Making The Jump

How to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows XP/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 go through 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 wanting to migrate their files, apps, and settings, can purchase a copy of Windows 7, upgrade their current installation, and then upgrade to Windows 10. However, a clean install of the operating system will not only save you time and money, but also it will help users to start with a nice and fresh installation.

Windows 10 system requirements

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

Here’s the list with the minimum hardware requirements:

  • Processor: 1GHz or faster processor or SoC
  • RAM: 1GB for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit
  • Hard disk space: 16GB for 32-bit OS 20GB for 64-bit OS
  • Graphics Card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Display: 1024×600

How to get a Windows 10 product key

If your PC meets the minimum hardware requirements, you’ll need to purchase a copy of the new operating system. You can find Windows 10 Home as low as $92, while Windows 10 Pro can cost $99.99, but it includes additional features, such as the ability to join your computer to a corporate network, remote desktop, and Hyper-V.

There is not a 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 OS, 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/Vista

Before moving forward with the upgrade, you want to make a backup of 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 of your system, but Windows XP or Windows Vista don’t feature a “reliable” backup tool. However, you could try a third-party software, such as Acronis. It cost a little bit of money, but if anything goes wrong, having a backup will ensure you can go back.

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.

To upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows XP or Windows Vista, you’ll need to do a clean installation using the following steps:

  1. Download the Windows 10 ISO file from this Microsoft support website. (This links only works on PCs running Windows Vista or other unsupported OSes.)

  2. Connect a USB flash drive with at least 4GB to 8GB of free space. (Remember that any data inside the storage will be deleted.)

  3. Download and install Rufus on your device

    It should be noted that if you want to avoid downloading and creating your own installation media, Microsoft is also selling the OS on a USB flash drive: Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro.

  4. Launch Rufus.

  5. Under “Devices”, select the removable storage you want to use.

  6. Under “Format Options”, click the drive icon next to “Create a bootable disk using ISO image” option.

  7. Browse and open the Windows 10 ISO file you want to use.

  8. Click the Start button.

  9. Click OK to confirm that the data inside the drive will be deleted in the process.

    Before moving to the next step, reboot your computer access the system BIOS, and change the boot order to boot from USB or DVD, depending on the media you have created. There are various ways to access the system BIOS, as such make sure to check your manufacturer’s support website for more information on this topic.

  10. Reboot your device with the newly created bootable media. 

  11. On the Windows 10 Setup wizard, click Next.

  12. Click Install Now,

  13. Click Accept to agree to the licensing and click Next.

  14. Enter the Windows 10 product key when prompted and click Next.

  15. The upgrade option won’t be available for Windows XP or Windows Vista. Select the Custom: Install Windows only (advanced) option.

    Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)

  16. Select and delete all the partitions.

  17. Select the drive with unallocated space, and click Next to begin the installation process.

    Windows setup deleting partition

Once you completed the steps, the installation process will begin. After the installation is complete, you’ll be presented with the out-of-box-experience to configure Windows 10 to your needs.

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 new updates. Also go to Device Manager to check your 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.