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How to upgrade to Windows 10 and get your new licence key

David Ludlow Katharine Byrne
3 Nov 2016
Windows 10
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Missed the free Windows 10 upgrade? Here's how to upgrade to Microsoft's latest operating system

During the first year of Windows 10, Microsoft offered a free upgrade for all existing Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. Sadly, that period has long since passed, as the free upgrade progamme came to an end on 29 July 2016. As a result, you'll now need to pay for Windows 10 if you want to upgrade to the new operating system. Windows 10 definitely offers a significantly better experience than Windows 7 or Windows 8, but now it's no longer free, you'll need to decide whether you think it's worth it or not.

If you're looking to upgrade now, you've got three choices:

  1. Pay for the upgrade to either Windows 10 Home or the more expensive Pro version
  2. Stick with your older version of Windows for the time being, or
  3. Buy a new machine with Windows 10 already installed.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons why some people won't want to make the move to Windows 10. Many gamers, for example, are perfectly happy on Windows 7 or 8.1, as some games have been shown to perform worse on the latest operating system. 

Others are simply more comfortable with older versions and don't want to upgrade, and the leap from Windows 7 to Windows 10 in particular is quite a drastic change in terms of look and feel.

However, if you do decide you want to perform the upgrade now, we're here to walk you through it.

Jump straight to how to upgrade to Windows 10

Performing a clean install of Windows 10 - new information

Windows 10 will be available as boxed software and should be available to buy as a download, too. These versions of Windows 10 will work like traditional boxed copies of previous versions of Windows, where you’ll be able to install the OS on a computer of your choice, and reinstall it when you build a new model.

First things first, you'll need to decide which version of Windows 10 you'd like to upgrade to. The retail version, is available as boxed software or as a download. You'll have to make a decision here on what you're expecting to get out of Windows 10, and whether spending an extra £90 for the Pro version is worth it. Windows 10 Pro adds business functionality features such as encryption, remote log-in and creating virtual machines. If you're just planning on using Windows 10 for personal use, I'd recommend sticking with just the Home version.

Version of Windows 10Retail price
Windows 10 Home£100
Windows 10 Pro£190

How to upgrade to Windows 10

With the biggest decision out of the way, we can get on with how to upgrade your machine. It's a relatively straightforward process, but make sure to backup all of your important data beforehand, you can never be too careful.

Find out about all the best Windows 10 features and how to use them

Step 1 - Make sure you're running the latest version of your OS

First, run Windows Update from the Control Panel and make sure that your computer is up to date and running the latest service packs: you need Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 installed in order to upgrade to Windows 10.

 

Upgrade to Windows 10 - run Windows Update

Step 2 - Download the upgrade tool

Get the Windows 10 upgrade tool. You can download both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the tool, so make sure to get the one that matches your current operating system. You can find out which you have by simply typing ‘System’ into the Start Screen on Windows 8 and selecting that options, or by clicking the Start button in Windows 7, right-click Computer and select Properties. Download the correct tool and then run it from your browser or the downloads folder. 

windows 10 download page

 

While you're waiting for that to download we recommend that you use Belarc Advisor to find out your Windows product key/CD key. This way you've got the original key to hand should you ever need it later on. This bit of software gives you all kinds of information about your computer, including your product key. Once installed, launch Belarc Advisor. You can ignore the prompt about Administrator privileges, as they're not needed. You'll need to agree to the UAC prompt, and don't worry about downloading the new Belarc security definitions. Belarc Advisor will now analyse your computer and produce a local web page with the information it finds. Your version of Windows and its product key will appear towards the bottom of the page. You should copy and paste this into Notepad and save it. It’s worth copying this text file to an external location, just in case something goes wrong with the upgrade and you need to reinstall your original Windows. 

Step 3 - Install the upgrade

When it comes to installing the upgrade, you've got two options. The first option the easiest, as it lets Microsoft do everything for you; the second option isn't quite as straightforward, but it gives you a bit more flexibility and gives you the installation media that you need.

Method 1 - Use the upgrade tool

The upgrade tool will ask you if you want to upgrade this PC or create an installation ISO for another PC. Choose the option to ‘Upgrade this PC now’ and the tool will start downloading Windows 10. This may take some time as demand is high for the new operating system. Once you've finished downloading the operating system simply follow the instructions to upgrade.

windows 10 upgrade

Method 2 - Create the installation media

The second option is to use the Microsoft upgrade tool to create the installation media. It's straight forward to do so using the wizard, but our how to clean install Windows 10 guide has full instructions if you'd rather follow those. Once you've created the installation media on a USB drive, you can either run Setup straight from Explorer and upgrade your computer, or reboot from the USB drive and perform an installation from the regular Windows 10 installer. The benefit of this method is that you've then got the installation media, which you can use to upgrade other computers or to perform a clean installation with later.

Please note, if you create the USB drive directly from the upgrade tool (you don't download the ISO file), you can only use the USB drive to upgrade PCs that are running the same version of Windows 7 or Windows 8. If you download the ISO file and create the installation media from that, you have the files to upgrade to Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. The only restriction is that your installation media is set for 32-bit or 64-bit Windows only.

Step 4 - Complete upgrade

After your computer has upgraded to Windows 10 it will connect to Microsoft's activation server and will upgrade your existing licence to a Windows 10 version. For this to happen your computer needs to be connected to the internet. Activation happens quickly in the background without you having to do anything. To check if your computer has been activated click on the Start Menu, click Settings and choose Update & Security, Activation. If your computer is activated, it will clearly say so (see screenshot below).


Activated Windows 10

If your computer has not been activated, then you can force it to do so. Get up a command prompt from the Start Menu and type, slmgr.vbs /ato. This will force your computer to activate its new license with Microsoft. If the process fails, give it a few tries.

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