Vista Upgrade DVD Trick: Clean Install Vista Without Previous OS

Dennis Faas's picture

It's a fact: a clean install of Windows is *always* preferable to upgrading a new version over top of a previous Windows installation.

Why is this so?

The answer is three words: The Windows Registry. For example: when you install and uninstall programs to a Windows PC, things get added to the Registry -- the 'heart' of the Windows Operating System.

The Registry is a complex database that keeps track of installed programs, program preferences, user data, operating system settings, and the like.

However, over time, some programs may not install or uninstall properly, and the Registry becomes compromised. Hint: that's why it's important to use utilities like Registry Mechanic to keep Windows running smoothly.

When you upgrade to a new version of Windows, some of the previous information in the Registry -- including erroneous entries (otherwise known as 'registry errors') -- are transferred over to the Upgrade.

If a previously installed program isn't compatible with the Windows Upgrade, or, if the Registry has errors, this may cause the system to develop error messages and possibly even crash Windows. And that's why it's preferable to format your hard drive and then install Windows clean: because you would essentially be starting from a 'fresh slate.'

In response to a recent article, Hermann M. details how you can save money using the 'Vista Upgrade' DVD -- a significant savings over the Full Install DVD -- to do a clean install of Windows.

He writes:

" Dear Infopackets Team,

... Vista Upgrade has an undocumented feature that allows you to do a clean install of Vista to a hard disk that has no prior copy of XP or Windows 2000.

... This is usually the preferred method when installing any new operating system. You must, in essence, install Vista twice to take advantage of this trick. But Vista installs much faster than XP, so it's quicker than installing XP followed by Vista to get the upgrade price.

Here's a simplified overview of the steps that are required to clean-install the upgrade version of Vista. The steps are taken verbatim from Brian Livingston, Editorial Director of

How to do a Clean Install of Vista Using the Vista Upgrade DVD

Step 1. Boot the PC from the Vista DVD.

Step 2. Select 'Install Now,' but do not enter the Product Key from the Vista packaging. Leave the input box blank. Also, turn off the option Automatically activate Windows when I'm online. In the next dialog box that appears, confirm that you really do want to install Vista without entering a Product Key.

Step 3. Correctly indicate the version of Vista that you're installing: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate.

Step 4. Select the 'Custom (Advanced)' install, not the 'Upgrade' install.

Step 5. Vista copies files at length and reboots itself one or more times. Wait for the install to complete. At this point, you might think that you could 'activate' Vista, but you can't. That's because you haven't installed the Vista upgrade yet. To do that, run the DVD's setup.exe program again, but this time from the Vista desktop. The easiest way to start setup again is to eject and then reinsert the DVD.

Step 6. Click 'Install Now.' Select Do not get the latest updates for installation. (You can check for these updates later.)

Step 7. This time, do enter the Product Key from the Vista packaging. Once again, turn off the option Automatically activate Windows when I'm online.

Step 8. On this second install, make sure to select 'Upgrade,' not 'Custom (Advanced).' You're not doing a clean install now, you're upgrading to Vista.

Step 9. Wait while Vista copies files and reboots itself. No user interaction is required. Do not boot from the DVD when asked if you'd like to do so. Instead, wait a few seconds and the setup process will continue on its way. Some DOS-like, character-mode menus will appear, but don't interact with them. After a few seconds, the correct choice will run for you automatically.

Step 10. After you click a button labeled Start in the Thank You dialog box, Vista's login screen will eventually appear. Enter the username and password that you selected during the first install. You're done upgrading to Vista.

Step 11. Within 30 days, you must 'activate' your copy of Vista or it'll lose functionality. To activate Vista, click Show more details in the Welcome Center that automatically displays upon each boot-up, then click Activate Windows now. If you've dismissed the Welcome Center, access the correct dialog box by clicking Start, Control Panel, System & Maintenance, System. If you purchased a legitimate copy of Vista, it should quickly activate over the Internet. (You can instead activate by calling Microsoft on the phone, which avoids your PC exchanging information with Microsoft's server.)

Why does Vista's secret setup exist?

It's reasonable for us to ask ourselves whether buying an upgrade version of Vista, and then installing it to an empty hard disk that contains no previous version of Windows, is ethical.

I believe it is. Microsoft itself created the upgrade process. The company designed Vista to support upgrading it over a previously installed copy of XP, W2K Pro, or Vista itself. This isn't a black-hat hacker exploit. It's something that's been deliberately programmed into the approved setup routine.

Microsoft spent years developing and testing Vista. This upgrade trick must have been known to many, many people within the development team. Either Microsoft planned this upgrade path all along, knowing that computer magazines and newsletters (like this one) would widely publicize a way to 'save money buying Vista.' Or else some highly placed coders within the Vista development team decided that Vista's 'full' price was too high and that no one should ever have to pay it. In either case, Vista's setup.exe is Microsoft's official install routine, and I see no problem with using it exactly as it was designed.

... I just thought your readers may be interested in this article. And by the way Infopackets Team, keep up the good work, I just love your newsletter. ~ Hermann M. "

Thanks Hermann (and Brian Livingston) for the tip!

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