Updating to Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 is an update to Windows 8, much in the same way that service packs were updates to previous versions of Windows like ​Windows 7. This major update is completely free to all Windows 8 owners.

This 15-step tutorial will walk you through the entire process of updating your copy of Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, which takes about 30 to 45 minutes. If you have a previous version of Windows (like 7, Vista, etc.) and want to upgrade to Windows 8.1, you'll need to purchase a copy of Windows 8.1 (Windows 8 with the 8.1 update already included).

Let's start this Windows 8.1 upgrade tutorial with a few preparatory steps that you may not see Microsoft or other websites recommend.

The following is an ordered list of tasks you should considering completing prior to starting the update process. These suggestions are based on my years of experience troubleshooting and solving various problems seen during software installations, Windows updates, and service pack installs - all very similar to this Windows 8.1 update.

  1. Make sure that at least 20% of the space on your primary drive is free.
    The Windows 8.1 upgrade process will check to see that you have the minimum space necessary for it to do its business, but here's your chance to make sure there's plenty of wiggle room before being warned about it.
  2. Apply all Windows updates and then restart Windows 8 after they're done installing, even if you're not prompted to. If you've never checked for updates manually before, you can do it from the Windows Update applet in Control Panel.
    Windows Update issues are relatively common. You don't want to find yourself dealing with a problem caused by a tiny security update pushed two months ago during a major operating system update like Windows 8.1.
    Important: If for some reason you don't want to install all available Windows updates, please know that you must have KB2871389 installed to ensure that you're offered the Windows 8.1 update in the Store. Apply that update individually via Windows Update or install it manually via the link.​
  3. Restart your computer. In Windows 8, the easiest way to restart is from the power icon, which is accessible from Settings on the charms menu (swipe from the right and then Settings, or WIN+I).
    Most computers, especially those with Windows 8 installed, are rarely truly restarted. They often sleep and hibernate, but are seldom shut down and started up from scratch. Doing so prior to updating to Windows 8.1 ensures that Windows 8, as well as your computer's hardware, is starting clean.
  4. Disable the real-time protection in Windows Defender. You can do this from the Settings tab in Windows Defender, which you can access from the Windows Defender applet in Control Panel.

It also would be wise to run a Full scan using Windows Defender prior to updating to Windows 8.1. Similar to the Windows updates discussion above, you probably don't want to see the first signs of a virus or other malware just as Windows 8.1 is trying to finish installing.

If you're instead using a third-party anti-malware tool, you can find out how to disable the real-time protection in that particular tool using this guide.

Once you've done all the prep work, it's time to move on to Step 1 to start the Windows 8.1 upgrade.

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Open the Windows Store

A screenshot of the Windows 8 Start Screen
Windows 8 Start Screen.

To get started upgrading Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, open Store from the Start screen or the Apps screen.

Because tiles on the Start screen can be rearranged, Store may be located elsewhere or may have even been removed. If you don't see it, check the ​Apps screen.

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Choose to Update Windows

A screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Update in Windows Store
Windows 8.1 Update in Windows Store.

With the Windows Store open, you should now see a large Update Windows tile with "Update to Windows 8.1 for free" next to a photo of a Microsoft Surface tablet.

Click or touch this tile to start the update process.

Don't see the Update Windows option?

Here are four things you can try:

Open this link in IE in Windows 8, which should take you directly to the Windows 8.1 update in the Windows Store (the next step). If that doesn't work, try the Upgrade Now button on this page.

Try clearing the Windows Store cache and then try again. You can do this by executing wsreset.exe from the Run app, located on the Apps screen. Run can also be started via the Power User Menu or by pressing WIN and R together on a keyboard.

Make sure that KB2871389 has been successfully installed. You can check for this via the View update history link available in Windows Update in Control Panel. If it's not installed, install it via Windows Update or download and install it manually from Microsoft here.

Lastly, while there's not much to do about it, you should know that the Windows 8.1 update is not available from the Windows Store if you're running Windows 8 Enterprise or if your copy of Windows 8 was installed using an MSDN ISO image or if it was activated using KMS.

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Click Download

A screenshot of the download page for the Windows 8.1 Pro Update in Windows Store
Windows 8.1 Pro Update Screen.

Click the Download button to start the Windows 8.1 download process.

Windows 8.1 is a major update to Windows 8 and so it's no surprise that it requires a large download. I'm updating a 32-bit version of Windows 8 Pro and the download size is 2.81 GB. The size of the download will differ somewhat If your edition or architecture is different than mine, but all will be several GB in size.

As it states on the Windows 8.1 download screen you're looking at now, you can keep working while the update is downloading.

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Wait While Windows 8.1 Downloads and Installs

A screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Pro Download & Install Process
Windows 8.1 Pro Download & Install Process.

In no doubt the least exciting part of the Windows 8.1 update process, you now get to wait while it downloads and does the bulk of the installing.

You may notice the word Downloading eventually changes to Installing and Getting your PC ready, then Getting the update ready, then Checking compatibilityApplying changesGathering info, and finally Preparing to restart.

No need to watch for all of these changes. Just wait until you see the notice about restarting your PC, as shown next in Step 5.

Downloading the several GB Windows 8.1 update package may take as little as several minutes on a fast connection and if the Windows Store isn't busy, or could take as long as an hour or more on slower connections and if the servers are congested. The steps after Downloading should take 15 to 45 minutes on most computers, depending on the speed of the computer.

If you need to cancel the download or installation, just click or press on the Windows 8.1 Pro tile and then choose Cancel install from the options at the bottom of the screen.

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Restart Your Computer

A screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Installation Restart Prompt
Windows 8.1 Installation Restart Prompt.

Once the Windows 8.1 download and initial installation steps are complete, you'll see a message prompting you to restart.

Click or touch Restart Now to restart your computer.

You do not need to sit around and watch for the above screen to appear. As you may have noticed, you're told that your computer will restart automatically in 15 minutes.

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Wait While Your Computer Restarts

A screenshot of Windows 8.1 restarting the computer
Windows 8.1 Installation Restarting PC.

Next up is a bit more waiting. For Windows 8.1 to continue installing, your computer must be restarted so the upgrade package can access files that aren't normally available to software installations while Windows is running.

You may see the above Restarting screen sit for a long while, maybe 20 minutes or more. Hold off on the reaction to force a restart because your computer appears hung, even if the hard drive activity light stays solid or is off. I suggest waiting at least 30 to 40 minutes before assuming something went wrong and then restarting manually.

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Wait While Things Are Getting Ready

A screenshot of Windows 8.1 applying PC settings
Applying PC Settings Screen in Windows 8.1.

Yes, more waiting, but we're almost done. Windows 8.1 is almost done installing and you should have your PC back soon.

Next you'll see Getting devices ready on a black screen, with a percentage indicator. This will probably go by quickly.

After that, you'll see Getting ready, then Applying PC Settings, then Setting up a few more things - these will stick around for a while, up to several minutes each. The total process will may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the speed of your computer.

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Accept the Windows 8.1 License Terms

A screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Pro License Terms
Windows 8.1 Pro License Terms.

Here you'll need to accept the license terms for Windows 8.1 These terms replace the ones you accepted for the copy of Windows 8 that you're upgrading from.

Click or touch I accept to accept the terms and continue.

Important Note About Windows 8.1 License Terms

I know it's tempting to accept license terms without reading them, and we all do it, but there are some important things in this document that you should know. In the first section, at least, they're very easy to understand.

Here are the headings if you'd like to look more into them:

  • How can I use the software?
  • May I make a backup copy?
  • What about updating the software?
  • Can I transfer the software to another computer or user?
  • How does Internet activation work?
  • Does the software collect my personal information?
  • How do we use your information?
  • What does this agreement apply to?
  • Are there things I'm not allowed to do with the software?

I talk a bit about Windows 8.1 licenses on my Windows 8.1 Information page, as well as in my Installing Windows 8 FAQ.

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Configure Windows 8.1 Settings

A screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Update Settings Page
Windows 8.1 Update Settings Page.

On this screen, you'll find a number of preconfigured settings that you can accept as given or customize to your liking.

I recommend choosing Use express settings. You can make changes to any of these settings later from within Windows 8.1. If you already see something you don't like, feel free to choose Customize and make the changes here.

Does This Look Familiar? This is the Windows 8.1 version of a screen you saw after you installed or first turned on your Windows 8 computer. It is presented to you again due to changes and new options in Windows 8.1.

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Sign In

A screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Sign in process during the update
Windows 8.1 Sign in During Update.

Next, you'll sign in. Use the same password you use every day to log in to Windows 8. Your password and account type (local vs Microsoft Account) has not changed as part of your update to Windows 8.1

I've erased most of what you may see on this screen because you could see something very different than I saw, plus it removes my information. However it's phrased, just log in as you would any other time.

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Accept SkyDrive Settings

A screenshot of the SkyDrive Settings during a Windows 8.1 Update
SkyDrive Settings During Windows 8.1 Update.

SkyDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage technology and it's more integrated into Windows 8.1 than it was in Windows 8.

I recommend leaving the settings as they are and tapping or clicking on Next to continue.

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Wait While the Windows 8.1 Update Completes

A screenshot of Windows 8.1 finalizing your settings
Finalizing Your Settings in the Windows 8.1 Update.

Sit through this screen if you happen to catch it. It'll only be there a minute. Some last minute things are being done behind the scenes to get Windows 8.1 set up.

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Wait While Windows 8.1 Sets Things Up

A screenshot of Windows 8.1 Setting Things Up after an update
Setting Things Up Screen in Windows 8.1 Update.

This is the last bit of waiting! You'll see this screen, followed by some other screens with changing colored backgrounds.

Windows 8.1 is reinstalling some of your Windows Store apps right now.

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Welcome to Windows 8.1

A screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Desktop
Windows 8.1 Desktop.

Congratulations! The update from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 is now complete!

You shouldn't have any other steps to take aside from enjoying the changes in Windows 8.1. However, if you haven't already, I highly recommend that you create a recovery drive. It's probably the most important proactive step any Windows 8 owner can take.

See How to Create a Recovery Drive in Windows 8 for a complete walkthrough.

You do not boot directly to the Desktop after updating to Windows 8.1. I just wanted to show the Desktop because of the addition of the Start button. One new feature in Windows 8.1, however, is the ability to configure Windows 8 to boot straight to the Desktop. See How to Boot to the Desktop in Windows 8.1 for instructions.

Update: Microsoft has released yet another major update to Windows 8, called Windows 8.1 Update. Now that you've updated to Windows 8.1, head to Windows Update and apply the Windows 8.1 Update update. See my Windows 8.1 Update Facts piece for more on this.

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