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How to upgrade to Windows 10: What you need to know

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Procrastinators beware. If you’re a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 user, you’re nearing a big deadline: on Dec. 31, 2017, the last free major upgrade loophole to Windows 10 will expire: assistive technologies. If you intend to upgrade to Windows 10 and the Fall Creators Update but haven’t actually completed the process, we can help.

For consumers, the choice is a simple one: You’ll be upgraded to either one of two versions of Windows 10: Windows 10 Home, or Windows 10 Professional. (This guide doesn’t cover the upgrade process to Windows 10 Mobile for phones.) Microsoft has also released the official retail pricing for Windows 10, in case you’re building a PC.

During the update process, plan to invest some time in prep work and at least an hour or two in the upgrade process itself. And be careful—some of your applications may be left behind or simply turned off.

(Editor’s Note: We originally wrote this story in 2015, to explain the upgrade process to Windows 10. We’ve updated our story with more details of how the process has evolved, and explain how you can still upgrade to Windows 10, then revert back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Your time is running out, however!)

Aside from one major component of some versions of Windows 7, the transition between the earlier versions of Microsoft’s operating system and the new Windows 10 should be relatively painless. Basically, if you own a “Pro” version of Windows, you’ll migrate to the Professional version of Windows 10. Otherwise, expect to receive a copy of Windows 10 Home. (We have more about the individual Windows 10 editions here.) Be aware, though, that on Aug. 2, you’ll also receive the major Anniversary Update to Windows 10. More on that later.

windows 7 8 to windows 10MICROSOFT

The upgrade path from Windows 7 and 8.1 to Windows 10.

Besides this story, a good reference is Microsoft’s Windows 10 FAQ, which explains what happens to existing applications on your PC, including (expired) anti-malware subscriptions, as well as the system hardware requirements. A related document is the minimum requirements for a “highly secure” Windows 10 device running the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update — this generally applies only to enterprise users, but may also affect secure boot in capabilities within consumer editions. What the second document boils down to is relatively simple: make sure you have a sixth-generation Intel Core chip or above, or else a comparable AMD processor.

Also, and this is important, make sure you’re running a genuine, licensed copy of Windows—sorry, Microsoft won’t be upgrading pirates for free.

Windows 10 prep work

Preparing for Windows 10 was never that hard to begin with, but Microsoft’s made it even easier. Windows 7 users must be running Service Pack 1 to enable the update. At one point, Windows 8 users were required to upgrade to Windows 8.1 before they upgraded to Windows 10. Microsoft representatives confirmed that this is no longer the case, though—Windows 8 will do just fine. 

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