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How to upgrade to Windows 10 for free

As I've stated in previous articles, Microsoft discontinued support for Windows 7 in January 2020, meaning that it will be unsafe to use on the internet due to a lack of security updates. It's unfortunate as, like myself, many prefer Windows 7 to Windows 8 or 10, but there are worse problems to have in the world at present. At this point you've got two choices if you're on Windows 7: upgrade your computer to Windows 10 or, buy a new computer with Windows 10 on it. Alternatively you could change to Linux or Mac, but that's beyond the scope of this article.

The second option, buying a new computer, is something any computer enthusiast can probably advise you on. The first is something you can still do without purchasing a separate Windows 10 license, with the right knowhow and technical ability. The knowhow is something I can bestow upon you, the technical ability I can't. If you or someone you know isn't capable of doing this, please talk to a seasoned computer technician about upgrading - otherwise you leave the window open for the more nefarious types to exploit your computer once it stops being protected in late January. But here's how it works, for those interested.

Long ago in the age before time - also known as 2016 - Microsoft 'officially' closed the free upgrade offer from Windows 7 to Windows 10. However they still allow you to upgrade to Windows 10 and receive a valid Windows 10 license so long as you have a valid Windows 7 or 8 license. You have to do a 'clean' install ie. wipe your computer, install windows 10 and copy everything back on, including reinstalling your programs, but for 99% of computers this works fine and you get a valid Windows 10 license as a result. The other 1% tend to be name-brand machines eg. HP, with custom Windows 7 licenses.

If you choose to do this it pays to take a few precautions first. For starters, you're going to want to make a clone of your hard drive, so that if the upgrade doesn't work for some reason, you can put the original installation back on. I recommend Macrium Reflect to do so, but you'll also need another computer and a larger hard drive than the one you're cloning. You'll also need to take the original hard drive out of your computer and put it in the other computer in order to do so. Alternatively you could take the original hard drive out, and not back it up but instead replace it with a faster SSD drive to install Windows 10 onto.

The second step is to install Windows 10: you'll need a spare flash drive of at least 8GB size to put the installer onto. To do so, download and run the Microsoft "Windows 10 installation media tool" (google it). It's roughly a 4GB download. I recommend a 64-bit installation unless your original Windows 7 installation was 32-bit. Then, once you've got the Windows 10 installer on your flash drive, boot the original computer from the flash drive. You may have to press a key such as ESC, F8, F10 or F12 when your computer starts up in order to do so. Once booted the installation procedure should be pretty straightforward; and when it asks for your license key, enter your Windows 7 key and you're (typically) good to go.

Lastly, you'll need to copy your data back on - this is where the backup of your original installation comes in handy. Using Macrium reflect (or whatever other hard drive backup software you've used), navigate to c:\Users\(your username) and copy your Documents, Pictures, etc folders to an external drive, then copy from that external drive to the new computer. Lastly, reinstall whatever programs you were using on the old computer. Once done I recommend hanging onto the old installation backup for at least a couple of months in case you've missed something.

This is really the first article I've written aimed at advanced users; the reason for doing so is because otherwise I see that many perfectly good computers will be tossed in the garbage due to Microsoft's upgrade strategies. So use the knowledge well!

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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