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

UPDATED 11/21/21: 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 to 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).
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 cost 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 won’t be able to 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 to create the installation media, 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 

Use these steps to create a USB bootable media to install Windows 10:

  1. Open the Rufus official website.

  2. Under the “Download” section, click the link to download the latest version (3.5 or later).

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

  4. Under the “Device” section, use the drop-down menu and select the USB drive you want to erase and create the installation media.

  5. Under the “Boot selection” section, use the drop-down menu and select the Disk or ISO image option.

  6. On the right side, click the down arrow button, and select the Download option.

    Rufus download Windows 10 ISO option
    Rufus download Windows 10 ISO option
  7. Click the Download button.

    Rufus download ISO button
    Rufus download ISO button
  8. Select the Windows 10 option.

    Windows 10 or Windows 8.1 ISO selection
    Windows 10 or Windows 8.1 ISO selection
  9. Click the Continue button.

  10. Under the “Release” section, select the version of Windows 10 that you want to download.

    Quick tip: To select the May 2019 Update, pick the “1903” option, or you can choose to download older versions as well, including the October 2018 Update, April 2018 Update, Fall Creators Update, and even earlier versions.
  11. Click the Continue button.

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

  13. Click the Continue button.

  14. Select the language of Windows 10.

  15. Click the Continue button.

  16. Select the operating system architecture (x64 or x86). (If it’s a newer device, usually, you’ll select the x64 option.)

  17. Click the Download button.

    Download the Windows 10 ISO using Rufus
    Download the Windows 10 ISO using Rufus
  18. Select the location to save the Windows 10 ISO automatically.

  19. Use the default selections after the download.

  20. Click the Start button.

    Create bootable USB of Windows 10 using Rufus
    Create bootable USB of Windows 10 using Rufus
  21. Click the OK button to confirm the deletion of the USB drive data.

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

Clean installation of Windows 10

Use these steps to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows XP or Windows Vista using a clean installation:

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 your PC with USB bootable media. 

  2. Press any key to begin.

  3. Click the Next button.

    Windows Setup UI

  4. Click the Install now button.

    Windows 10 Install now button
    Windows 10 Install now button
  5. Enter the product key and click the Next button.

  6. Check the I accept the license terms option.

  7. Click the Next button.

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

    Windows 10 setup, custom install option
    Windows 10 setup, custom install option
  9. Select each partition in the hard drive that you want to install Windows 10, and click the Delete button. (Usually, the “Drive 0” is the drive that contains all the installation files.)

    Warning: Deleting a partition also deletes all data within. Also, it’s not required to delete the partitions from a secondary hard drive.
  10. Select the hard drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space) to install Windows 10.

  11. Click the Next button.

  12. After the installation, select your region on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

  13. Click the Yes button.

  14. Select your keyboard layout.

  15. Click the Yes button.

  16. If you’re not setting a second keyboard layout, click the Skip button.

  17. If your device is using an Ethernet connection, your device will connect to the network automatically. If you’re using a wireless connection, you’ll need to set up the connection manually.

  18. Select the Set up for personal use option.

  19. Click the Next button.

  20. Type your Microsoft account email, phone, or Skype identification.

  21. Click the Next button.

  22. Type your Microsoft account password.

    Quick note: If you have the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone, you can sign in without typing a password.
  23. Click the Next button.

  24. Click the Create a PIN button.

  25. Create a new PIN password.

  26. Click the OK button.

  27. Click the Yes button if you want to use Timeline across devices.

  28. Click the Do it later button to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

  29. Click the Next button to set up OneDrive automatically. (Alternatively, you can click the Only save file to this PC option to skip this step.)

  30. Click the Accept button to enable Cortana on your device. (If you want to use the “Hey Cortana” feature, also check the Respond when I say “Hey Cortana” option.)

  31. Select your privacy settings that best suits your needs.

  32. Click the Accept button.

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 were using on your previous installation and restore your files from backup.

Update November 21, 2021: This guide was initially published in 2015, and it’s been revised in November 2021.