How to Upgrade Windows 8.1 to Windows 10

Learn how to upgrade your Windows 8.1 computer to Windows 10

Windows 8.1 offers a decent experience, but while it has improved considerably from the stock version, there are many reasons to upgrade Windows 8 to Windows 10.

This guide is specifically meant for those upgrading from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. If you’re upgrading Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro there’s a separate process for doing so.

Why You Should Upgrade to Windows 10

Windows 10 doesn’t force the metro or tiled menus that its predecessor does. It also offers stability and performance enhancements, wider compatibility with games and applications, and sees a lot more support on the development front. Besides, Microsoft will activate the end of life for Windows 8, which means no more updates or support.

Preparing to Upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10

There are several ways to upgrade the operating system, the easiest of which is to do right within Windows.

If you have an installation CD, and your computer has a disk drive, you can do it that way. You may also use other removable media—such as a flash drive—provided you have the install package on the drive and it has enough space.

Although Windows will attempt to make a backup of your files, there’s always the chance you will lose content. Always make a backup of your most important files and content, whether through cloud storage or removable media. You may also use a separate internal or external hard drive to move content, which is the recommended option.

Most of your applications will be installed fresh so you should backup configuration data if you want to preserve your current setup. For example, you might want to backup Plex Database content for a media server that you’ve meticulously customized with movie posters, directories and more.

As a quick reference, here are some files you should consider backing up before you start the upgrade process:

  • Everything important in Documents
  • Family photos and videos
  • Game saves that are stored in Documents
  • Work or personal files, including tax documents, resumes, receipts and more

Once you're satisfied you have reliable backups of all your important files and apps, you may proceed.

Upgrade Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 via Windows Update

If you're ready to upgrade, it's likely you can do so using an existing Windows update, even if you have automatic updates turned off on your computer.

You can easily check for a Windows update in Windows 8. The update you’re looking for—which should be optional—is the Windows 10 May 2019 update version 1903.

update windows 8 to windows 10 check for updates window

If you do not see it in the list then you will have to use another method to upgrade the OS. If you do see the upgrade, you should be able to select it and follow through with the upgrade process. Just follow the Windows Update prompts to complete the installation.

Upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 Using the Windows Media Creation Tool

If you already have a product key, including one for Windows 8 or 8.1, you should be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. You will need to use the Windows Media Creation Tool to perform the upgrade, however.

If you do not have a product key you will need to purchase one from Microsoft.

  1. Visit the Microsoft website and download the Windows Media Creation Tool by selecting Download Tool. It will save as a standalone executable or EXE file. Be sure to save the tool in a directory you will remember.

    You may also use this tool to create installation media for another computer. That’s helpful if you have an older laptop or desktop that is not connected to the internet and want to upgrade.

  2. Right-click the Windows Media Creation Tool icon and select Run as Administrator. Accept the UAC prompt that appears and you'll then see a message that the tool is getting things ready.

  3. When it's finished, you’ll see the License Terms for using the tool. Read through them if you must, otherwise select Accept.

    update windows 8.1 to windows 10 tool license terms
     
  4. On the next page, select Upgrade This PC Now, then select Next.

    windows 8 to windows 10 update choose pc to upgrade
  5. The tool will now prepare the upgrade. First, it will download the necessary content for the Windows 10 upgrade and you will see a progress indicator. After, it will create Windows 10 Media, which will show another progress indicator, before finally checking for updates. When it's done you will be presented with the newest Windows 10 License Terms. Read through them and select Accept when you're ready to move on.

    windows 10 update applicable notices window
  6. The tool will walk you through everything, showing you precisely how to update Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, so just follow the prompts. At some point, you may have the option to select which version of Windows you’d like to install, except for the Enterprise edition. You might also have to select between the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows, and you'll most likely you want the latter.

    You’ll need to visit the Volume Licensing Service Center to download the Enterprise edition of Windows. For Educational Editions, visit the Download Academic Products Page.

  7. When everything is ready, you'll see the Ready to Install screen. It will display what version of Windows 10 is going to be installed and what files are going to carry over.

  8. If you select Change What to Keep, you will have the option to transfer both your personal data and apps, just your personal content, or nothing at all. Choose the option that suits you best. As long as you backed up your files previously, it doesn’t matter what you choose. If you haven’t backed up your personal files, then you’ll want to preserve those just in case.

    windows 10 update choose what to keep
  9. Select Install when you’re ready, and be sure to leave your computer on. Your PC will restart several times during the install, do not be alarmed.

    windows 10 update ready to install

    Before you choose Install, you can quit the process at any time by simply closing the tool. That said, you will have to start the process all over from the beginning when you do finally decide to upgrade.

  10. When the installation has finished, Windows 10 will load for the first time. It may take a while, but don't be alarmed if the system seems to hang. When it's ready, you will be asked to enter your product key. Do so and the installation is complete.