Step-by-step

How to upgrade Windows 7 to Windows 10 with clean install

Windows 7 end of life is on January 2020, it's time to upgrade to Windows 10. In this guide, you'll learn to steps to make the leap using a clean installation.

Windows 7 to Windows 10 clean upgrade

UPDATED 9/19: If you’re running Windows 7, you can upgrade to Windows 10 by performing a clean installation, and then restoring your files from backup. You can perform this task using the Media Creation Tool or using a third-party tool, such as Rufus.

Although you can also upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 using an in-place upgrade without losing your files is typically the recommended method, there’s always a chance of issues and errors, which could result from custom configurations, apps and drivers incompatibility, and other problems. A clean installation minimizes the chances of problems, because you’ll be deleting everything on the hard drive and installing a fresh copy of the OS.

In this guide, you’ll learn the steps to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 making sure you don’t run into issues during the installation. (Microsoft will be ending support of Windows 7 on January 14, 2020, and here’s what you need to know.)

Windows 10 minimum hardware requirements

These are the minimum hardware requirements to upgrade to Windows 10:

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.

In addition to determine the hardware compatibility, to upgrade Windows 7 to Windows 10, you’ll need a valid Windows 10 product key, as you can’t any longer use a Windows 7 product key to activate the new installation. If you try, you’ll get a “This product key didn’t work. Please check it and try again, or try a different key” message.

Update September 19, 2019: You may still upgrade to Windows 10 using a Windows 7 product key, but be aware that Microsoft no longer offers free upgrades, as such the company can stop devices from activating using this method at any time.

How to create a full backup of Windows 7

Although, Microsoft has been improving the upgrade process with Windows 10, there are always chances that the upgrade will fail, and to avoid any problems, you should make sure to have a full backup of your system that you can use to roll back if anything happens.

To create a full backup on Windows 7, connect an external hard drive with enough storage, and use these steps:

  1. Open Control Panel.

  2. Click on System and Security.

  3. Click on Backup and Restore.

    Backup and Restore on Windows 7
    Backup and Restore on Windows 7
  4. Click the Create a system image option from the left pane.

    Create system image option on Windows 7
    Create system image option on Windows 7
  5. Select the On a hard disk option.

    Backup destination on Windows 7
    Backup destination on Windows 7
  6. Click the Next button.

  7. Click the Start backup button.

    Start full backup of Windows 7
    Start full backup of Windows 7
  8. Click the No button to confirm you don’t want to create a system repair disc. (You can also use the Windows 10 or Windows 7 bootable media.)

  9. Click the Close button.

Once you complete the steps, a full backup of your device will be created, which you can use in case something goes wrong during the upgrade.

Also, in addition to a full backup, you’ll need to create a backup of your files and web browser settings (favorite, password, and personal settings) to the cloud, such as using OneDrive, or external drive that you can restore manually on the new installation.

How to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7

Before you can proceed with the upgrade process, you first need to create a USB bootable media using the Media Creation Tool or Rufus with the Windows 10 installation files.

Important: To start your device with a bootable media, you need to change the BIOS settings. This process usually requires pressing one of the function keys (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12), the ESC or Delete key. For more accurate instructions, check your hardware manufacturer’s support website.

Use these steps to upgrade Windows 7 to Windows 10 using a clean installation:

  1. Start your Windows 7 PC with the Windows 10 USB bootable media.

  2. Press any key to begin.

  3. Click the Next button.

  4. Click the Install now button.

    Windows 10 setup install option
    Windows 10 setup install option
  5. Confirm the genuine Windows 10 product key.

    Enter product key for Windows 10
    Enter product key for Windows 10
  6. Click the Next button.

  7. Select the version of Windows 10 that your product key activates (if applicable).

  8. Click the Next button.

  9. Check the I accept the license terms option.

    Windows 10 license terms agreement
    Windows 10 license terms agreement
  10. Click the Next button.

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

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

    Windows 10 clean install partitioning option
    Windows 10 clean install partitioning option
    Warning: Deleting a partition also deletes all data within. It’s not required to delete the partitions from a secondary hard drive.
  13. Click the OK button.

  14. Select the drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space) to begin the upgrade process to Windows 10 from Windows 7.

    Installing Windows 10 on unallocated space
    Installing Windows 10 on unallocated space
  15. Click the Next button.

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

    Windows 10 OOBE, select Region
    Windows 10 OOBE, select Region
    Quick note: The steps below may be slightly different depending on the version of Windows 10 that you’re installing, but the concept is similar for all versions.
  17. Click the Yes button.

  18. Select your keyboard layout.

    Windows 10 OOBE, select keyboard layout
    Windows 10 OOBE, select keyboard layout
  19. Click the Yes button.

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

  21. 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.

  22. Select the Set up for personal use option.

    Windows 10 OOBE, personal use setup
    Windows 10 OOBE, personal use setup
  23. Click the Next button.

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

    Windows 10 OOBE, Microsoft Account setup
    Windows 10 OOBE, Microsoft Account setup
  25. Click the Next button.

  26. 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.
  27. Click the Next button.

  28. Click the Create a PIN button.

  29. Create a new PIN password.

    Create a PIN for Windows 10
    Create a PIN for Windows 10
  30. Click the OK button.

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

    Windows 10 OOBE, enable Timeline
    Windows 10 OOBE, enable Timeline
  32. Click the Do it later button to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

    Skip phone setup on Windows 10 OOBE
    Skip phone setup on Windows 10 OOBE
  33. 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.)

    OneDrive setup, Windows 10 OOBE
    OneDrive setup, Windows 10 OOBE
  34. 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.)

    Enable Cortana, WIndows 10 OOBE
    Enable Cortana, WIndows 10 OOBE
  35. Select your privacy settings that best suits your needs.

    Privacy settings, Windows 10 OOBE
    Privacy settings, Windows 10 OOBE
  36. Click the Accept button.

After you complete the steps, the Windows 7 installation will be wiped out and the setup will install a clean copy of Windows 10.

The last thing left to do is restore your files from the file backup that you created manually, and make sure to check for updates on Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update.

Although installing the new version of Windows 10 should be an easy process, if you’re seeing any errors, bugs, or any other issue that you can’t figure out, you can submit your questions in the Pureinfotech forums to get help.