Windows 10: Can I Upgrade or do I need a Clean Install?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'controlbob' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I have an HP laptop running Windows Vista and I plan to upgrade to Windows 7 using an OEM install disc. Do you know if the OEM Windows 7 will be approved for the free Windows 10 upgrade when it becomes available? Are the hardware requirements for the Windows 10 similar to Windows 7? Can I upgrade / migrate to Windows 10, or do I need to do a clean install? "

My Response:

The short answer is that yes, you can get the free upgrade to Windows 10 if you currently have Windows 7 or 8.1 installed -- providing you claim the free upgrade within one year of its initial release. Whether or not this means you can do an 'in-place' upgrade is not yet certain, as Microsoft has not provided an official document outlining the upgrade path for Windows 10. Based on past history, OEM installs are not supported for in-place upgrades (meaning you have to do a clean install), and I'll explain more about that further down.

In-Place Upgrade vs Clean Install

An in-place upgrade means that you can install Windows 10 over top of your existing version of Windows without losing your user data and programs. A clean install is the opposite: you would have to backup your existing Windows, format the drive, install Windows fresh, then reinstall your programs and user data. From a technical standpoint, a clean install is always preferred because it is less likely to encounter issues compared to an in-place upgrade. However, for many non-technical users, an in-place upgrade is the easiest method.

Windows 7 and 8.1 Supported Upgrades for Windows 10

Gabe Aul of Microsoft has stated in a public twitter announcement that only Windows 7 and 8.1 are supported upgrade paths Windows 10. The phrase 'upgrade path' here is the same as an 'in-place upgrade' -- meaning that you can install Windows 10 over top of the existing Windows installation and not have to reinstall your programs.

Upgrade Windows XP, Vista to Windows 10

If you run Windows XP or Vista, you cannot do an in-place upgrade to Windows 10; you must do a clean install of Windows 10. This means that you will have to backup your existing Windows installation to hard drive, then reinstall all your programs and user data once Windows 10 is installed.

Upgrade to Windows 10 if using OEM Windows?

There is no official word on this yet, but based on past history, OEM installations are not supported by Microsoft for in-place upgrades. In other words, if you used OEM media to install Windows 7 or 8.1, you will most likely have to do a fresh install of Windows 10. OEM installations are also typically found on new computers with Windows pre-bundled on the system, or System Builder discs sold through retail outlets like Amazon.

Windows 10 Hardware Requirements

Windows 10 hardware requirements are the same as Windows 8, but are less than that of Windows 7 or Vista. Specifically, Windows 10 minimal hardware requirements are: a 1 GHz processor with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2; 1 GB of RAM (32-bit) and 2 GB of RAM (64-bit); 16 GB of hard disk space (32-bit) and 20 GB (64-bit); and a graphics card supporting DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver.

Upgrade Windows 10 Technical Preview to Windows 10 Final

According to, Microsoft has confirmed all versions of Windows 10 Beta will be able to upgradeable to the final Windows 10 release. In other words, you will be able to install the final version of Windows 10 over top of the beta without having to format and reinstall.

Other Questions Related to Windows 10 Upgrade

We've recently answered more questions related to Windows 10, including in-place upgrades and clean installs. Feel free to read more:

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About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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nate04pa's picture

"According to, Microsoft has confirmed all versions of Windows 10 Beta will be able to upgradeable to the final Windows 10 release. In other words, you will be able to install the final version of Windows 10 over top of the beta without having to format and reinstall."

That would be a first for Microsoft. Earlier "preview" editions (Win7, Win8) could not be upgraded to the RTM version.

shawn.patrick.roberts_4098's picture

I wanted to share that I am running the preview of 10, and I was able to in place upgrade over an oem install of 7.