Making The Jump To Windows 10, A Migration Guide

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Getting Started And The Upgrade Process

The upgrade cycle begins, with Microsoft’s latest operating system--the highly anticipated Windows 10--rolling out over Windows Update for free, for users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. For those that are ready to take the plunge over the weekend, there are some things to note. While this guide is by no means exhaustive, there are some useful reminders here as well as some potential pitfalls that may rear their ugly head during the upgrade process.

So far, Microsoft has been rolling out the upgrade in waves and stages. If you are not one of the ‘lucky’ ones to be in the first wave, you can take matters into your own hands and begin the upgrade process manually. While the process is mostly simple, it won’t be for everyone.

Windows 10 In All Its Glory

Backup First

Before you even attempt the upgrade process, it goes without saying that you should backup any important files first. While it’s unlikely that something catastrophic will happen that hoses your data, there is still a chance, and you should at least prepare for the worst. Take any files that you keep in your user directory, such as My Documents, pictures, save games, etc, as well as any other important data, and copy it over to an external hard drive or upload them to one of the many cloud-based storage solutions. For the paranoid, a full disk backup might be required, using something like Acronis.

Get Drivers Ready

Even though your system may be operational now, it may not remain so once the upgrade finishes, and drivers are likely to be one of the major issues that you’ll run into. So along with your backups, download any essential drivers for devices like your network card, wireless controller, chipset and graphics / video drivers. Windows 10 comes with USB 3.0 and common networks drivers already, but keep spares handy just in case.

It’s worth noting that motherboard, proprietary peripheral utilities, and tweaking tools like EVGA e-Leet are likely to throw warnings at you (in my case, the ASUS software stack used with my motherboard would throw error messages at me every reboot). So far, the Corsair suite, however, has worked without issue.

The Upgrade Process

There are two main methods to upgrade, either through Windows Update or through the Media Creation Tool. In either case, you will need to have opted-in for the Windows 10 Free Upgrade program to reserve your license. Currently, the Windows Update method is hit or miss due to the requirement for additional updates needing to be installed first and Microsoft’s servers being hit hard, leading to some rather humorous error messages like the oh-so helpful description, "Something Happened".

Currently, it would be best to avoid the Windows Update upgrade, at least for the time being. Numerous issues with licensing have been reported, requiring manual activation either through the dreaded phone call, or by running slmgr.vbs /ato at the command prompt to force license registration.

Due to the issues with the automated method, we will be using the manual method, i.e. using the Media Creation Tool and downloading the ISO image. The main advantage with this is that should the upgrade not work out very well, we can reboot and perform a fresh install instead. The Media Creation Tool also allows you to perform the upgrade on the system directly, without downloading the ISO, should you wish to do so. You can read our guide to the Media Creation Tool here.

There are different versions of Windows 10, including Home, Pro, x86, x64, and the N editions (N being the EU compliant versions). Which version you need depends on your current OS. Windows 7 Starter, Basic and Home, and Windows 8/8.1 Home will need the Windows 10 Home edition. Windows 7 Pro and Ultimate, and Windows 8/8.1 Pro will need the Windows 10 Pro edition. If you are uncertain if you are using an x86 or x64 system (32 or 64-bit), you can go with the dual edition download, but chances are it’s safe to go with x64 these days, as most systems are now 64-bit.

Using Rufus To Create The Windows 10 Boot Media
The Media Creation Tool can create a bootable USB drive for you, however, having access to the ISO in the future is more useful, so I recommend going with creating your own boot media, rather than letting to the tool do it all for you (in case you forget where the ISO image went).

Once you have downloaded the ISO image you can either burn it to a DVD or, if you prefer the modern method, create a bootable USB drive with something like Rufus. I strongly recommend a fast USB 3.0 flash drive with at least 8GB of storage (also be aware the flash drive will be formatted and all information lost).

With the boot media created, you can either reboot and launch the boot-mode installer, or you can launch it straight from within Windows and begin the upgrade process.

Caution

It is strongly advised that you perform an Upgrade first. Do not start with a fresh install.

In order to perform a new install in the future, you will need to upgrade your existing OS first. Part of the upgrade process converts your existing OS license key over to the new Windows 10 key. Performing a fresh install will not work with existing Windows 7 and 8 keys. Further details on this can be found later in this article, but what you'll essentially have to do is upgrade your OS, extract your new Windows 10 key, and then you can do fresh installs from that point forward without issue.

The Media Creation Tool

All the steps offered with Microsoft's Media Creation and upgrade tool are pretty much self explanatory. Choose whether you are to perform a fresh install or upgrade. The upgrade allows you to either keep all settings and files (which is what we will be doing), or only keep files (effectively removing all applications).
Windows 10 Download Updates Before Install
A useful feature is that the installer will allow you to download any system updates before installing the OS. This means you don’t need to reboot multiple times to download and install the various system updates. The catch is you have no control over the updates, so extra system drivers may be installed as a result (which is why you should download important drivers beforehand, just in case the ones downloaded via the update cause problems).
Windows 10 Ready To Install
If nothing unexpected happens, the upgrade will continue to copy files over, ask some basic questions, reboot a couple times and land you on the login screen for the first time. It’s at this point Microsoft will ask for permission to gather inordinate amounts of information about you through various check boxes, including; search history, your location, voice and ‘inking’ data, and other personal data. This is all used as part of the extra functionality introduced, including Cortana, the Microsoft Store, calendar, contacts, and so forth.

For those coming from Windows 8, most of this won't be new, and you’ll be able to sign in with your Microsoft Account as usual. If you have come from Windows 7 and have not been introduced to all these extra privacy options, then it all may be a bit of shock. By default, a local account will be created. If you wish to take advantage of the new features, such as Cortana, then you will need to create and setup a Microsoft Account.

With basic account settings updated and/or Microsoft Account activated, you’ll be presented with a mostly familiar desktop, with all your settings carried over, but with the brand new Windows 10 styling and features.

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