How to upgrade to Windows 8 from Windows 7, Vista or XP (Step-by-Step)

Upgrade to Windows 8

Although many users would prefer to perform a clean Windows 8 installation, other users just want to go straight and perform an in-place upgrade to be able to maintain settings, documents and programs. This time around Microsoft paid more attention to details and made it really easy to upgrade from Windows 7, Vista and even XP.

Now, if you already spent countless hours configuring your current system the way you want it and you have a lot to lose performing a clean install, I’ve composed this step-by-step comprehensive instructional tutorial on how to upgrade to Windows 8 from the current version of the operating system you might be running — I would also recommend you to check this previous article that goes through everything you need to do before proceeding with the installation.

Upgrading to Windows 8 — Considerations

Keep apps, documents, settings and more

In this new version of the operating system, Microsoft is making sure that every user can upgrade. The upgrade path now includes: Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 to Windows 8; however there are some limitations depending from which version you are upgrading. Keep reading to learn more in detail the upgrade options available:

  • Keep Windows settings, personal files, and apps: Available only when upgrading Windows 7 to Windows 8.
  • Keep Windows settings and personal files: Available only when upgrading Windows Vista to Windows 8.
  • Keep personal files only: Available on all major upgrades from XP to Windows 8.
  • Nothing: Available on all major upgrades from XP to Windows 8

During the upgrade, files will not get updated, instead a fresh copy of Windows 8 will be installed followed by the action supported (from the list above).

What you can and what you cannot

  • Consider that installing twice the 32-bit version of Windows will not make it 64-bit. Kidding aside, you can only upgrade from 32-bit to 32-bit and 64-bit to 64-bit — these are the only combinations.

According to an article in by Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft upgrade restrictions guidance are as follows:

  • Users will be able to upgrade from Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic and Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 8 while keeping the operating system settings, documents and applications.
  • Users currently running Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro while keeping Windows settings, documents and applications. 
  • Users will able to upgrade to Windows 8 Enterprise (Only available with volume license with Microsoft Software Assurance contract) from Windows 7 Pro and Windows 7 Enterprise while keeping Windows settings, applications and documents.
  • Users will be allowed to upgrade to Windows 8 from Windows Vista (without the Service Pack 1 installed) but only documents will be kept. In the case this is an upgrade from Vista with SP1 installed, personal documents and system settings will kept.
  • Users that still running Windows XP can upgrade to Windows 8, however the Service Pack 3 or higher has to be installed as a requirement to be able to keep personal files.
  • Moreover, users will not be able to perform an upgrade or keep the OS settings, documents or applications if they are doing a cross-language installation. The good thing is that users can maintained personal documents during a cross-language install by using the Windows 8 Setup.

Depending on how you get the bits for the OS, the upgrade will be slightly different. Windows 8 will be available in many forms and various versions. If you buy a retail box, the 32-bit and 64-bit version will come included with the DVD, but of course, you’ll be able to install only one version.

Media to use DVD or USB

When using the download option, you’ll get started with the “Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant”. This piece of software will help you to create a bootable USB drive or DVD installation media and it’ll walk you through the upgrade process — so anyone can do it –. If something goes wrong a re-download option will be available.

Basically when you launch the setup the Upgrade Assistant will make sure that your PC will support Windows 8. It will perform a system check-up and it will create a detailed report that will reflect any compatibility issue and ways on how to solve them.

Note: If you are purchasing the downloadable media the “Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant” will run first, before the download begins. If you are upgrading with a physical media (DVD or USB) the Upgrade Assistant will run during the setup process.

Then the download will begin… The download manager also has the capability to pause and resume the download as necessary.

Install Win 8

After the download is completed, you can proceed in three ways:

  • Install now: No media is created and the installation will start immediately. 
  • Install by creating media: A DVD or USB drive is created and you can boot your PC with it or you can just start the upgrade from the Desktop.
  • Install later from your desktop: Option to continue at a later time.

Alright, I will assume that you want to install Windows 8 now, when you start the Windows Setup your system will not only be checked for compatibility, but also the amount of free space in your hard drive (important). The OS requires at least 20GB of free space on the primary partition where you wish to install Windows 8. If the Setup detects that you don’t meet the requirement, you’ll be asked to free up some space.

Cleanup space

An important thing to know is that your old installation (OS, files and settings) are maintained intact until the process completes successfully. If something were to go wrong or you change your mind the system will automatically rollback to the previous version.

Restore Windows 8 to a previous version

If the upgrade fails, the Setup will automatically restore the previous version of Windows.Tweet Quote

I guess there are not excuses, you have nothing to lose — Well… may be just the time you spent doing this.

Windows 8 system requirements

According to Microsoft, Windows 8 should work well in the same hardware specs that Windows Vista and Windows 7 runs on:

Hardware ComponentMinimum System Requirement
Processor (CPU)1-GHz or faster, 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
Memory (RAM)1 GB RAM (32-bit)

2 GB RAM (64-bit), and to take advantage of the power of 64-bit

I will recommend you to have at least 4 GB of RAM
Graphics Processor (GPU)DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
Hard Drive16 GB available of disk space (32-bit)

20 GB available of disk space (64-bit)
DisplayMinimum of 1024x768 to access the Windows Store and 1366x768 to use the Snap feature

Instructions upgrading to Windows 8

1. With the installation media in your computer, open Windows Explorer, browse the CD or USB, double-click setup.exe to start the upgrade process and click Install now.

2. One of the first things you’ll be prompted to do is to choose whether to get the latest update or not. It’s recommended to get the updates, but it’s up to you. This will ensure that you have the latest security and bug fixes available, plus you’ll be able to download any needed device driver such as network, video, sound, etc.; if necessary. Click “Go online to install updates now (recommended)” or No thanks”.

Windows Update during upgrade

3. Accept the license agreement by checking the “I accept the license terms” and click Next.

4. Click on “Upgrade: Install Windows and keep files, settings, and applications” to continue.

The Windows Setup will start doing its thing like copying files, separating files, settings and application from your previous installation. Depending on your hardware configuration, the installation should be quick, and like in every Windows installation, various restart are expected.

5. After the reboot you’ll need to enter the new product key, type it and then click Next. You can also click Skip, but if you already have it there is no need to wait for a later time to do it.

6. When the bits are in their respective places, you’ll be prompted to Personalize Windows 8. Select your color scheme, by moving the slider to the color you like and click Next.

7. Windows will ask you about the settings for your installation. You can choose the default settings by clicking the Use express settings or you can choose to Customize, which will be always recommended. For this tutorial, we are just going to use the express settings.

Note: Various configuration settings such as naming your computer, wireless configuration, local account will be ignored during the process, due to that we are doing an upgrade and Windows has already gather these settings from your previous installation.

Windows 8 will now finalize your settings and after a few moments you’ll be presented with the new lock screen, simply press the up-arrow to uncover the user log in box, and type your password.

To complete with the upgrade the Setup continues by finalizing some configuration and installing apps in the background. While you’re waiting you’ll notice that Windows 8 will start a short and basic tutorial on how to start using the new operating system, including: how to access the new menus and how to move around. You will know that the process has finished when you see the new Start screen.

You done it!

Windows 8 Start screen menu

Wrapping up

The Windows 8 upgrade is straight forward, there are not too many steps and it is easier than in previous version of the OS. Like I mentioned before depending how you obtained the operating system the process may be slightly different, but overall all the instructions laid out in this article will help you to successfully upgrade from Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. If you find a variation in one of the steps, please let us know in the comments below.

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 15 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 21 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].