any more maintenance, including security and performance updates, and Microsoft won't provide any kind of support.

If you want to avoid your computer quickly becoming vulnerable to viruses and other security risks, you should start planning to upgrade. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't provide a direct path to upgrade to Windows 10, but you can still make the jump and leave behind Windows Vista for good. However, it's a process that requires that you do a full backup of your data and perform a clean installation of Windows 10. We've got you covered with all the steps.

In this guide, we walk you through the steps to upgrade Windows Vista to Windows 10 using a clean installation.

Before you begin

If you're still using Windows Vista, it's likely that your computer has low hardware specifications, considering today's standards. Before going through the upgrade process, you have to make sure your device meets the minimum hardware requirements to install Windows 10.

These are the official minimum system requirements to run Windows 10:

  • Processor: 1GHz or faster processor or SoC.
  • Memory: 1GB for 32-bit OS or 2GB for 64-bit OS.
  • Storage: 16GB for 32-bit OS 20GB for 64-bit OS.
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  • Display: 800 x 600.

Once you know that your device can handle the new OS, you'll need to purchase a genuine copy of Windows 10. You can get a copy of Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro at the Microsoft Store (opens in new tab).

Additionally, you'll need a USB flash drive with 8GB of storage to create a bootable media.

How to create a full backup on Windows Vista

Upgrading Windows Vista to Windows 10 requires a clean installation, which means that everything on your computer will be erased. As such, it's a good idea to make a full backup of your data and the entire computer.

To make a backup of your personal files, you can simply connect a removable storage and copy the files over. Once you complete backing up your files, make sure you have the installation files and product keys to reinstall any applications you're currently using.

You can also connect an external hard drive with enough free space and use the Windows Vista backup utility to create and restore a system image, which is a form of backup that includes a copy of everything on your computer. If you want to use this tool, do the following:

  1. Open Control Panel.
  2. Under "System and Maintenance," click the Back up your computer link.

  1. Click the Back up computer button.

  1. If prompted for permission, click the Continue button.
  2. Select the hard drive you want to use to make the backup, and click Next.

  1. Click the Start backup button to begin the process.

  1. Click Close.

Once the full backup is complete, disconnect the removable storage, and you can proceed with the upgrade process. In case you need to restore the previous version, remember that you'll need a bootable media with the Windows Vista files to use the recovery option.

How to upgrade Windows Vista to Windows 10

While there is not a direct path to upgrade a decade-old OS, it's possible to upgrade Windows Vista to Windows 7, and then to Windows 10. But that's not an ideal approach, as you'll be wasting time and additional licenses.

The best way to upgrade Windows Vista to Windows 10 is to start fresh with a clean installation, which you can do with the following steps:

  1. Download the Windows 10 ISO from the Microsoft support site (opens in new tab). Note that if you're using an older version of Internet Explorer, you'll probably need to use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox to load the download page.
  2. Under "Select edition," choose Windows 10 and click Confirm.

  1. Select your product language from the drop-down menu and click Confirm.
  2. Click the 64-bit Download or 32-bit Download button depending on your hardware.
    • Quick Tip: Use the Windows key + R keyboard shortcut to open the Run command, type the msinfo32 command and press Enter. If your system type is x64-based PC and the amount of RAM is higher than 4GB, you can install the 64-bit version of Windows 10. Otherwise, select the 32-bit version.
  3. In order to burn the ISO file to a USB flash drive, download and install Rufus, which is a free and easy to use utility to create bootable media.
  4. Launch Rufus.
  5. Under "Devices," select the USB flash drive you want to use.
  6. Under "Format Options," click the disk drive icon next to "Create a bootable disk using ISO image" option.
  7. Select the Windows 10 ISO file you want to use, and click Open.

  1. Click the Start button to continue.
  2. Click the OK button to confirm that all the data on the flash drive will be erased and to start the process.
  3. Restart your computer with the newly created bootable media.
    • If your device isn't booting from the USB flash drive, you'll need to change your system's BIOS settings to make sure it can boot from USB. Usually, you power up your computer and hit one of the functions or ESC keys to access the BIOS, but make sure to check your manufacturer's support website for more information.
  4. Click Next on the first screen of the Windows Setup wizard.

  1. Click the Install Now button.

  1. Enter the product key for your copy of Windows 10.
  2. Click Next.

  1. Select the edition of Windows 10 you want to install (if applicable). This selection must match the edition for which you bought the product key.
  2. Click Next.
  3. Accept the licensing agreement.
  4. Click Next.

  1. Click on the Custom: Install Windows only (Advanced) option to start a clean installation of Windows 10.

  1. Select any partition on the hard drive (usually "Drive 0") and make sure to click the Delete button to remove the partitions.

  1. Select the hard drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space).

  1. Click Next to begin the installation process.

Once you complete these steps, the setup will take over and finish installing Windows 10 on your Windows Vista machine. After the installation, simply follow the on-screen directions to complete the out-of-box-experience (OOBE) with the settings you want.

During the OOBE, you'll be asked to set up an account with a Microsoft account. As such, you should make sure to have this information handy. Alternatively, you could use a local account, but you'll miss out on many advanced features, including the ability to sync settings between devices.

After you finish configuring Windows 10, you'll be presented with the new experience, and the only thing left to do is to restore your files from backup, and reinstall any app you were using on Windows Vista.

It's also recommended to go to Settings > Update & security > Windows Update, and click the Check for updates button to make sure your device has the latest security and performance updates.

Additionally, you may want to use Device Manager to double-check that all your hardware and peripherals are correctly installed on your machine. If something didn't install correctly, make sure to use your manufacturer's support website to download and install the latest drivers.

If you can't find a driver compatible with Windows 10, sometimes drivers designed for the previous version of the OS will still work. But only try this as a last resort.

More Windows 10 resources

For more help articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, 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.

55 Comments
  • How to make the jump from Vista to Windows 10? Buy a new computer ;).  ​I kid, I kid. A lot of good info in here in general, not just specifically for vista. 
  • to be honest if a PC in 2017 is still running VISTA then I wouldnt change it because the HW might be outdated
  • It really depends on the hardware. Keep in mind that many systems were shipped with downgrade licenses. So you'll have systems designed and certified for Windows 7 running Vista (or even XP in a few cases). These systems work just fine on Windows 10 - particularly if you add a solid state drive.
  • I have a 9 years old HP HDX laptop that runs much better since I installed Windows 10. I upgraded the disk to an SSD about 5 years ago when I migrated from Vista to 7. Windows 10 is by far my favorite of all of them
  • That's probably a valid argument, although moving from Vista to 7 would be a decent change.  Vista's end of extended support is next month, which means no new updates beyond then, and poor support for updated software with better security. Vista allowed for 500MB RAM installs, but I found it didn't run well until you got up to 2GB of RAM on it.  Windows 10 is the same, handling 2GB as a minimum.
  • WIndows Vista system requierments where higher than WIndows 7 and WIndows 10 are in par of windows 7. I would forget backuping up and just replace that old hard drive with an SSD and you would have a decent windows 10 machine. 
  • Not just one PC, a bunch of them are running Win XP with us in 2017. And on 40 GB non-SATA hard disks / 1GB SD RAM ! No issues whatsoever...🙂
  • downgrade them to Windows 98
  • I'm running Windows 10 on a laptop from summer 2006 that came with XP. It has one of the first AMD dual core CPUs and maxes out at 2GB RAM. I've only repleaced the hard drive since I got it, and Windows 10 runs faster and smoother on it than any other OS I've tried. I've tried XP, Vista (right away and 3 months later), 7, and 10. I do not have any driver issues, and I don't have to sit there and install 10 drivers like I did in the past. It just works. Yes the hardware is old and outdated, but Windows 10 is lightweight and doesn't bog down my system at all. My old wifi card is the biggest bottleneck in the machine. If I could upgrade that I wouldn't have any issues.
  • Yeah, that's what I did when I decided to jump from Vista to win10 last year, my old PC had been running Vista for nearly a decade, and it was about time to retire, I want my new PC runs win10 for a decade.
  • Is W10 still free?
  • it not advertised but if you have a legitimate visa w7 w8/.1 key than yes just need the media creation tool
  • Not officialy anymore. But (read more of my comment!!) if you "use assistive technologies" ... you can still upgrade for free here https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility/windows10upgrade
    I think it doesnt matter if you use the assistive technologies or not, it should be a normal version of windows ;) smart move Microsoft. Here is a windows central article on this extended period for assistive tech verion: http://www.windowscentral.com/windows-10-upgrade-will-continue-be-free-beyond-july-29-users-assistive-technologies
    To this date, its not know officialy when Microsoft will end this free offer.
  • Or join the Insiders program.
  • Last I checked, you still needed a valid license for Insiders. It didn't start out that way, but for new Insiders I think you need a Windows 10 (or 8.x or 7) license key.
  • yes a valid W10 license is required for Windows Insiders otherwise, you can try out Windows 10 for 60 days
  • This is intended for people with disabilities. It is not intended for people who are too cheap to purchase a software license.
  • It will still upgrade - and activate - fine using either the Media Creation Tool or the ISO, although I've found it doesn't seem to offer it as an upgrade on the 14393 (Ver 1607) version, but works fine using the 10586 build.
  • I went from Vista to W10 last year.  I probably should have done a clean install, but instead I did an upgrade to W7 and then to W10.  It was all pretty smooth and I haven't had any issues.  
  • In-place Vista to W10 upgrades take a LONG time, but I've done several for clients and they work very well -- much better than when running Vista.  The "always do a clean install" idea is very dated and in many cases no longer the right one. The few benefits of a clean install are often overshadowed by application, data, and preference (settings) losses.  
  • In-place upgrades are recommended but Microsoft only offered direct upgrades from 7, 8, and 8.1. Other problems can include UEFI or if you had 64 bit hardware but ran 32bit OS. You'd really want to consider a fresh install.
  • +Withheld, 7 and 8.1 (8 wasn't included, so you had to update to Windows 8.1 through the store to get it)
  • How do you do it?  I am still running an old desktop that shipped with Vista but came with a "free upgrade to W7 when released" which I used to upgrade when it was released..  I then bought a W8 upgrade, which I used, and then upgraded to W8.1 when it came out, and now 10.  The system still runs fine. But I don't know of any way to go directly from V to 10?  Is there?
  • One new feature of Windows 10 is that you can reset your PC at any time and it will keep your drivers for all your devices and internal components. Just type "reset" in Cortana or in settings and you will find it. It's a nice way to start fresh but if I was you I would do if once you have the creator update installed
  • It's there since windows 8
  • Windows has gotten more efficient. I doubt if specs would be a problem. Windows 10 will probably run better on that old hardware than Vista did, provided drivers aren't an issue.
  • It definitely will. Microsoft made a major push to improve security in Vista -- a push that succeeded, but at the expense of performance. As a result, Vista systems, while being more secure, were slower on the same hardware than XP.  For Windows 7, Microsoft made a major push for optimization -- and the Windows Kernel saw considerable improvement -- especially on multi-core scalability. In this case, systems running Windows 7 were noticably faster that Vista on the same hardware. Indeed, there were even performance benefits over XP systems -- particularly on systems with multiple cores.
  • And Windows 8.1 they were looking at reducing disk iops so that it can be used in VDI environment (Hundreds Windows 8.1 running on the same physical machine and accessed remotely). They kept the same trend with Windows 10 and it runs much better on low end hardware than Vista or 7.
  • And "NO" as well. You would better try.
  • No.
  • Instead of going through all this trouble, just add an additional hard drive (preferably, SSD), and install Windows 10 to that one. You'll get a dual-boot configuration that will allow you to go back to your Windows Vista installation for reference or to run old software that is no longer available (or compatible), AND y