The recent release of the Windows 8.1 update has done much address the various usability issues in Windows 8. So if you’re still clinging onto an old version of the operating system, now is a good time to upgrade.
Installing Windows 8 or 8.1 is straightforward, but if you’re using Windows XP or Vista, you won’t be able to perform an ‘Upgrade’ installation — one that leaves your files intact and applications installed. Instead, you’ll need to perform a ‘Custom’ installation that restores your PC to a ‘factory fresh’ state, so it’s important to save your personal files and reinstall your applications afterwards.
You can buy a Windows 8.1 install DVD (rather than Windows 8), but we’ve used Windows 8 here, since the Windows 8.1 update is a free download.
Step 1: Check your PC is compatible
Older PCs may not be compatible with Windows 8, so check that yours is by downloading and running the Microsoft Upgrade Assistant.
Wait while the Assistant examines your PC and you’ll then see a compatibility report. This tells you whether or not your PC can run Windows 8 and which applications, if any, you’ll need to reinstall — click See compatibility details in the Assistant’s window to see the full report.
You’ll need to rectify any issues highlighted in the report before you can continue. If hardware cannot be upgraded, you won’t be able to move to Windows 8.
Step 2: Backup your files
If your PC is compatible with Windows 8, regardless of which version of Windows you’re currently using, it’s a sensible precaution to back up your personal files before the installation.
The simplest way of doing this is to copy your Documents/My Documents folder and important files in other folders on your PC’s hard drive to an external hard drive or USB flash drive.
Step 3: Update the Windows 8 installer
Insert your Windows 8 or 8.1 DVD to begin the upgrade. Click the Install now button when it appears and then you’ll be prompted to ‘Go online to install updates’ - this is worth doing to ensure the upgrade goes as smoothly as possible. You’ll then need to agree to the Windows licence agreement and enter your installation serial number.
Step 4: Upgrade Windows 7 or Vista
If you’re using Windows 7, you have the option to perform an ‘Upgrade’ installation and transfer any combination of your installed applications, settings and personal files to Windows 8 — see our earlier guide on how to do this.
With Windows Vista, an Upgrade installation can only preserve settings and/or personal files. Click this option to select it and Windows will then ask you what you want to keep.
Step 5: Perform a ‘clean’ install
If you’re using Windows XP or just want to perform a ‘clean’ upgrade and reinstall your applications later (which is often a good idea on a PC that’s more than a few years old), select the Custom install option. This won’t save any applications, settings or files, so the backup advised in Step 3 is essential. You’ll also need the installation discs/files and serial numbers for any applications you want to use with Windows 8 — you’ll need to reinstall them when the upgrade is complete.
Windows will ask which hard drive partition to use for Windows 8 and, unless you’ve already customised your PC’s existing Windows installation in some way, this should be your Windows (C:) drive. Confirm your choice to continue.
Step 6: Personalise the colour scheme
The Windows 8 installation will then begin and your PC will restart automatically a number of times. When the installation is almost complete, you’ll be asked to personalise the Windows 8 colour scheme (you can always do this later) and provide a friendly name for your PC.
Step 7: Customise Windows 8 settings
Click the Next button and you can then customise various Windows 8 settings, but it’s quicker and easier to just click Use express settings and instead make any desired changes later on.
Step 8: Secure your user account
Finally, you’ll be asked to provide a username, password and password hint to make your Windows 8 account secure. Click the Finish button and, after some final automatic configuration, you’ll be taken to the Windows 8 Start screen.
Step 9: Upgrade to Windows 8.1
If you’ve installed Windows 8 rather than Windows 8.1, the first thing you should do once the installation is complete is install the free Windows 8.1 update. Click the green Store Live tile on the Start screen and you’ll be taken to a download page. Follow the instructions to upgrade.