Making The Jump

How to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows XP or Vista

Microsoft doesn’t offer a direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 10 or from Windows Vista, but it’s possible to update — here's how to do it.

Upgrading Windows XP or Vista to Windows 10

Although Microsoft doesn’t offer a direct upgrade path, it’s still possible to upgrade your PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista to Windows 10. However, you’ll need to perform a few extra steps to create a bootable installation media, backup your data, and perform a clean installation of Windows 10 on your system.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know before upgrading to Windows 10 and the steps to perform a clean installation of the new operating system.

How to upgrade to Windows 10 without losing files and apps

Alternatively, users who want to migrate their files, apps, and settings can purchase a copy of Windows 7, upgrade their current installation, and only then upgrade to Windows 10. However, a clean install will save you time and money and help you start with a fresh installation.

Windows 10 system requirements

Before going through the upgrade process, you’ll need to make sure your computer is compatible with Windows 10.

Here’s the list with the minimum hardware requirements:

Windows 10 version 1903 & 1909 requirements
Processor1GHz or faster CPU or System on a Chip (SoC).
RAM
1GB for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit .
Hard drive space
Existing installations: 16GB for 32-bit or 20GB for 64-bit.
Clean install or new PC: 32GB or larger.
GraphicsDirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
Display resolution800×600.
NetworkingWi-Fi or Ethernet adapter.

If your PC meets the minimum hardware requirements, you’ll need to purchase a copy of the OS. You can find Windows 10 Home for $139, while Windows 10 Pro costs $199.99, but it includes additional features, such as the ability to join your computer to a corporate network, remote desktop, and Hyper-V.

There is no direct upgrade path for Windows Vista (or the much older Windows XP) to Windows 10. As such, you’ll be doing a clean installation of the operating system, which will wipe your computer clean, deleting your files, apps, and settings to start from scratch again.

How to create a full backup on Windows XP or Vista

Before moving forward with the upgrade, you want to back up your files to an external drive and make sure you have the installation files and product key to reinstall any software after the upgrade.

You could also try to make a full backup, but Windows XP or Windows Vista don’t feature a “reliable” backup tool. However, you could try third-party software, such as Macrium Reflect. It costs a little bit of money, but having a backup will ensure you can go back if anything goes wrong.

How to upgrade Windows XP or Vista to Windows 10

You cannot use the Media Creation Tool on Windows Vista or XP to download and create a bootable media. This means that you’ll have to use another computer running Windows 7/8.1/10 for the installation media creation, or you’ll need a third-party tool such as Rufus to create a USB bootable media with the Windows 10 ISO file.

Creating Windows 10 bootable media 

To create a USB bootable media to install Windows 10 to upgrade XP or Vista, use these steps:

  1. Open Rufus’ website.

  2. Under the “Download” section, click the link to download the latest version.

  3. Double-click the executable to launch the tool.

  4. Click the Settings button (third button from the left) a the bottom of the page.

    Rufus settings button

  5. Under the “Settings” section, use the “Check for updates” drop-down menu and select the Daily option.

    Rufus update settings

  6. Click the Close button.

  7. Click the Close button again to close the app.

  8. Reopen the Rufus tool.

  9. Under the “Device” section, use the drop-down menu, and select the USB flash drive to create the bootable media.

    Quick tip: You will need to connect a USB flash drive of at least 8GB of storage to download the install files to upgrade Windows XP or Windows Vista. If you do not see the device on the list, you may need to restart the tool.
  10. Under the “Boot selection” section, use the drop-down menu and select the Disk or ISO image option.

  11. Click the down arrow button on the right side and select the Download option.

    Rufus Windows 10 ISO download option

  12. Click the Download button.

  13. Select the Windows 10 option.

  14. Click the Continue button.

  15. Under the “Release” section, select the version of Windows 10 to download.

    Rufus download Windows 10 ISO

  16. Click the Continue button.

  17. Select the edition, including Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro, or Windows 10 Education.

  18. Click the Continue button.

  19. Select the language for the installation.

  20. Click the Continue button.

  21. Select the operating system architecture (x64 or x86). (If the XP or Vista device supports it, you should select the x64 option.)

  22. Click the Download button.

  23. Select the location to save the Windows 10 ISO automatically.

  24. Continue with the default settings after the download.

  25. Click the Start button.

    Create Windows 10 USB with Rufus

  26. Click the OK button to confirm the deletion of the USB flash drive data.

Once you complete the steps, you can proceed with the clean installation of Windows 10.

Clean installation of Windows 10

To upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows XP or Windows Vista using a clean installation, use these steps:

Important: Before you can boot from the USB media, you may need to update your device BIOS settings to start from USB. This process usually requires pressing one of the function keys (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12), the ESC, or the Delete key. For more accurate instructions, visit your PC manufacturer’s support website.
  1. Start the PC with the Windows 10 USB flash drive.

  2. Press any key to continue.

  3. Click the Next button.

    Windows setup

  4. Click the Install now button.

    Windows 10 install option

  5. Confirm the product key to activate Windows 10 as you upgrade from Windows XP or Vista and click the Next button.

    Skip license key on Windows 10 setup

  6. Select the edition of “Windows 10” that your license key activates (if applicable).

    Select edition of Windows 10

  7. Check the I accept the license terms option.

  8. Click the Next button.

  9. Select the Custom: Install Windows only (advanced) option.

    Windows 10 custom install option

  10. Select each partition in the hard drive you want to install Windows 10 and click the Delete button. (Usually, the “Drive 0” is the drive that contains Windows Vista or XP setup files.)

    Warning: When you delete a partition, it also deletes all data on the drive. Also, it is not required to delete the partitions from a secondary hard drive.
  11. Select the hard drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space) to install Windows 10.

    Select SSD to install Windows 10

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. If the computer has an Ethernet connection, it will connect to the network automatically. If you have a wireless connection, you will need to set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the Set up for personal use option for Windows 10 Pro. The “Home” edition does not have this option.

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email, phone number, or Skype identification to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your Microsoft account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the Create a PIN button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Confirm your privacy settings that best suits your needs by turning on or off the toggle switch for each setting.

  29. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  30. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  31. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  32. Click the “Skip for now” button to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

    OOBE skip phone link to PC

  33. Click the Next button to allow OneDrive to automatically backup your Desktop, Pictures, and Documents folders to the cloud. Or click the “Only save file to this PC” option to skip this step.

    OOBE OneDrive setup

  34. Click the No, thanks button to skip the Microsoft 365 setup.

    OOBE skip Microsoft 365 offer

  35. Click the Not now button to disable Cortana.

    OOBE skip Cortana setup

After Windows 10 is completely installed, you’ll be presented with the new desktop and all the new features. At this time, it’s a good idea to go to Windows Update using the Settings app to check for updates. Also, go to Device Manager to confirm if the computer hardware is working correctly, and you don’t need to reinstall any driver.

Finally, install the applications you used on your previous installation and restore your files from backup.

Update March 16, 2022: This guide was initially published in 2015 and revised in March 2022.