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How to do a clean installation of Windows 10

 clean installation of Windows 10 is the process of erasing the hardware and setting up a new fresh copy of the platform when a computer has a problem. For example, you can resolve performance, memory, startup, shut down, and apps issues using this method. Also, it's perhaps the best approach to remove viruses and other types of malware, and it can help to improve battery life.

In addition, it's an excellent solution to remove preloaded bloatware (unnecessary preloaded software) from Windows 10. You can use this method to decommission a computer without giving away your data. Or you can set up a new installation after replacing the hard drive.

Furthermore, if you had the same setup for some time, a clean installation is the recommended option to upgrade to the latest version of Windows 10 or upgrade from an older version (such as Windows 7 and Windows 8.1), minimizing the risks of problems during and after the process.

In this Windows 10 guide, we will walk you through the complete process to perform a clean installation.

How to prepare computer for clean install of Windows 10

As you prepare to proceed with a clean installation of Windows 10, it's recommended to complete some essential tasks to minimize issues and potential data loss.

If you already have a backup of the computer and files. You have an activation product key. The device can start from a USB flash drive, and non-essential peripherals are disconnected, then you can skip this part and jump to the bootable media creation and a clean install process.

Create backup

The install process of Windows 10 deletes everything on the drive, which means that backing up the entire device (or at least your files) is a crucial step unless you don't have anything important you want to keep.

Back up entire system

You should create a temporary backup to revert the settings or recover files if something goes wrong during the installation.

Windows 10 backup featureSource: Windows Central

You can choose many different solutions, but the easiest way to create a full backup is to use the legacy System Image Backup tool available on Windows 10. It's a deprecated feature, but it continues to work. The tool is also available for Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.

Back up files to OneDrive

If you need to back up your documents, pictures, and other important files, you can upload the data to OneDrive or another cloud storage service.

In case you use OneDrive, you can also use the backup settings page to sync your profile folders, including Documents, Pictures, and Desktop, to the cloud automatically.

To configure OneDrive backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Back up files to OneDrive" section, click the Back up files option.

    OneDrive file backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. (Optional) Click to clear the folder you don't want to back up in the cloud.
  6. Click the Start backup button.

    Mange folder backup on OneDriveSource: Windows Central

Once you complete the steps, OneDrive will back up the files on the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures user folders in the cloud.

Back up files to external storage

If you have a lot of data, syncing the files to the cloud can be expensive and take a long time, and the available space may not even be enough. If this is the case, perhaps the best option would be to copy the files to an external USB hard drive.

To create a file backup manually, connect an external drive with enough storage space to your Windows 10 computer, and use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Type the following path in the address bar and press Enter:

    %HOMEPATH%

    User folderSource: Windows Central

  3. Click the Select all button from the "Home" tab.

    File Explorer select all foldersSource: Windows Central

  4. Click the Copy to button from the "Home" tab.
  5. Select the Choose location option.
  6. Select the destination location.

    Copy to external driveSource: Windows Central

  7. Click the Copy button.

After you complete the steps, repeat the instructions to back up the remaining accounts (as necessary). In addition to copying your files, it's also a good idea to create a list of the installed programs with their respective product keys (if applicable) to know the apps to reinstall after the installation.

If you usually don't sync passwords and bookmarks with an online service, now's a good time to export your browser credentials and links as you'll need them later to access your online services.

In case you don't have an external hard drive or one without enough space, we recommend the Western Digital Elements Desktop Hard Drive because of its portability, capacity, and price.

Reliable storage

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Western Digital Elements Desktop Hard Drive

Bulk storage

If you're in the market for an external drive to store file backups, look no further than the Western Digital Elements Desktop Hard Drive. Get up to 18TB of storage and connect with USB-A 3.0 for fast file transfers.

Check Windows 10 activation

Although after activating Windows 10, you no longer have to provide a product key for reinstallation in the same computer. Once the new installation completes, the system will automatically reactivate when it connects to the internet.

To confirm whether Windows 10 is properly activated, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Activation.
  4. Under the "Windows" section, confirm the activation. If the computer has been properly activated, you'll see one of these messages:

    • Windows is activated with a digital license: The installation has been activated, but it isn't linked to your Microsoft account.
    • Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account: The installation has been activated, and the license is linked to your Microsoft account.

    Windows 10 activated messageSource: Windows Central

After you complete the steps, Windows 10 should automatically reactivate after the clean installation if your current setup is activated.

Obtain Windows 10 genuine key

If you have to set up an installation on a computer that never had an activated version of Windows 10, or you plan to upgrade from Windows 8.1 or Windows 7, you will have to purchase a valid license from the Microsoft Store, Amazon, or another retailer.

Download essential drivers

Windows 10 can detect and install most drivers automatically. However, it's usually recommended to download at least the essential drivers before the process (such as for the network adapter and graphics card), as a precaution, in case the setup fails to add these drivers correctly, especially on custom computer builds.

You can use our guide to install device drivers on Windows 10.

Here's a list of the most popular manufacturers to download the latest device drivers:

Confirm Windows 10 requirements

If the device already has Windows 10, the following major update most likely will meet the minimum hardware requirements. However, if you're about to upgrade a computer running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you want to check that the device meets the minimum requirements.

Here are the minimum requirements to install the Windows 10 November 2021 Update (and higher):

  • Processor: 1GHz or System on a Chip (SoC).
  • Memory: 1GB for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit.
  • Storage: 32GB for 64-bit or 32-bit.
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  • Display: 800x600.

You can use these instructions to check the device technical specifications to confirm you can do a clean install of Windows 10.

Change boot order on firmware

It's also important to make sure that the computer can boot from a USB flash drive. If this is not the case, you'll need to change the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on the motherboard.

Change boot order using UEFI

On computers already running Windows 10 or 8.1, you can access the settings to change the boot order within the desktop interface.

UEFI settings on Windows 10

To change the UEFI settings on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Recovery.
  4. Under the "Advanced startup" section, click the Restart now button.

    Windows 10 recovery settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Troubleshoot button.

    Troubleshoot settingsSource: Windows Central

  6. Click on Advanced options.

    Advanced settingsSource: Windows Central

  7. Click the UEFI Firmware Settings option.

    Advanced settings UEFI optionSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the Restart button.

    UEFI firmware settingsSource: Windows Central

  9. Inside the motherboard firmware settings, open the Boot page.
  10. Set the boot order to start from the USB flash drive with the Windows 10 installation files.

    UEFI settingsSource: Windows Central

  11. Save the changes.

After you complete the steps, the computer should now be able to start from a USB bootable media.

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