Windows 10 is an impressive improvement over Windows 8, and all those currently using the older OS are eligible for a free upgrade. But it doesn’t always go so smoothly — like any complex piece of software, Windows 10 and its installation process are vulnerable to mistakes, glitches, and hardware errors. Here are some of the most commonly-encountered problems when installing or upgrading to the new version of Windows.
Low disk space
Windows 10 requires quite a lot of free disk space on your hard drive or solid state drive in order to be installed. The 32-bit version of the OS (used mostly on tablets and less expensive laptops at this point) needs 16GB of free space, the 64-bit version needs 20GB, and if you’re installing from a file stored on your computer itself with the Microsoft upgrade tool, you’ll need an additional 2-4GB just for the files
If you have a full storage drive, or a small one to begin with, you’ll need to make some room. The quickest way to do this is to uninstall space-hogging programs. 3D games and complex packages like Adobe Creative Suite take up gigabytes of space in and of themselves. Uninstall them and be sure to back up any save files or settings. Don’t worry, you can re-install them from the installation discs or with a download once Windows 10 is properly set up.
Should you still need, it’s recommended you remove files in the following order: video files, audio files, images of all kinds, then documents and other files. An external USB hard drive is the quickest and easiest way to accomplish this – save any files you can’t simply delete to the external media, and they’ll be easy to restore once you’ve got Windows 10 installed. Finally, empty the Recycle Bin to clear out any deleted files.
To check your progress, click the Start button, then type “This PC” and click the result. The drive labelled “Windows” is what Windows 10 will install to – make sure you’ve got at least 20GB free, preferably a little more, just to be safe.
ISO image issues
If you’ve used the Microsoft Media Creation tool to burn a disc or create a bootable USB drive to install Windows 10, it’s possible that the media itself is damaged or corrupt. This will result in a failed or damaged installation. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult or impossible to modify the files once they’re written to the disc or drive. You’ll need to run the tool again to install Windows 10, which may necessitate installing your older version of Windows first.
If you continue to see problems after creating multiple installation media and trying to install Windows 10 more than once, you may have a persistent hardware problem. Your CD/DVD burner or the USB drive you’re using may be faulty. If possible, try using a different USB drive or an external disc burner. The Windows 10 setup program also has the option of installing the operating system directly to the storage drive, with no external discs or drives necessary.
Sometimes during the Windows installation process, the program will stop and display an error code. There are hundreds of possible error codes and at least as many potential problems. The best thing to do in this situation is to write down the code (you may not be able to copy it from the display screen) and do an Internet search to find the core problem, and hopefully, a solution.
Here are some of the steps you can take if there’s no reliable information for your specific code:
Unplug any unnecessary devices from your computer. Laptops should have nothing plugged in at all (except the power cord), and desktops should only have a monitor, mouse, and keyboard attached.
For desktops, remove or disconnect any unnecessary internal hardware. If your PC includes an integrated graphics card or sound card on the motherboard, remove any stand-alone cards. Unplug any secondary storage drives (but not the primary OS drive!), disc drives, card readers, and extra hardware like a fan controller or USB extensions connected to a PCI port.
If you’re upgrading your PC and you’ve selected a standard upgrade that preserves your installed programs, remove unnecessary programs before beginning. Anti-virus programs and drivers for exotic devices like game controllers seem to have the most trouble during the upgrade process.
Alternately, simply install the operating system “cleanly,” preserving your personal files but not the installed programs. (During the setup process, select “Custom: Install Windows only” instead of “Upgrade” to do this – you will need a license code.) You can re-install your programs later.
Windows 10 runs on a variety of hardware, including quite low-power systems like Atom-based tablets, but it does have minimum requirements. If your computer has a processor with a speed of less than 1 gigahertz, or RAM totalling less than 1 gigabyte for the 32-bit version or 2 gigabytes for the 64-bit version, the setup program will not allow you to complete the installation.
Desktop users can upgrade their RAM (see the bottom of this section for a guide) or processor. Some laptops allow for an easy RAM upgrade, but very few allow the CPU alone to be replaced. In that case, you may be out of luck.
Related: Is your PC low on memory? You could try fish oil – or just install more RAM!
A note for free Windows 10 upgrades
If you’re currently using a Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer, you’re eligible for a free Windows 10 upgrade until July, 2016. It’s important to note that this offer is only for an upgrade: you cannot install a “clean” copy of Windows 10 (removing all programs and files) without buying a retail copy or an online activation code. If you upgrade your computer with a completely clean copy of Windows 10, your old activation code for Windows 7 or Windows 8 will not be accepted.
Many users have already found this out. Unfortunately Microsoft support has refused to issue new Windows 10 codes to users who have discovered this after installing Windows 10 cleanly. If you’ve installed Windows 10 and cannot activate it, there are only two options.
First, you can re-install Windows 7 or Windows 8, then activate it with your original Windows code. The code can be found on a sticker on your computer, inside the documentation that came with your computer, in the disc package if you bought a retail version of Windows 7 or 8, or in your email receipt if you paid for a Windows download. Once your older version of Windows is activated, go through the Windows 10 upgrade process again (preserving your personal files). Windows 10 will recognize itself as an upgrade and activate itself when it first connects with Microsoft’s servers.
The only other option to activate Windows 10 and use it without interruption is to buy an activation code from Microsoft.