You are here

Microsoft Windows 10 Clean Installation Manual

*** Disclaimer: Make sure to back up your data before proceeding, as I will not be held responsible for anything that goes wrong with the upgrade & clean installation process of Microsoft Windows 10. ***

Today is a big day for Microsoft, as Windows 10 just came out. For the millions of people who were offered free upgrades, today I'll show you how to upgrade to, and if you choose so, do the so-called "clean install" of Windows 10 without waiting for Windows Update whatsoever. I stayed up all night to figure this out, and finally got it working. Here we go:

1) Download Microsoft's Media Creation Tool:

Click "Download Tool Now (32-bit version)" if you have a 32-bit version of Windows 7 or 8. Click "Download Tool Now (64-bit version)" if you have a 64-bit version of Windows 7 or 8.

2) Create a USB drive or DVD disk of Windows 10 using the Media Creation Tool:

As an alternative, there is a way to force Windows Update to download the Windows 10 files too (which also involves emptying a certain folder within the C drive and some other dumb stupid shit). But I don't recommend this method whatsoever (and thus won't even bother showing you any of the links and related steps), because I've seen way too many people complain that they've yet to successfully finish downloading them after repeatedly trying to download over and over again multiple times. Why the hell would you want to do this if you can download just once using a method that actually works the first time? :P

A) Choose "Create installation media for another PC" (or "Upgrade this PC now" if this option throws you error messages), and click "Next":

Media Creation Tool - What Do You Want To Do?

Media Creation Tool - "What do you want to do?"

B) Choose your language, edition and architecture:

Media Creation Tool - Select Language Architecture And Edition

Media Creation Tool - "Select language, architecture, and edition"

For edition, refer to the following link: (under "Upgrade Editions")

For architecture, it's worth noting here that you should NOT choose "Both" especially if you're gonna create a DVD, because the size of the file will be too big to fit into a typical DVD (and will take you much longer to download anyway). In my case, Windows 10 Pro in 64-bit came out to be 3.1 GB (3,333,357,568 bytes), which is already large enough, while the one that has both 32-bit & 64-bit versions came out to be a whopping 5.55 GB (5,961,940,992 bytes). And for reference, Windows 10 Home in 32-bit came out to be 2.41 GB (2,598,436,864 bytes) & Windows 10 Home in 64-bit came out to be 3.11 GB (3,347,578,880 bytes). These numbers should give you a good enough idea of how big whatever file you want to download might be.

My advice is to download exactly what you need initially for your main computer, and then download other versions for whatever else versions you need later. And if you're a family with multiple desktops & laptops with several different configurations, you'll probably have to download multiple times anyway (since, for instance, there is currently no way to download one official file that includes both Windows 10 Home & Pro).

C) Choose which media to use. I chose "ISO file", so that I can burn it to a DVD later:

Media Creation Tool - Choose Which Media To Use

Media Creation Tool - "Choose which media to use"

Media Creation Tool - Downloading Windows 10

Media Creation Tool - "Downloading Windows 10"

Media Creation Tool - Creating Windows 10 Media

Media Creation Tool - "Creating Windows 10 media"

Media Creation Tool - Burn The ISO File To A DVD

Media Creation Tool - "Burn the ISO file to a DVD"

3) Back up your data:

It is now the perfect time to back up your data, since it'll take a while for the download to complete. Don't forget that clean installation means you will lose everything (including possibly important application data & settings) on your C drive, so make sure you back up whatever you need before proceeding.

4) Upgrade to Windows 10 initially from within Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) or 8.1:

Run setup.exe directly from within Windows 7 SP1 (NOT 7) or 8.1 (NOT 8) while logged in. This step is of paramount importance, as it's where Windows 10 itself detects that you indeed have a licensed, activated OS.

Needless to say, this means that if you have a pirated copy of Windows, you'll have to make sure it's somehow activated first. And I'm afraid I don't know much regarding how pirated copies somehow get activated (Microsoft made it harder to do this starting with Windows Vista), simply because I never had to resort to them (normally I torrent everything) ever since Windows 7 (I skipped Windows Vista for obvious reasons). This is due to the fact that I've been able to purchase legit copies for just $15 (my last day job was with SDSU, and I kept my ID card after quitting).

Anyway, during installation, you will NOT be asked to enter a Windows 10 product key (for the very few of you that do get this request, read how user "uburex" & I solved this weird problem together in the comments section below, or try ProduKey, which I described more in detail at the end of this step below). It should be a smooth upgrade:

Windows 10 Upgrade - Choose What To Keep

Windows 10 Upgrade - "Choose what to keep"

Windows 10 Upgrade - Get Important Updates

Windows 10 Upgrade - "Get important updates"

Windows 10 Upgrade - Ready To Install

Windows 10 Upgrade - "Ready to install"

After upgrading, double-check that Windows 10 has been automatically activated. You can do this by clicking the "File Explorer" icon along the icons next to "Search the web and Windows" towards the bottom left of your screen, and then right-clicking "This PC" towards the bottom left of the window that pops up. Look under "Windows Activation", and it should say "Windows is activated":

Windows 10 Pro - Activated

Windows 10 - "Windows is activated"

And needless to say, you can stop right here if you're actually happy with what you see. Nobody says you HAVE to do a clean install, and I actually think most people will be perfectly happy with just the upgrade. But if you're like me and insist on starting fresh, then proceed to the last step after understanding the advantages & disadvantages of upgrading vs. clean install:

A) Advantages of upgrading:

I) You can keep your application settings & data intact.

II) You can save time and say you're done.

III) You can revert back to your previous version of Windows if you really don't like it (maybe your machine is not fast enough). If you look inside your C drive after upgrading, you'll notice a directory called "Windows.old" just under "Windows". This is the directory that holds all the old files, and automatically disappears after 30 days (which means you have that much time to go back to your old Windows).

B) Disadvantages of upgrading:

I) You don't get to start fresh (because of the "Windows.old" directory).

Back in the early days of Windows (until XP), we all had to reinstall the OS pretty much every year no matter how good we were, simply because it sucked. So almost everybody who knew what they were doing chose clean install vs. upgrade, because upgrade would've made them more miserable than they were already. But that stopped with Windows 7, meaning Microsoft has finally caught up with Apple in terms of reliability. So this disadvantage is actually not such a big deal anymore.

II) For some of us, we just don't feel good about it. It doesn't feel right. Or something.

C) Advantages of clean install:

I) You start fresh. There is no "Windows.old" directory since you're starting from scratch. But like I mentioned above, this advantage is actually not such a big deal anymore.

II) For some of us, we just feel better about it. It's like starting a new life. Fuck yeah.

D) Disadvantages of clean install:

I) You can't easily go back to your previous version of Windows (because there is no "Windows.old" directory). The only way is to manually reinstall it.

II) You have to spend additional time.

III) You have to reinstall all your programs and edit their settings again.

IV) There's always a very remote possibility of fucking something up catastrophically that might force you to reinstall Windows 7 or 8 and upgrade to Windows 10 again. It's never happened to me (I graduated with a CS degree), but I can see how intimidating this can be for the average individual and how things can go wrong.

I recommend the clean install option if you're one of those that know what you're doing (or not but are a risk taker, want to geek out and learn something new), and your computer is very recent and so fast that you're positive it'll keep you happy for quite some time (since it doesn't make sense to take the time to do a clean install on a machine that's barely adequate today and will be obsolete tomorrow). I did it because I just built my newest rig, which I intend on using for the next decade (yes, it's that powerful) until starting again from scratch.

And last but not least, some people say that you can also download a freeware program called ProduKey to somehow extract your new Windows 10 product key before venturing forward. I never bothered doing this, but it might provide some additional comfort to those that have pirated copies of Windows 7 or 8 (or are paranoid or simply just too scared to proceed).

5) Windows 10 Clean Installation:

Whatever you do, do NOT attempt to do a clean installation of Windows 10 without going through step 4 above. You MUST initially run setup.exe from directly within Windows 7 SP1 or 8.1 first, or you're fucked!

You are now finally ready for a clean installation of Windows 10. Restart your computer to boot directly from either your USB drive or DVD drive (by either changing the boot order in your computer's BIOS settings or just pressing the F8 key on your keyboard), and press any key when you see the prompt "Press any key to boot from CD or DVD". And if you're booting from USB, make sure to take it out when the computer reboots, or Windows 10 will try to install itself over and over again. If you're booting from DVD, you're fine as long as you ignore the message after your computer reboots. When you get to the screen where it asks "Which type of installation do you want?", choose the "Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)" option (instead of the "Upgrade" option that is selected by default):

Windows 10 Clean Install - Which Type Of Installation Do You Want

Windows 10 Clean Install - "Which type of installation do you want?"

It's worth noting here that for step 4, technically you can upgrade after rebooting from DVD or USB using the "Upgrade: Install Windows and keep files, settings, and applications" option above, but I've heard some people saying that it doesn't work this way for upgrading to Windows 10 for some odd reason. Why? I've no idea. Maybe they were all operator errors, or maybe what they're saying is true. My advice is to just upgrade straight from within Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) or 8.1, the way that I know for sure works 100%. Ok, let's get back to step 5.

The scariest part here is during the actual installation process itself, when you WILL be asked to enter a Windows 10 product key (which you don't have, because you never bought the actual software in the first place since it's offered by Microsoft for free). As a matter of fact, you will be asked for the product key TWICE, one towards the beginning and another towards the end of the installation process. Just press "Skip" towards the bottom right of your screen (for the first one) & "Do this later" towards the bottom left of your screen (for the second one). Don't worry, because everything will work out just fine:

Windows 10 Clean Install - Enter The Product Key To Activate Windows

Windows 10 Clean Install - "Enter the product key to activate Windows"

Windows 10 Clean Install - It's Time To Enter The Product Key

Windows 10 Clean Install - "It's time to enter the product key"

Or for those of you that decided to use ProduKey to somehow extract your new Windows 10 product key described above, you can enter it here. It should work. But if it doesn't, you might not want to proceed, especially those of you that have pirated copies of Windows 7 or 8. But then again, I've never used the software myself, so I can't vouch that it'll work for Windows 10 at this time.

Another part that is almost as scary is when you get to the part where you're given the opportunity to create or delete partitions and format your hard disk. I chose the cleanest installation method possible by deleting all existing partitions for the C drive and formatting it. Again, don't worry. Everything will work out just fine, because a clean install is a clean install whether you choose to create or delete partitions or format your hard disk or not. It shouldn't matter anyway since you're still starting fresh and will lose everything no matter what. Have you backed up your data yet? :P

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive Original State

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive Original State

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive After Deleting All Partitions

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive After Deleting All Partitions

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive New Partition Message

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive New Partition Message

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive After Creating New Partition

Windows 10 Clean Install - C Drive After Creating New Partition

Windows 10 Clean Install - Format Warning

Windows 10 Clean Install - Format Warning

This is actually similar to how a typical Windows upgrade process worked just like a clean install process ever since Vista, as long as you knew exactly what you were doing. Allow me to elaborate on its theory, as I've personally gone through this clean install process many times myself. Let's say you have a Windows 8 Pro 64-Bit Upgrade DVD. You can actually install this one just like the full version by doing the following:

A) Install it on a machine that you just built, making sure you're NOT connected online during the whole process. What this process actually does is make Windows think that it now has a licensed, activated OS to upgrade from, even though this is obviously not the case here.

B) Restart your computer and immediately do a clean install. From creating & deleting partitions, to formatting your hard disk, you can go through the whole nine yards. Feel free to connect online whenever it asks you to enter a product key. Believe it or not, your OS will be activated because it thinks it's upgrading from a previous OS. And in the rare case that it refuses to activate, the last resort is to just call a number that it provides. That always does the trick.

This is actually a well-known secret, and is also probably why lots of people with pirated copies can still somehow get a free upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft has always been quite generous about its clean install policy, as long as you do it in a certain way to bypass whatever the company technically doesn't allow.

And last but not least, it's also worth mentioning that the product key has been embedded straight into the BIOS ever since Windows 8. In the past, new Windows PCs have displayed their product keys on stickers (usually on the side of a desktop and on the base or the bottom of the battery compartment on a laptop). But starting with Windows 8, Microsoft has decided to store and encrypt the key in the BIOS instead. If this doesn't provide everyone with 100% confidence that a clean install of Windows 10 is possible even after creating or deleting partitions and formatting your hard disk, I don't know what will. :P

So in summary, you can make the Windows 10 clean install work by providing it with a product key from Windows 7 or 8 during the upgrade process (which then transforms into a Windows 10 product key that gets embedded into the BIOS and is actually what gets used during the actual clean install process), just like how you can make Windows 8 clean install work by providing it with an albeit technically non-existent product key from Windows 8 itself.

The only difference here is that Microsoft made a small change to Windows 10 for us so that we can actually SKIP entering the product key and still do a clean install, since unlike the Windows 8 example above, we can't enter a product key for Windows 10 that we don't have, because we only have the product key for Windows 8 (I actually did try entering my Windows 8 product key, which of course didn't work). And for the dense ones out there still scratching their heads, you can of course enter a Windows 10 product key if you have one, which is the case if you had bought a retail copy (or if you used ProduKey to somehow extract your new Windows 10 product key at the end of step 4 above). :)

Anyway, let's get back to finishing up the clean install. After installation, double-check again that Windows 10 has been automatically activated.

And that's it. Good luck, and have fun with your new OS. Seriously, WINDOWS 10 FUCKING ROCKS!!! ;)

P.S. There are lots of people saying that Windows 10 is requiring them to restart their computer several times before it activates or throws the following error code:

"Windows can't activate right now. Try again later."

This is most likely because Microsoft's servers are currently overloaded due to millions of people trying to install Windows 10 all at once. To force the activation, you can try the following:

I) Type the command "cmd" (without quotes) at the bottom left of your screen where it says "Search the web and Windows".

II) Type the command "slmgr.vbs /ato" (without quotes) at the command prompt of the window that pops up.

This will try to force the activation, although there have been reports of people having to enter this command from a few dozen times up to even a few hundred times. I never had to do this, so maybe I got lucky. YMMV. Good luck.

You are here