Windows 11 upgrade vs. clean install (difference)

Here's the difference between a Windows 11 upgrade and a clean installation, and the option you should choose.

Windows 11 22H2 clean install
Windows 11 22H2 clean install
  • On Windows 11, an upgrade means switching from an older to a newer version of the operating system and preserving your files, settings, and apps.
  • A clean install means erasing the hard drive and installing a fresh copy of Windows 11 without preserving settings, apps, and files.
  • Usually, a clean installation is better than an upgrade for new setups, upgrades, or reinstalls.

On Windows 11, you have at least two installation methods, including an “in-place upgrade” or “clean install.” If you need to know which one to choose, you are not the only one. In this guide, we’ll look into the differences between the two to help you decide.

Windows 11 upgrade vs. clean install

An upgrade usually happens when you install a new version of Windows 11 on top of the previous version preserving your files, settings, and apps. For example, when updating from version 21H2 to 22H2. A clean installation describes the process of deleting everything on the hard drive and then installing a fresh copy of Windows 11. This process doesn’t preserve your files, settings, or apps. You can use a clean installation to set up the operating system for the time, upgrade to a new version, or reinstall Windows 11 to resolve issues.


The “upgrade” or “in-place upgrade” is the most popular method to install a new version of the operating system, in this case, Windows 11. The process will create a copy of the current installation, replacing the setup with a newer version while migrating your settings, applications, and files.


Usually, if the current installation works correctly, you can use the in-place upgrade to move to a newer version of Windows while saving time since you won’t need to reinstall your applications or re-apply your preferred settings. (This is the fastest method to upgrade.)

If there’s a problem during the upgrade, the setup can automatically roll back to the previous installation, so you can troubleshoot the issue and keep using the device.

Also, if you don’t like the new system or experience problems you can’t resolve after the installation, you have ten days to roll back to the previous version. (However, this option will not keep any system changes or applications installed after the upgrade.)


However, an upgrade can cause problems due to custom configurations, buggy drivers, and compatibility issues with specific applications (such as old or poorly designed programs) from the current installation.

You also have to consider that during the process, the setup will try to bring everything from the old to the new installation, which means that some problems may come along with the upgrade. For example, the setup may transfer unnecessary Registry entries, files, and programs you no longer need. The upgrade process can also bring viruses and other types of malware to the new installation of Windows 11.

Furthermore, after an upgrade, typically, there’s always something you will need to fix or reconfigure manually.

Upgrade options

Microsoft offers two ways to upgrade a system. You can perform an in-place upgrade to a new version through the Windows Update settings. Alternatively, you can also use the Installation Assistant tool that works like “Windows Update.” However, the program was designed to upgrade systems when the “Windows Update” settings are not working.

These methods are only available to upgrade from Windows 10 to 11 or from an older version of Windows 11 to a newer one, such as from version 21H2 to 22H2.

Clean install

A “clean install of Windows 11” is always recommended for new setups, upgrades, or reinstalls. This method takes the most time and doesn’t keep your files, settings, and apps, but it’s the method that is more likely to complete the installation successfully.


When you perform a clean installation, you can erase and format the hard drive to apply a fresh installation of Windows 11.

Since the process deletes everything on the drive, you won’t encounter compatibility issues with apps or problems with drivers that will cause the installation to fail.

After the installation, you will have to complete the out-of-box experience (OOBE) to choose your preferences and create an account.

A clean installation also means that the setup won’t try to bring anything from the previous version, fixing performance and battery issues, system and compatibility problems, and more. Also, this process will help you remove virtually any malware on the computer.

Another reason to choose a clean installation version and upgrade is that a fresh setup doesn’t include any bloatware, only the inbox apps from the original image of Windows 11.


If you encounter issues, you must have a full system backup to restore the previous version since there’s no rollback option. You’ll need to restore your files from a file backup manually. Also, you will need to reinstall and reconfigure all your applications, which can take a long time.

After the installation, you may need to check and install missing drivers that Windows 11 could not detect automatically. However, on branded devices, this is a straightforward process using the “Windows Update” settings or the driver assistant application available from most manufacturers.

Clean install options

Microsoft offers different methods to perform a clean installation of Windows 11, but creating a bootable USB media that you can use to start the computer is the best option.

If you want to perform a clean install, you can create a Windows 11 bootable USB media using the Microsoft Media Creation Tool or the third-party tool known as Rufus. You can follow these instructions to complete a Windows 11 clean install from USB and every other method available.

Windows 11 also includes the “Reset this PC” option with the option to erase the drive to start with a fresh setup. However, this process doesn’t upgrade the system to a newer version. Instead, it’s a feature to reinstall the same version of the operating system to fix issues. Also, similar to the upgrade process, this method can cause problems.

Finally, the clean installation problems will work to upgrade any compatible system to Windows 11 regardless of the previous version of the operating system, including Windows 11, 10, 8.1, 7, Vista, XP, Linux, etc., because the previous setup is erased before the new installation.

Installation method you should choose

The Windows 11 clean installation process is always the method you should try to choose. It takes the most time, but it gives you a piece of mind that you will be using a setup without issues or bloatware and free of malware.

If you don’t have the time and everything is working correctly or are not a technical user, you can choose the in-place upgrade process since it’s the easiest and fastest upgrade method (if everything goes according to plan).

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].