Microsoft may have described Windows 10 as “the latest version of Windows” when it launched, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
After plans for spin-offs in Windows 10X were canceled, Microsoft decided that 2021 was the time for a true successor. Predictably, it’s known as Windows 11, although the changes introduced are certainly not for everyone. The redesigned taskbar and Start menu proved controversial, while the new multitasking feature and Widgets panel take some getting used to.
But beneath the surface, little has changed. Unless you like native Android app support through the Amazon Appstore, you might have decided to stick with Windows 10. After all, it will continue to be supported until October. 2025.
However, those are your only two realistic choices in 2022. Windows 8 technically didn’t reach its end of life in January 2023, but we don’t recommend anyone use the outdated OS. The same can be said of Windows 7, which has been officially unsafe to use for over two years.
At this point, most people will benefit from the free upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11. Installing is a relatively simple process, but so is reinstalling Windows 10. This is the focus of this article, as Microsoft has provided several different methods. .
What you need to know before you start
There’s even one that can install the new operating system, without altering your files or some settings preferences. It also means you’ll be automatically updated to the latest version of Windows 10, which is good news if you’re a little behind on software updates.
As with many installation tutorials, the speed of this process will depend on the hardware you are working with. An SSD will be much faster than a mechanical hard drive to reinstall Windows 10. Since you will be downloading new software, it will also take a long time if your internet connection is slow. Read our tips for speeding up your internet connection if you think this might be a problem.
Don’t expect to use the device for any length of time after the reinstallation process begins – your PC is likely to be out of service for up to two hours.
Warning: Before reinstalling Windows using the process below, you should also back up all your files, music, photos, videos, game saves, and web bookmarks. Although these are all kept, the risk is too great not to save documents that you cannot replace.
You may already have a backup of these, but since all your apps will be deletedyou should also:
- Unregister any apps that will need to be re-enabled after reinstalling them (such as older versions of Photoshop)
- Find out how to save your game progress so you don’t have to start from scratch
- Save web bookmarks (or sign in to Chrome or Firefox to save them to the cloud)
- Find activation keys you might need to reinstall apps after Windows is reinstalled
- Download and save the drivers for your network adapter (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) to ensure you can reconnect to the Internet
Link your Windows 10 product key to your Microsoft account
There is still work to be done before starting. If you haven’t already, you need to link your Windows 10 product key to your Microsoft account. If you don’t, Windows 10 may not be able to wake up after reinstalling. But Windows 10 doesn’t necessarily have a product key, and if you’ve ever upgraded from Windows 7 or 8, you definitely won’t have one.
Whether or not you have a Windows 10 product key, go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation. If the status says “Windows is activated with a digital license” but says nothing more, that means it’s not linked to your Microsoft account.
To fix this, go to Settings > Accounts > Your Information. Click on “Sign in with a Microsoft account” and follow the instructions. Once done you can check under Activation and you should now see the message reads “Windows is activated with a digital license associated with your Microsoft account”.
However, this only applies to personal accounts – you may still see the “Windows is activated with a digital license” message if your employer manages your PC. Don’t worry, you can still reactivate Windows 10 after reinstalling.
How to reinstall Windows 10
If your computer can boot into Windows 10, open the Settings app (the cog icon at the bottom left of the Start menu), then click Update & Security. Click Recovery, then click “Get Started” under “Reset this PC”.
In the pop-up window that appears, click “Keep my files”.
On the next screen, choose whether you want to download and reinstall Windows 10 from the cloud or based on your device’s existing files. The former consume much more data, but local installs usually take longer.
In the next screen, select “Change settings”.
Now click the button under “Restore pre-installed apps?” to select No. Click “Confirm” to save your changes.
You will now return to the previous screen, but this time the first bullet will say “Do not restore apps and settings that came with this PC”. If so, click ‘Next’.
After a few seconds you will see a summary of the reset you are about to perform. If you’re okay with that, click “Reset” to begin the process.
After 20-40 minutes Windows will be reinstalled and you will see the login screen. Again, follow the instructions as for a new PC to choose your region, language, keyboard layout, password, and other information Windows 10 needs before being redirected to your new desktop.
Since this is really a clean install, no drivers will be installed for your hardware. This isn’t a problem with Windows 10, as it should be able to install and configure everything automatically – as long as it can connect to the internet.
To check, click the icon to the left of the speaker (volume) icon as shown below. The one below will show if you are connected via Ethernet, but Wi-Fi connections will show as the icon next to “ICO Guest WiFi”.
If there are no Wi-Fi networks in the list and a message that there are no connections available, wait and see if Windows manages to install the network drivers automatically, or install them manually (provided you have downloaded them as mentioned above).
Once you have a working Internet connection, let Windows do its thing for at least half an hour. Then check Device Manager (right-click the Windows icon at the bottom left of the desktop to see it in the menu). Hopefully, there will be no yellow exclamation marks next to devices. Here you can see the driver is missing for the network controller.
If yours is like this, double click on the network controller name to bring up the properties. Click Update Driver in the window that opens and point to the drivers you downloaded previously – you may need to unzip the files if the download had a .zip file extension. And to do this, simply double-click on the downloaded file and choose where to extract the contents.
What if I can’t access settings?
If you cannot start Windows 10 and therefore cannot follow the steps above, try the following.
First, turn on your computer and look for messages that appear before the Windows logo. Some laptops and PCs come with a “hidden” hard drive that has a full Windows backup on it. Usually there will be a message like “Press F10 for restore options”. Every PC is different, but you can find an option to reset the PC to factory settings. This deletes everything on the hard drive and copies the hidden version of Windows to the hard drive so your computer is exactly the same as the day it left the factory.
You can also try pressing the F8 key to access the Advanced Boot Options menu, which should include a “Repair your computer” option.
If none of that works, try these steps:
1. Download Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool which will create a bootable USB drive with Windows 10 on it. You may need to use a working computer to do this if yours won’t boot into Windows. Also keep this drive safe for future reinstallations. You can also use the drive to upgrade an existing Windows installation by simply running Setup.exe from the drive while running Windows 7 or 8.
2. Boot the non-working PC from your USB drive. But before doing so, make sure you have saved all, as the process will erase your C: drive. If you haven’t backed up any files, you may need to remove the hard drive and connect it to a working PC in order to copy them.
3. If the PC does not boot from the USB drive, enter BIOS by pressing Delete, F2 (or the key displayed on the boot screen), then look for the “boot” or “boot” options where you can select a removable USB drive as the first boot device.
4. When the PC has successfully booted from your USB stick, you will see a Windows logo and then a screen like the one below where you choose your language. Just follow the instructions and make sure you choose the correct hard drive and partition to install Windows on. If it is a new disk, it will be empty, so you choose the only option available: the large unallocated space.
4. Once the installation has started, your PC will restart. You will see a Windows logo and a large circular progress indicator. Keep an eye on the installation as it will restart your computer several times and may ask you to remove the DVD or flash drive.