Home / Windows 10

Installation and Restore Windows 10

When Windows 10 first launched into its "free for a year" offer, there were plenty of horror stories of people getting unstable systems after upgrading from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, or from people who couldn't get the new OS installed at all.

The upgrade process to Windows 10 is actually the slickest and most reliable of any Windows upgrade process in the past, though it might sometimes be difficult to believe such a thing. Of the upgrade problems that people had, were with the end users and the hardware and software makers. If you have a completely clean installation of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and upgrade it to Windows 10, you'll get a completely clean and fully working installation.

Sadly, hardware driver writers are almost always very slow to update their drivers when changes made to the underlying OS require such updates. The same is true too of many software houses. Then you get the end user who wants to use really old versions of software. In many cases this is perfectly understandable and justifiable.

Troubleshooting the Windows 10 Upgrade

It's common when upgrading a PC to Windows 10, to do this by downloading the Windows 10 Upgrade Tool, which is available to download from www.microsoft.com/software-download/windows10 . This will allow you to purchase an upgrade licence, if necessary, and upgrade in place from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10.

What happens occasionally is that the upgrade process hangs completely, reporting a "can't install Windows 10" or similar error. By this time, it's already downloaded 3GB of Windows 10 files, and if you try to run the tool again, you're still presented with the same error, as it might not be able to download the files again afresh. There is a simple fix for this, however. This tool creates a $WINDOWS.~BT folder, and can also create a $Windows.~WS folder in the root of your C: drive and it is to this folder that the downloaded files are placed. You may also or instead see a Windows10 Upgrade folder. If you are having trouble with the Upgrade Tools, you can delete these folders and begin your download of Windows 10 again.

Tip: If you are upgrading a PC with only a very small amount of storage, and the Disk Cleanup Wizard is not freeing up enough space for the Windows 10 download, you can use the Upgrade Tool with an external USB Flash Drive, though you may also need an On The Go (OTG) cable to connect this to the PC. The installation files will be downloaded to this USB drive, but bear in mind that your backup copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 will also be placed on the USB drive. This means that you should not delete the contents of the Flash Drive until you are absolutely certain that there are no problems with Windows 10 on that device, and that you will not need to roll back to your previous OS.

Installing Windows 10

Not everybody wants to upgrade their PC systems to Windows 10, however. Many people, including myself, see the benefits in performing a clean instalaltion of the OS. There's also the plain fact that you might have been using Windows 10 for a while now and will need to reinstall it at some point. This might be because you've encountered a massive problem with the OS that can be solved only by a complete reinstall.

Obtaining Up-to-Date Installation Media

One of the problems with every version of Windows is that you would install the OS from your original installation DVD, and then you'd have months, perhaps even years of updates and patches to install. This could take days, and if you only had a Windows 8 disc, you'd then also had to perform the major upgrade to Windows 8.1. All of this was a real pain.

With Windows 10 being the last major version of the OS, Microsoft sought to address this, and at the same time address the fact that so many people never kept, or would lose their installation DVD. There's also the fact that if you upgraded in place from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 during the first year in which Windows 10 was free, you wouldn't get physical installation media anyway.

The Windows 10 Media Creation Tool, available to download from www.microsoft.com/softwaredownload/windows10 , will let you create a USB Flash Drive or an ISO file that can then be burned to a DVD, from which you can install Windows 10. The best part is that because this tool downloads Windows 10 from Microsoft's servers, it will always download the latest build. This means you'll never have more than a few months of Windows updates to install afterward, if at all.

Where does the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool stand with Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) versions of Windows 10? With all previous versions of Windows, the product key you had on your PC could be locked to an edition of Windows you bought from a company such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, and so on, and you couldn't install a "regular" copy of Windows with that product key if something went disastrously wrong.
With Windows 10, you will be able to use the Media Creation Tool with all Windows 10 installations. This is because Windows 10 installations are product key agnostic. Provided a copy of Windows 10 has been previously activated on that PC, you will always be able to reinstall Windows 10 on the same hardware.

Creating Customized Installation Media

What if you're in a business environment, however, and need a customized version of the Windows 10 installation media? There are many reasons why you might want to do this. At its most basic you might have bought a job-lot of PCs for the business, all with the same hardware, and you want to embed the appropriate hardware drivers, and perhaps a series of core apps, into the Windows installation media, to reduce the overall installation time and Internet bandwidth usage.

You might additionally be on one of the business branches for Windows Update, either the Current Branch for Business, in which you get feature updates months after they're rolled out to all other Windows PCs, or the Long-Term Servicing Branch, where you'll get only security and stability updates for up to 10 years.

Neither of these scenarios can be used with the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool, which will always include all the latest feature packs rolled into the installer. So what can you do to create custom media?

With Windows 10, Microsoft has actually made it very difficult to create custom installation media, in which you have injected drivers and apps. These are called "slipstreamed" installers . You will either need the Windows 10 Installation and Deployment Toolkit, or will need to follow incredibly complex and difficult instructions using the DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management ) tool that's built into the OS.

Fortunately, third parties have stepped in with various solutions that allow you to create custom installation media. A very powerful tool called NTLite ( www.ntlite.com ). This utility, of which there is a free version, can be used to perform a wide variety of tasks.

NTLite will let you add drivers, Windows updates, language packs, and apps to your installation media. Additionally, however, you can use it to remove specific Windows components, tweak the OS, configure disk partitions in advance of installtion (useful if you want to separate files and documents, or have a separate image backup partition), automate the installation process, and more besides.

Nondestructively Reinstalling Windows 10

Let's say then that you've encountered a problem that is so bad you have no choice but to completely reinstall Windows 10 on the PC. The user(s) on the PC, however, will likely have files and documents on the same partition as the corrupt OS installation (if those haven't already been moved to or been stored on a separate partition or hard disk) that will need to be kept. So how do you perform a nondestructive reinstallation of the OS?

It might seem obvious that you can use your installation media to Upgrade Windows 10 on the PC. You can do this by starting the Windows 10 installer from the desktop. If you can't get to the desktop, though, you can seem a bit stuck.

Never fear, however, as there is an easy solution. Start your PC from your Windows 10 installation media, be this a USB Flash Drive or DVD, and click Install as per normal. When asked if you want to upgrade or perform a custom installation, you won't be allowed to click the Upgrade option (this can be selected only by starting the installer from the desktop). Instead, click Custom: install Windows only (advanced) option, and when asked on what disk or partition you want to install Windows 10, choose the partition on which it's already installed.

The difference now is that, if we were performing a clean installation of the OS, we'd open the disk tools options in the installer and format the partition, or perhaps even delete the partition and create a fresh one. To nondestructively reinstall the OS, though, do not format or delete the partition. When you click Next, you will then be told that the installer has found a previous copy of Windows, which it will move to a Windows.old folder.

Once the Windows 10 reinstallation is complete, you will have a fresh install into which you will need to reinstall drivers, apps, updates, and so on, but you will also have this Windows.old folder, in which there will be a Users folder containing all the files and documents stored on the PC previously, as well as anything else you might have kept there, such as downloaded files, installers, driver backups, and more besides.

In addition to the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool, Microsoft has also released a W indows 10 Refresh Tool, which can be downloaded from http://pcs.tv/23dD1AM . This tool works similiarly to the Media Creation Tool, but is intended to help you reinstall Windows 10 nondestructively on PCs where the currently installed version is unrecoverable.

Windows 10 SysPrep

It's worth spending a short time looking at the SysPrep tool in Windows 10, what it is, and how you can use it. When you install Windows 10 on a PC, you will be presented with the Out-of-Box Experience (OOBE). This will ask you for your Microsoft account details, present you with privacy and other options, and install the core Store apps.

SysPrep can be invoked either at the very beginning of the OOBE experience, by pressing Ctrl+Shift+F3, or after the OOBE expeience from the C:\Windows\System32\sysprep folder. Once activated SysPrep will present itself on the desktop. You will now be able to install drivers, make configuration changes, and install apps that will apply to all users on the PC. Note that you cannot use SysPrep to make changes on a per-user basis, nor will it allow you to create user accounts.

It's important to leave the SysPrep window open on the PC when you are configuring Windows 10. Should you have to restart the PC at any time, you will need to invoke SysPrep again if you have not restarted the PC through the SysPrep tool itself. When you're finished you can use the SysPrep window to shut down the PC. The next time it starts, the user who is receiving the PC will get the full OOBE experience. SysPrep can be a great tool to use then if you are preparing PCs that are purchased by, or are to be given as a gift to other people. It can also be used with third-party imaging software, such as Symantec Ghost, for making image backups that can then be rolled out across other machines in a small to medium-sized business. Note that the Windows Image Backup system won't operate in SysPrep.