Microsoft

How to do a clean installation of Windows 10


On Windows 10, a clean installation is the best option to remove everything from the hard drive and start from scratch when your device is having performance and other issues. Using this process, you can quickly resolve startup and shut down problems as well as memory usage and apps issues. In addition, you can quickly get rid of viruses and other types of malware, fix system corruption and improve battery life.

If you’re upgrading from a previous version, a clean installation is also a good method to install the new version. Although there are several ways to upgrade, they usually don’t work correctly, and they may bring unwanted settings, files, and apps to the new installation.

It’s also a useful choice to start fresh with a copy of Windows 10 on a new hard drive that you just replaced, or to set up a new device that came pre-installed with a lot of bloatware.

In this Windows 10 guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to properly prepare and perform a clean installation, whether you’re upgrading to the latest version of Windows 10 (October 2018 Update), or you’re moving from a previous version, including from Windows 8.1 or Windows 7.

Update December 6, 2018: We’ve updated this article with the latest information for the Windows 10 October 2018 Update.

How to prepare a device before installation

Although the installation isn’t a complicated process, there are a number of steps you want to follow for a smooth and successful installation, including backing up your files, downloading essential drivers, making sure that your device can boot from USB, and more.

Backing up your device and data

The installation process will delete everything on the primary hard drive of your computer, as such it’s a good idea to create a backup of your files before proceeding.

You can do this by making sure to upload your files to OneDrive or to the cloud storage service that you prefer. Or you can simply copy the files that you want to restore in the new installation to an external storage.

To make a backup of your files, connect an external removable drive, and use these steps:

  1. Open Internet Explorer.
  2. Click on This PC from the left pane.
  3. Browse to the following path:

    C:Users

  4. Right-click the user folder you want to backup and select the Copy option.

  5. Browse to the location of the removable storage.
  6. Right-click the select the Paste option.

Once you’ve completed the steps, if you’re sharing your device with multiple people, repeat step No. 4, 5, and 6 to copy the remaining folders to the external storage.

Also, make a note of the apps you have installed, and make sure to have the product keys to reinstall them again (if applicable).

If you’re not already saving your passwords and bookmarks in the cloud, it’s a good idea to export your web browser links and online services credentials as well.

Downloading device drivers

While the setup process does a pretty good job detecting and installing the necessary drivers, you also want to download the latest drivers for devices, such as for your graphics card, wireless, and Ethernet adapter in case they may not get detected.

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

Also, here’s a list with some of the most common computer manufacturer’s support websites to download the latest drivers:

Knowing Windows 10 system requirements

If you’re trying to upgrade an older version of Windows 10, it’s likely that the new release will be compatible with your hardware. However, if you’re trying to install Windows 10 on a computer running Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Vista, or XP, you need to make sure that your device meets the minimum hardware requirements.

Windows 10 minimum hardware requirements are as follows:

  • Processor: 1GHz or SoC (System on a Chip).
  • Memory: 1GB for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit.
  • Storage: 16GB for 32-bit or 20GB for 64-bit.
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  • Display: 800×600.

An internet connection is also recommended, but not a requirement to download and install updates. However, if you’re using Windows 10 on S mode, you’ll need an internet connection to complete the out-of-box experience (OOBE).

Checking Windows 10 activation

If you’re trying to install a feature update or start fresh with a clean installation on a device that’s already running Windows 10, you don’t need to re-enter a product key during the setup. Windows 10 will re-activate automatically using an internet connection after the installation.

However, your device will re-activate only if it was previously properly activated. You can use these steps to confirm that your copy of Windows 10 is activated:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Activation.
  4. Under the “Windows” section, confirm that your license is activated.

Getting a product key

In the case that you’re planning to install the OS on a new device or trying to upgrade an old version, such as Windows 8.1 or Windows 7, you’ll need a genuine product key, which you can purchase from the Microsoft Store using the links below:

In the past, you’re able to upgrade to Windows 10 using an existing Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 license, but the promotion officially ended in 2016. However, some users are still able to activate their installation using old product keys.

While it’s not guaranteed that it’ll work, if you want to give this a try, you’ll need to find your product key. Usually, you can find it on the sticker attached at the bottom of your laptop or the back of the desktop tower. Alternatively, you can use tools like Enchanted Keyfinder Tool to retrieve the activation key from your current setup. (This is a free third-party tool that you can use at your own risk.)

Configuring correct boot order

To use a USB installation media to do a clean install of Windows 10, you’ll have to make sure that your device can start from a USB device. This means that you’ll need to access the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) firmware on your motherboard to change the boot order.

This process typically requires hitting one of the function keys (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12), the ESC, or Delete key as soon as you start your device. However, these settings will vary by manufacturer, and even by computer model. So make sure to check your PC manufacturer’s support website for more specific instructions.

Inside the BIOS interface, look for the Boot menu, and configure the boot order to start from the USB drive that includes the installation files, and save the new changes (usually using the F10 key).

On Windows 10, you need to use these steps to access the UEFI firmware:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Recovery.
  4. Under “Advanced Startup,” click the Restart now button.

  5. Click the Troubleshoot option.

  6. Click on Advanced options.

  7. Click the UEFI Firmware Settings option.

  8. Click the Restart button.

On Windows 8.1, you have to use these steps:

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

  5. Click the Troubleshoot option.

  6. Click on Advanced options.

  7. Click the UEFI Firmware Settings option.

  8. Click the Restart button.

Once you’re in the UEFI firmware interface, look for the Boot menu, and make sure to change the boot order to start with the USB drive that includes the installation files, and save the settings.

Disconnecting non-essential peripherals

Peripherals connected to your computer are often the reason for problems during installation. Before proceeding with the clean installation of Windows 10, make sure to disconnect non-essential peripherals, including removable drives, Bluetooth and USB devices, SD cards, printers, scanners, and others. You only need a monitor, keyboard and mouse, and an internet connection. After the process, you can reconnect your peripherals.

How to create a USB bootable media of Windows 10

To perform a clean installation of Windows 10, you’ll need a USB bootable media, which you can create using the Media Creation Tool or third-party tools like Rufus.

Creating a USB bootable media using Media Creation Tool

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

  1. Open the Windows 10 download page on your web browser.
  2. Click the Download tool now button.

  3. Save the file on your computer.
  4. Double-click the file to launch the Media Creation Tool.
  5. Click the Accept button to agree to the licensing agreement.
  6. Select the Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC option.

  7. Click the Next button.
  8. If you’re downloading the files on the device that you’re about to perform a clean install, the tool will detect the required configuration automatically. If you’re not, clear the Use the recommended options for this PC option, and select the correct settings to override the default selections.

    • Quick Tip: If you’re planning to use the USB bootable media on multiple devices, on “Architecture,” select the Both option to download the 32-bit and 64-bit versions. (This may require a USB flash drive with a larger capacity.)
  9. Click the Next button.
  10. Select the USB flash drive option.

  11. Select the USB drive that you want to make bootable.

  12. Click the Next button.
  13. Click the Finish button.

Once you’ve completed the steps, you can use the USB flash drive to perform a clean install of Windows 10 on any device that meets the minimum hardware requirements.

Using ISO to create a bootable media using Rufus

If the Media Creation Tool option isn’t working, you can also download the Windows 10 ISO file from a different source and use the Rufus tool to create an installation media with UEFI support.

To create a USB bootable media connect a USB flash drive to your computer, and use these steps:

  1. Open the official Rufus web page.
  2. Under “Download,” click the latest release link of the tool.

  3. Double-click the Rufus-x.x.exe file to launch the tool.
  4. Under “Device,” select the USB drive with at least 4GB of space.
  5. Under “Boot selection,” click the Select button on the right.

  6. Browse to the folder with the Windows 10 ISO file.
  7. Select the image.
  8. Click the Open button.
  9. Under “Image option,” select the Standard Windows installation option.
  10. Under “Partition scheme and target system type,” select the GPT option.
  11. Under “Target system,” select the UEFI (non CSM) option.
  12. Under “Volume label,” enter a descriptive name for the drive. For Example, “win10_install_drive.”
  13. Under “File system” and “Cluster size,” leave the default settings.
  14. Click the Show advanced format options button, and make sure that “Quick format” and “Create extended label and icon files” options are selected.
  15. Click the Start button.
  16. Click the OK button to confirm that the USB flash drive will be wiped out.

After completing the steps, Rufus will create a Windows 10 installation media with support for systems using UEFI.

How to perform a clean installation of Windows 10

Once you’ve created the bootable media, connect the USB drive to your computer, and follow these steps to perform a clean installation of Windows 10.

Warning: This is a friendly reminder that this process will erase everything on your device. It’s recommended to make a full backup of your PC before proceeding.

Installing Windows 10

To start fresh with a clean copy of Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Start your device with the USB bootable media.
  2. On “Windows Setup,” click Next to begin the process.

  3. Click the Install Now button.

  4. If you’re installing Windows 10 for the first time or upgrading an old version, you must enter a genuine product key. However, if you’re reinstalling Windows 10, you can click the I don’t have a product key option to continue (assuming that your computer was already activated).

  5. (If applicable) Select the edition of Windows 10. This selection must match the edition your product key activates.
  6. Click the Next button.
  7. Select the I accept the license terms to agree option to continue.

  8. Click the Next button.
  9. Click on the Custom: Install Windows only (Advanced) option.

  10. Select the partition with the current installation of Windows (usually “Drive 0”), and click the Delete button to remove it from the hard drive.

    Quick Tip: If you have multiple partitions, on the primary hard drive (Drive 0), you can select and delete each of the partitions to allow the setup to use the entire drive for the installation. Windows 10 will create the required partitions automatically during the installation. If you have multiple hard drives, you don’t need to delete those partitions.

  11. Click the Yes button to confirm the deletion.
  12. Select the empty drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space).

  13. Click the Next button.

Once you’ve completed the steps, the setup will proceed to install Windows 10 on your device.

Completing out-of-box experience (OOBE)

After the installation, you need to complete the out-of-box experience to finish creating a new account and setting up your environment.

In this guide, we’re using the OOBE available with the October 2018 Update (version 1809), but depending on the version that you’re installing this setup may be a little different.

  1. Select your Region.
  2. Click the Yes button.

  3. Select your keyboard layout.
  4. Click the Yes button.

  5. Click the Skip button, unless you need to add a second keyboard layout.

  6. Click the Set up for personal use option.

  7. Type your Microsoft account information.

    Quick Tip: If you don’t want to use a Microsoft account, click the Offline account option at the bottom left corner to create a traditional local account.

  8. Click the Next button.
  9. Type your Microsoft account password.

  10. Click the Next button.
  11. Click the Create PIN button to set up a PIN to unlock your device.

    Quick Tip: If you prefer to use a traditional password, click the Create PIN button, and then click the Cancel button to skip the process.

  12. Create your new four-digit PIN. (If you want to create a complex PIN, you can check the Include letters and symbols option.)
  13. Click the OK button.

  14. (Optional) You can enter your phone number and then click the Send button to link your phone with your device, but this is a feature that you can set up some other time. If you want to skip this option (recommended), click the Do it later button in the bottom left corner of the screen.

  15. Click the Next button to set up OneDrive. If you’re not interested in using this cloud storage service, click the Only save files to this PC option in the bottom left corner of the screen.

  16. (Optional) Select the Let Cortana respond to “Hey Cortana” option.
  17. Click the Accept option to allow Cortana personalized your experience. (If you click the Decline button, Cortana will still be available on the taskbar, but it won’t collect information about you.)

  18. (Optional) If you want to enable Timeline to access your activity history across devices, click the Yes button. Otherwise, click the No button. Using this option, you’ll still be able to access your timeline, but it’ll only show four days of activities, and your activities will not sync across devices.

  19. Choose the privacy settings that you like to use with Windows 10. (And don’t forget to scroll down the page to review all settings.)

  20. Click the Accept button.

Once you’ve completed the steps, your settings will apply to the installation, and then you’ll be directed to the desktop.

After installation tasks

After the installation, there are a few tasks left to do.

First, you want to confirm that you’re running an activated copy of Windows 10:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Activation.
  4. Confirm that Windows 10 is activated.

If you’re having activation problems, you can use the Activation Troubleshooter to re-activate.

Install the latest cumulative updates:

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

Confirm that all the device drivers have been recognized and installed correctly.

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Device Manager, click the top result to open the experience.

While in Device Manager, if none of the branches are expanded revealing a device with a yellow or red mark, then you’re in the clear. In the case that there’s a problem, make sure to download and install the latest driver available through your device manufacturer.

You can refer to this guide to properly install device drivers on Windows 10.

Also, don’t forget to install the apps you need to get the work done on your device, including Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, Office apps, Spotify or iTunes, and others.

If you created a backup of your files, now it’s a good time to re-connect the drive and restore the files to your account folders. (You can quickly open your account folders using the Windows key + R keyboard shortcut, using this path %HOMEPATH% and clicking the OK button.)

Wrapping things up

Although on supported systems, you can use the Media Creation Tool to start fresh with a clean copy of Windows 10, there are some differences, limitations, and more chances to come across problems. If you want to perform a truly clean installation, using the bootable media route is perhaps your best option.

On devices already running Windows 10, you may be able to save some steps when installing a new release using Windows Update or the Update Assistant, or even using the reset option when you’re troubleshooting problems. However, sometimes, using these options, you’re more likely to see compatibility and other issues that may even block the installation. When you use a bootable media, you’ll significantly reduce the number of problems.

More Windows 10 resources

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

This post may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.





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