How to clean install Windows 10 or upgrade from a previous version

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How to clean install Windows 10 or upgrade from a previous version
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How to uninstall Windows 10

With Windows 10, Microsoft has made some big changes to the way its operating system works, and it's managed to win over a lot of people.

However, it's not been a hit with everyone. Some don't like the new Start menu, there have been reports of compatibility issues, and others just aren't comfortable with it. If you're one of the people that wish they hadn't upgraded, fear not - you can still go back to your old version of Windows.

Be warned, though – you 'll need to act fast. When your PC upgrades to Windows 10, the old operating system is kept on the hard drive for around a month; after the Anniversary Update, that falls to just 10 days. This means that you haven’t got long to decide whether or not you like the new OS.

Rolling back

Microsoft has built a feature into Windows 10 allowing users to roll back to their previous Windows version, but it's only available for the first 10 days after you install the new OS. It's still possible to go back to an older version after this period elapses, but it's more difficult and time-consuming.

Before you do this, it is a good idea to make sure all data is backed up using either an external hard drive or a cloud-based backup service. You may also want to ensure your old Windows 7 or Windows 8 product key is to hand.

To roll back to your previous version of the OS, go to the Start menu and choose 'Settings', then ‘Update & security’. Choose 'Recovery' in the left-hand panel and, on the right, find ‘Go back to Windows 8.1' or 'Go back to Windows 7'. Click the ‘Get started’ button below that and follow instructions.

Once you have gone back to the old version of Windows, older programs may need to be installed. 

Of course, this will only work if you still have the Windows.old folder (C:\Windows.old). If you can’t find it or you have deleted it, then you are out of luck.

A clean install

A complete reinstall may be your only option if the rollback method described above is no longer available.

This can also have the effect of removing tons of bloatware that have clogged up your operating system, slowing it down.

A clean install is different from the Reset you PC option in Windows 8 and above. This can often re-install junkware that came from the manufacturer with the laptop. 

This uses just the Windows media (CD or USB) and nothing else and should result in a faster PC as well. It is also a way of dealing with any malware-infected machines or those that have been riddled with ransomware and had data encrypted.

To perform a clean install, insert the Windows DVD into the disc drive or insert a USB containing the Windows installation media into a free USB port. Then turn on the computer (or restart it).                                                      

Look for Press any key to boot from CD or DVD or Press any key to boot from an external device. Pressing a key will force the computer to boot from either the Windows DVD or a flash drive with the Windows 8 installation files on it.

If you can’t find your old disc, as long as you have the product keys, you can download Windows installation media and burn the ISO file to a disc or copy it to a USB drive using Microsoft’s Windows USB/DVD download tool

On a Windows 7 PC, look for a “certificate of authenticity” sticker with a key on it. It is normally on the underside of a laptop or at the back of a desktop PC. For Windows 8 PCs, the key can be embedded in your computer’s firmware. This means Windows 8.1 will automatically detect it and allow reinstallation of Windows 8.1 without even asking for a key. 

Using third-party backup software

If you managed to make an image of your computer prior to upgrading to Windows 10, you can use third-party software to re-install that image onto your computer and get back to a previous version of Windows.

Tools such as EaseUS Todo Backup Free can do this. To create an image, plug in an external drive, run Todo Backup and click System Backup or Disk/Partition Backup

You can use the default settings on this and once the backup is underway, the application can be minimised while performing its task. To create recovery media, click on the Tools icon and select Create Emergency Disk. There are several choices and the best is ‘Create WinPE emergency disk’ and USB. Insert a memory stick with a capacity of at least 1GB.

The USB drive can be used to start the PC. Just press a function key while the machine starts up to boot from USB and this will run the restore software automatically so you can restore the PC. 

Uninstalling via a factory restore

If you find yourself after the rollback time limit with no going back to an old version of Windows, help may still be at hand for some users. On many PCs and laptops, there is a hidden partition on the hard disc that has a copy of the original Windows, programs, drivers and settings, which were on your PC when you brought it back from the shops. With any luck, Windows 10 will have ignored this and left it intact. 

To access it, when booting up look for messages such as “Press F11 for Recovery Options”. Whatever key the PC wants you to press, press that and with any luck, you should get a menu that has options to restore factory settings. 

A restore will very likely wipe the entire C drive, so back up any important data before you do this. You will also have to install a ton of Windows update post-installation as well as any drivers and software for hardware you have installed yourself.

What if my PC only came with Windows 10? 

If you bought a new PC running Window 10 and you want to uninstall this and put an older version on, things get a little trickier. The legitimate way of having an older copy of Windows on this is to buy a Windows 7 or 8.1 licence and install it from scratch, entering the product key you bought during installation.

This feature includes articles originally published in IT Pro on how to install and uninstall Windows 10.

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