Wiki Article

How to: upgrade from previous versions of Windows using Windows 10 ISO file

Technical Level : Basic


As we approach the launch of Windows 10 this summer, hundreds of millions of existing Windows users will be taking advantage the opportunity to upgrade their current version to Windows 10 for free. This represents an unprecedented change in Microsoft's business model of requiring purchase of a license. Windows 10 will be offered two ways to existing Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 users. You will be able to download the update through Windows Update or you can download .ISO media and use it do an in place upgrade. For many persons, using ISO media will be the preferred method since you will have a backup copy for reinstall purposes if needed. Also for persons with limited bandwidth, this will be an excellent way avoid the need to download the update more than once if you have multiple computers. So lets take a look at upgrading to Windows 10.


See instructions: How to download official Windows 10 ISO files

Overview of what is discussed in this article:

  • Free Upgrade Offer Requirements
  • Notes: What you should do and know before starting
  • Backup your computer
  • What you can do before attempting the upgrade
  • What are the official upgrade paths?
  • Migration: Windows XP & Windows Vista
  • Choose between 32 & 64 Bit
  • Prepare the ISO File
  • Troubleshoot product key
  • Starting setup

Free Upgrade Offer Requirements

When Windows 10 launched at the end of July 2015, it initially required that you started the upgrade from within a previous qualifying, activated version of Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 in order get it for free and to ensure it would activate.

Since the release of the Windows 10 November Update (1511) in November of 2015, exemptions have been made to this rule.

You can now simply download Windows 10, then use your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 product key to activate Windows 10. You can also perform a clean install from the outset.

How to install and activate Windows 10 using your Windows 7 or Windows 8 product key

If you encounter problems, you can always activate using Chat Support.

Activate Your Windows 10 License via Microsoft Chat Support

If you are still using Windows 10 build 10240, the following rules still apply:

Please be aware that you cannot use the free upgrade offer to perform a clean install on first attempt using Windows 10 Build 10240 released in July 2015. You must first upgrade from the qualifying version of Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 (whether you do it through Windows Update or using the .ISO file). Ensure the upgrade is completed successfully and then ensure that it is activated. You can then proceed to do a clean install by using recovery media or using the Reset function in Start > Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Reset this PC (Get Started).

Notes: What you should do and know before starting:

  • Gather all important application discs and hardware driver discs you might need to be reinstalled.
  • Check the manufacturer and software developers website for updates available and to find out about the status of compatibility with Windows 10. It is possible that software, compatible with Windows 7 or 8/8.1 will work with Windows 10 since they share the same driver model.
  • If you are using software such as iTunes or Adobe programs, remember to deauthorize and deactivate them before running setup.

Will upgrading from Windows 7 or later preserve my personal files, applications and settings?

Yes, upgrading from Windows 7 or a later version will preserve your personal files (documents, music, pictures, videos, downloads, favorites, contacts etc, applications (ie. Microsoft Office, Adobe applications etc),  games and settings (ie. passwords, custom dictionary, application settings).

Will my existing programs, hardware and drivers work on Windows 10?

Most applications and hardware drivers designed for Windows 7 or later should work with Windows 10. Of course, with significant changes expected in Windows 10, it is best you contact the software developer and hardware vendor to find out about support for Windows 10. Windows 10 setup will keep, upgrade, replace and might require that you install new drivers through Windows Update or from the manufacturers website.

You can also download the Download the Windows 10 Reservation App and use it to check your system readiness.

How to reserve your free upgrade to Windows 10

Backup your computer:
When making significant changes to your computer such as updating the operating system, you should always backup. See links to resources about backing up by clicking the link for the respective version of Windows you are running: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1

Also review:

How to manually backup and restore your files

Once you have installed these important updates and followed the prerequisite instructions, you should be ready to receive your free update to Windows 10 this summer.

What you can do before attempting the upgrade?

You can do some pre-requisite tasks to ensure a smooth migration to Windows 10. If you are using a name brand computer such as a Dell or HP, go to the manufacturers website for the model computer you are using and download the latest available drivers for that computer. Store them on a disc or USB thumb drive. Important drivers you should try to obtain include Chipset, Network and Video Drivers. Its possible that they might have only Windows 7 drivers, those will work with Windows 10.

If you are finding it difficult to carry out some of the steps described below, please review detailed instructions how to perform them:

If you encounter an error regarding enough space to complete the upgrade, review instructions:

How to Install Windows 10 on Devices with Limited Space

  • Disable (preferrably uninstall) your Antivirus utility before attempting the upgrade.
  • Make sure your machine name is simple no periods or hyphens or dashes.
  • Restart your computer a few times then try again.
  • Disable General USB Devices (example - Smart Card Reader). 
  • If you are using a SCSI hard disk, make sure you have drivers available for your storage device on a thumdrive and it is connected. During Windows 10 setup, click the Custom Advanced Option and use the Load Driver command to load the appropriate driver for the SCSI drive. If this does not work and setup still fails, consider switching to a IDE based hard disk.
  • Perform a clean boot, restart then try again.
  • If you are upgrading using the .ISO file, disconnect from the Internet during setup, if you are connected by LAN (Ethernet) or Wi-Fi, disable both then attempt setup again. 
  • If you are updating through Windows Update, when the download reaches 100% disconnect from the Internet LAN (Ethernet) or Wi-Fi then proceed with the installation.
  • If that does not work, try using the .ISO file to upgrade if possible.
  • If you are connected to a domain, switch to a local account.
  • If you have any external devices attached to the machine, disconnect them (example, gaming controllers, USB keys, external hard disk, printers, non-essential devices).

Run the System File Checker utility.

SFC/Scannow checks your Windows installation for errors and corrects them. This will help with ensuring that a smooth upgrade occurs.

Click Start

Type: CMD, from the results, right click CMD
Click ‘Run as Administrator’

(Windows 8/8.1 users - press Windows key + X > click Command Prompt (Admin)

At the Command Prompt, type: sfc/scannow

This will check for any integrity violations

Restart your system

Learn more:

How to: 10 things to do if Windows 10 Setup fails.

How to: 10 things to do if Windows 10 Setup fails.

What are the official upgrade paths to Windows 10?

Microsoft revealed in a Channel 9 Video the official upgrade paths to Windows 10:

Windows XP and Windows Vista users will have to do a clean install from a .ISO, so will Windows 8.0 users.


Migration: Windows XP and Vista

First of all, Windows XP and Windows Vista are not qualifying versions for the free upgrade, so you would have to purchase a full version license.

Buy Windows 10 Home/Pro

Also, Windows XP and Vista users will have to perform a custom install, any attempt to start the Windows 10 installation in legacy versions of Windows will trigger the following error message:

Learn more: How to: Do a custom installation of Windows

Also keep in mind, the Rollback function in Windows 10 does not support custom installs, so if you decide you want to go back to Windows XP or Vista, you will have reinstall using original reinstall media. So try creating a backup of your installation if this matters to you.

32 or 64 bit

My recommendations depend on what you have installed. If you currently have 32 bit Windows installed, use 32 bit Windows 10. If you have 64 bit Windows, use 64 bit Windows 10. This is to ensure a smooth migration, especially where driver compatibility is concerned. Another factor is RAM. If you have max 3 GBs of RAM, then 32 bit should be sufficient for your needs. If you happen to have 4 to 8 GBs or more RAM, then 64 bit would be suitable.

Windows 10 64 bit comes in handy when you need to address at least 4 GBs or more of RAM. Windows 32 bit can utilize up to 3.2 GBs of RAM. Because the memory address space is much larger for 64 bit Windows, that means, you need twice as much memory than 32 bit Windows to accomplish some of the same task, but you are able to do so much more, you can have more applications open, do things like run an Antivirus scan in the background without it affecting your system performance. Windows 64 bit is more secure too, malicious code cannot easily infiltrate it, drivers are more reliable since they must be signed before they can work with 64 bit Windows.

As for compatibility, you will need 64 bit device drivers for any hardware devices you might have. Also, there is no 16 bit subsystem in Windows 64 bit, which means, your applications must be 32 bit only, not 16 bit installer or uninstallers.

Learn more: How to: Switch from 32 bit versions of Windows to Windows 10 64 bit

Prepare Windows 10 ISO file

After you have downloaded the Windows 10 ISO, you need prepare it, this is especially important for Windows 7 users..

After obtaining the .iso file you can use the built in Disc Image burning tool or  Microsoft .iso to USB/DVD tool to create a bootable DVD or USB (requires a blank DVD or USB flash stick of at least 4 GB).

After downloading the .ISO file, right click it and click Burn disc image

Insert a blank DVD

Click Burn

Windows 8/8.1 users can mount the .ISO file and start the upgrade automatically. Learn more here


If you are creating a bootable USB thumb drive, make sure the thumb drive is first formatted as FAT32.

Connect the thumb drive

Open Computer

Right click thumbdrive

Click Format

Make sure FAT32 is selected as the file system.

For UEFI based systems

If your computer is UEFI based, these are normally systems that come pre-loaded with Windows 8 or later, you will need to prepare the ISO file for such a configuration or you will receive an error message during setup. The thumbdrive needs to be formatted as FAT32 and use the GPT partitioning scheme. To do this, you need to use Rufus, a small tool you can download for free.


Rufus - credit: Pete Batard/Akeo

After you have installed Rufus:

  • Launch it
  • Select ISO Image
  • Point to the Windows 10 ISO file
  • Check off Create a bootable disk using
  • Select GPT partitioning for EUFI firmware as the Partition scheme
  • Choose FAT32 NOT NTFS as the File system
  • Make sure your USB thumbdrive in the Device list box
  • Click Start
  • Close when complete

Troubleshoot Product key

I downloaded the .ISO file but Windows 10 setup is prompting me for a product key or indicates the product key does not work with this edition.

Please note: The copy of Windows 10 you download must correspond with the edition of Windows you are upgrading from:

  • Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Windows 8.0 Core, Windows 8.1 Core must use a Windows 10 Home ISO
  • Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows 8.0 Pro, Windows 8.1 Pro must use a Windows 10 Pro ISO
  • Your currently installed copy of Windows must be activated. If it is not, you will be prompted to enter a product key.
  • If you are using Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8.0 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Enterprise editions, or volume license Windows 7 Professional you won't be able to use the free upgrade offer.

Starting Setup

For the purposes of this article, I will be upgrading a Windows 7 operating system. As you can see, its a standard installation with a personal file on the desktop and a couple files stored in File Explorer. The procedures are the same for Windows 8/8.1

Windows 7 desktop ready to be upgraded to Windows 10

Once the ISO file is mounted or you have inserted your installation media, click Run Setup when the Autoplay dialog appears. If it does not appear, browse the Windows 10 install media and double click setup to begin.

Accept the End User License Agreement then click Accept

Wait while Windows 10 setup checks for available updates for your system that might help to ensure a smooth upgrade

Continue to wait

At the 'Ready to install' screen you are presented with a summary which includes the task to be completed:

- Install Windows 10

- Keep Windows Settings, personal files and apps

Click Change what to keep and make any necessary adjustments.

Once satisfied, click Install

Windows 10 setup will then change to full screen, wait while setup installs. Your computer will be restarted automatically.

After restarting, Windows logo will appear on screen, this might be here for a while, as long as you see the indicater, everything should be ok.

Here you are presented with the new setup experience that provides a spherical progress indicator of the installation progress. When complete, you will see the Getting ready notification appear on screen. As noted, your computer will restart during this phase of setup.

Sign into your account and click Next

Here you are presented with the Out of Box Experience. The Out of Box Experience page is where you get to configure detailed settings in Windows, which includes creating a user account, privacy, sync PC settings and install modern applications. For the purposes of this article, I will choose Use express settings

Wait while Windows finalizes your settings

Continue to wait while Windows installs modern applications.

Success! Windows 10 installed.

Launch Windows Update and check for the latest updates.


How to: Install and Update drivers in Windows 10

How to: connect to a Microsoft Account in Windows 10

How to: 10 things to do if Windows 10 Setup fails.

How to: Rollback to a previous version of Windows from Windows 10

Frequently Asked Questions: Windows 10

How to activate the latest Windows 10 build

Comments (86)