How to update to Windows 8.1 final from any OS version covering all the basics

Windows 8.1 Final screenshot of the Start screen

As we get closer to Windows 8.1 General Availability, that being on October 18th and on the 17th for current users via the Windows Store, one question starts to emerge: How do I update to Windows 8.1 final? The is a question with multiple answers, it all depends what you are using.

Before going forward, let’s start from the beginning and say that Windows 8.1 is an update, not an upgrade, and it’s the first of its kind. This is because Microsoft is moving away from a traditional 3-year to a yearly release model, so things happen more quickly now. The new operating system update not only brings bug fixes and performance improvements, but also new features. — A Windows Service Pack would be the closest thing you can think of to compare, but Service Packs never offered new features, except for Windows XP, of course.

For current Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 is a free update and it will be delivered via the Windows Store app.

SEE ALSO: Apps and services bundled in Windows 8.1, Skype is also included

All that said, will it be worth it? Absolutely yes! This is full-featured update that aims to fix many shortcomings in the operating system and there are so many small changes that makes it very significant. For example, Microsoft is bringing back the Start button and the Start screen gets redesigned, now it has new live tiles sizes, new parallax wallpapers, and you can use your own desktop background. Boot to desktop is also a highly requested new option, PC Settings has changed and now you’ll be able to find all Windows settings in one place, search is much improved and powered by Bing, and the company is also releasing new versions of branded Windows 8 apps and some new ones like Help + Tips to aid users getting started with the OS, Reading List, Alarms, SkyDrive, Calculator, Food & Drink, Scan, Sound Recorder, and many more.

Here is great Windows 8.1 demo by Jensen Harris, Director of Program Management for the Windows User Experience Team, that shows pretty everything is new in the OS. I recommend watching it!

Updating to Windows 8.1

Now that you have a little more information, let’s talk about updating options to Windows 8.1 final 6.3.9600 (which is the formal final version number).

I’ll start from the most conflicting scenario, which is updating from Windows 8.1 Preview to the final version or a.k.a RTM. If you’re running the Preview, you have good and bad news. The good news is that Microsoft won’t restrict users from installing the final version and user accounts, personal data, settings, and personalization will be preserved in the process. The bad news, though, is that Windows 8 apps and traditional desktop applications will need to be reinstalled. This is also true installing Windows RT 8.1, but with the difference that desktop applications aren’t supported, so you don’t have to reinstall any of them.

For Windows RT 8.1 Preview users there is another bad news, you cannot, rollback the OS, but Microsoft will allow you to update to the final version in October. If the installation fails, you’ll need to contact your PC manufacturers (or Microsoft if it’s Surface RT).

Updating from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. This is the ideal situation, if you skipped the preview, moving to the new OS will be a lot easier and for most of the users it will be a straightforward process. You will get a notification, confirming the installation will start the process. All your PC settings, personal data, personalization, Windows 8 apps and traditional desktop apps, will be preserved in the process.

Note: It’s still unclear if Microsoft will required to install an optional update before installing the new version of the OS, or if the software giant will be offering an ISO version of 8.1. Following previous behaviour sounds like it will be the case. I’ll update this article as more information becomes available.

Updating Windows 8 with Media Center to Windows 8.1. Updating to the new OS should not affect Media Center. However, if you move the latest version of the operating system using an ISO file, you’ll have to reinstall the application with the Windows 8 Pro Pack or Windows 8 Media Center Pack product key.

Upgrading from Windows 7 or any previous version (e.g., Vista and XP) to Windows 8.1. It’s obvious, but I say it anyways, in this situation the update won’t be free, you’ll have to buy the upgrade or full version of Windows 8.1 (pricing still not set, but it should be similar to the ones we see today). Having said that, users will be able to upgrade from Windows 7, Vista, and Windows XP with the difference that in with Windows 7, you’ll keep personal files and with other versions nothing will be kept, so basically you’ll be doing a clean install.

Additional information

If you’re running Windows 8/RT or Preview, you won’t need a product key performing the update or clean install as the operating system is smart enough to look and retrieve the product key from your current installation. But it isn’t a bad idea to write it down just in case.

Before doing anything make a full backup of your PC. I’ll recommend you to follow these instructions to backup your PC in Windows 8. For Preview users this is slightly different, but don’t worry I got you covered, here is the guide you need to use.

If you’ve been following my previous writing, you probably created a full backup of Windows 8 before installing Windows 8.1 Preview. Now it will be the time to backup your personal files and restore your system to the previous version as the first step to get ready for the new update. — The process will be a lot easier.

After you move to the new version, make sure to check your PC manufacturer’s website and download the latest drivers updates for your computer components. This will help to avoid many issues moving forward. Also remember that Windows comes with a built-in antivirus, so you don’t have worry about getting the PC infected on day one.

In case any of this is confusing, ask! You can leave your comments and questions in the section below. But let me give you a piece of advice, always the best way to upgrade is to backup your personal files and other important information, such as usernames and passwords from different web sites, and perform a clean install of the operating system. This route will save you a lot of time sometimes and you’ll know sure the installation is top notch.

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 Email him at [email protected].