Why you should do a clean install of Windows 10, not upgrade

You should do a clean install of Windows 10 rather than an upgrade keeping files and apps to avoid issues during a big feature update.

Windows 10 updates

Starting with Windows 10, Microsoft has moved away from releasing a new version of the operating system every three years to a more frequent schedule. Now, the OS has transitioned to a servicing model, which we know as Windows as a Service (WaaS). This new model allows the company to release big updates with features every six months. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update is the perfect example of Windows as a Service.

Although the software giant refers to these new releases as “updates,” they’re actually new versions of the operating system. They roll out as updates, but they require full reinstallation of the operating system to apply new changes. And while the installation process has gotten better, there is a big difference between a clean install and upgrading while keeping files and apps.

Upgrading can sometimes cause issues

The caveat is how these feature updates are installed on your device. On most devices, when a new version is available, Windows Update will silently download the new bits, and it’ll proceed with an automated in-place upgrade installation.

During the automated installation, your personal files, programs, and settings are migrated to the new version. This means that after the installation, everything should remain the same as before. However, usually, doing an upgrade using Windows Update or the Media Creation Tool will cause undesired results.

For example, during the Anniversary Update rollout, many users came across a number of issues. A number of users reported Cortana disappearing from the taskbar without a way to re-enable the feature again.

Some users noted that certain settings didn’t migrate after installing the Anniversary Update. Microsoft recognized the problem as an issue and promised a resolution.

There were also cases where Windows Store apps crashed immediately after trying to open them, error code 0x80070057 downloading the update using Windows Update, Freezing issues at startup after installing the update, and more.

Doing a clean install is your better choice

Building an operating system is not easy, even more so when you try to design it to work across thousands of different hardware configurations. At least during the early days, errors, bugs, and other issues are expected. However, many of these issues can easily be avoided by doing a clean install of Windows 10 instead of an in-place upgrade keeping files and apps.

A clean install basically wipes out your previous version of the operating system, and it’ll delete your programs, settings, and personal files. Then a fresh copy of Windows 10 will install with the latest feature update.

Of course, this process takes longer because it requires you to backup your files to an external drive or OneDrive. You have to reapply your custom settings and reinstall your previous applications. However, because there is no data or settings migration, you’ll avoid a lot of issues.

Hands-on with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

In my personal experience, on one of my computers, I opt out of using Windows Update to upgrade. Only to find out that Cortana disappeared, and some settings didn’t get transferred, and the Active Hours feature was nowhere to be found. After spending some time finding a solution, I simply decided to do a clean install of Windows 10 with the Anniversary Update. Now Cortana is working again on the taskbar, and the error messages are also gone.

Plan ahead and do a proper install

A good rule of thumb is always to wait a few weeks before installing a big update, at least until Microsoft pushes a few cumulative updates to fix some of the issues.

Although updates are now mandatory, if you use Windows 10 Pro, you can defer upgrades to prevent a new version of the operating system from installing right away. You can also set a metered network to achieve the same thing on Windows 10 Home.

Then, when it’s time to upgrade, you can download the ISO files to create a bootable media or use the Media Creation Tool to do a clean install of Windows 10 with the Anniversary Update (or any other update).

Did you upgrade already? Here’s what you do

If you have already upgraded your computer and you’re experiencing errors and other issues. You can quickly do a clean install of Windows 10 with the refresh tool.

The refresh tool is meant to help you do a clean install of Windows 10 with the latest update (whatever that might be at that time). Simply download the tool from Microsoft, double-click the file, and follow the on-screen directions to complete process without keeping anything.

Refresh Windows tool on the Anniversary Update

Keep in mind that if you want to do a backup of your files, note your settings and programs before proceeding. After the installation, you’ll need to restore your files from the backup, configure your settings manually, reinstall all your applications, and even provide the product key for the premium software you installed before.

Final words

Microsoft has made big improvements to the upgrade process, even more so with the release of the Anniversary Update. However, even after working more closely with manufacturer partners to keep software and drivers working correctly in new versions of Windows 10, problems still happen. Thankfully, doing a clean install prevents and solves most of the issues.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me. Email him at [email protected].