It actually wasn’t a bad experience, but it was…leisurely. If you plan to upgrade, set aside plenty of time during which you can keep an eye on your computer but are distracted enough that you don’t get frustrated by the progress bars that never seem to actually progress. You’ll need to do something that allows you to take a few short breaks to tend to the process without missing anything; a golf tournament on TV should just about cover it. Or you could write an article about upgrading to Windows 10. Whatever you do, don’t binge-watch a streaming service; you’ll need to keep your Internet connection uncluttered for a while.
If you have received a message from Microsoft that your computer can be upgraded, then it probably passed the cursory check and you can upgrade for free until next July. Look on your computer manufacturer’s website for information about your model; see what they have to say. Basically, any computer running Windows 8 is good to go (but must be updated to 8.1 first), as well as some Windows 7 computers (it depends on the motherboard hardware).
Of course, you could always wait and just buy a new computer with Windows 10, but in the next few months, there may be some good deals on models with the “old” Windows 8.1. And a sale is a sale, right?
A few steps of prep will help you along. Update your computer. Let Windows update everything it wants to. If you’ve just bought a new computer with Windows 8.1 (the subject of this experiment), get the upgrade done before you’ve stored anything on the hard drive or set up mail accounts, etc., it’s easier that way. But don’t upgrade right out of the box. Leave the computer running for a day or two and let Windows do its first big update. And if you have any programs to install or activate, wait until after the upgrade (although MS Office migrated just fine).
Some manufacturers recommend updating your computer’s BIOS first, if it needs it. Flashing the BIOS is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for newbies. If you screw this up, your computer is complete toast. Seriously. Toast. And if your computer is new enough, your BIOS is unlikely to need updating, so it may be best to skip this.
If you have files on your computer, back them up. If you have a hard drive with less than 128GB free space, you will need an empty USB flash drive (not SD card) of at least 32GB. Just get a plain flash drive without any security features. You will store this drive afterward as the rescue disk for restoring Windows; label it and keep it safe. Also, get some paper and a pen, and a camera to take screen shots if there’s a problem. It’s also handy to have a second computer to look things up on the Web, just in case.
What follows is not a step-by-excruciating-step guide; it’s a story of one upgrade on one new Windows 8.1 computer (an ultraportable laptop with a solid state drive). Your mileage may vary.
If you received notice that you can upgrade, start the process in the Windows Update program. Upgrading is a straightforward process and the dialog boxes are informative and conversational. But it is tedious. Just how tedious it is depends on which version of Windows you are upgrading from (the upgrade will install the equivalent version). Windows Home/Pro, 32-bit/64-bit are all different sizes.
So, on the computer in question the process began at 2:35 PM. The Windows 10 64-bit download (just over 2.7GB) took one hour and three minutes. At the end, the program announced that it was preparing for installation. Thirty uneventful minutes later a message popped up to the effect of—“Something on your computer needs attention.” It was at that point that Windows asked for the USB flash drive to be installed, and after selecting it in the drop-down and clicking the Next button, the process resumed. Windows then helpfully instructed “Close this window and we’ll let you know if anything else is needed.” Apparently Microsoft uses the royal “we”.
At 4:18 it started the actual upgrade and at 4:26 PM rebooted automatically. At this point, after logging in, a screen appeared titled “Upgrading Windows”, and “Your PC will restart several times. Sit back and relax.” Thanks.
This screen tracks three activities, one after the other: copying files, installing features and drivers, and configuring settings. At 5:50 PM it was 24% through the process and had copied 83% of the files. Whatever file(s) were copied at 72% took nearly 10 minutes before the screen showed any progress. Unfortunately, there is no indication as to where the files are being copied from or to, and since this computer has a solid-state drive, there is no drive noise and no drive activity indicator. You just have to trust that it’s working, and it was.
At 6:06PM, with the screen showing 26% completion and files 89% copied everything went black and the computer rebooted. Scary. But when it came back up a minute or two later it had finished copying files and moved on to installing features and drivers. At 6:18 the upgrade process hit 50%, two minutes later it jumped to 66%. Reboot at 6:24, 75% done and moving on to configuring settings.
Done! Sort of! At 6:32 the computer displayed: “Hi there, welcome back!” Click the Next button and use Express settings (you can change them later), click Next again and you’re at your login screen. The new post-apocalyptic Windows logo looks like an air duct with a light in it. And now you wait, as the computer tells you “We’re setting things up for you.”, then “This won’t take long—Setting up your apps”, then “Taking care of a few things. Don’t turn off your PC.” Finally…”Let’s start.” And the first screen you see is a promotion to sign up for free Dropbox space for 6 months. Ugh. All done and at the home screen at 6:42 PM.
So, on this computer—new and clean—the total conversion took 4 hours and 7minutes. That’s in line with many reports on the Web, and it’s why you must plug the laptop into an outlet; you can’t risk running out of juice in the middle of this.
Finally, a couple of notes: Windows was great at saving the settings and Office works just fine, but it did not migrate the printer drivers. During the upgrade, a mouse was plugged in to a USB port, and that confused Windows. The track pad didn’t work, but it was an easy fix; Windows thought it was plugged in to USB just like the mouse. Changed that setting and rebooted.
So, what if you decide now that you don’t like Windows 10? No problem. You have a month to try it out. Windows stores the rollback files for 30 days, after which it discards them. If you don’t like Windows 10, go to Update & Security, Recovery and tell it you want to go back. How does that process work? Sorry, you’re on your own for that one.