Is it still possible to upgrade a PC to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1?
For the first year after the release of Windows 10, Microsoft offered free upgrades using the Get Windows 10 app, which appeared in the taskbar as a notification icon and in Windows Update. With the end of the free upgrade offer, the Get Windows 10 app is no longer available, and you cannot upgrade from an older Windows version using Windows Update.
The good news is that you can still upgrade to Windows 10 on a device that has a license for Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. You'll need to download the installation files and run the Setup program from within Windows or use the Upgrade Assistant available from Microsoft's accessibility page. For details, see "Here's how you can still get a free Windows 10 upgrade."
As of late May 2020, readers have confirmed to me that this procedure still works.
PCs that have a license to run Windows XP or Windows Vista are not eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10.
Where can I get installation files for Windows 10?
If you've built a new PC or you're installing Windows 10 in a virtual machine on a Mac, you can purchase a license from third-party sellers or from Microsoft itself, via the Microsoft Store. Windows 10 Home costs $120 from Microsoft, and Windows 10 Pro costs $200. Prices from third-party sellers, including Amazon, are typically lower. Depending on how you purchase, you'll receive installation media (DVD or USB key) or a product key and instructions for downloading installation media.
If you already have a Windows 10 product key or you are planning to reinstall Windows 10 on a machine that already has a digital license (more on that later), visit the Download Windows 10 page and download the Media Creation Tool. This free download allows you to create a bootable USB flash drive directly.
As an alternative, I recommend that you download an ISO file instead. That file can be mounted directly in File Explorer an ISO file can also be used to create a bootable USB flash drive, a bootable DVD, or a virtual DVD drive mounted in a virtual machine.
After running the Media Creation Tool, choose Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC. By default, the pre-selected options choose an architecture (32-bit or 64-bit) that matches that of the current PC. Open the drop-down list shown here if you want to choose a different architecture or download an ISO file that includes both architectures.
The ISO file for an x86 (32-bit) edition is approximately 3 GB in size. The x64 (64-bit) edition is delivered as an ISO file approximately 4 GB in size. The combined installer is just over 6 GB in size.
Developers and IT pros with a Visual Studio (MSDN) subscription can download installation media in ISO format from the subscriber portal. Note that the installer files downloaded from this source are too large to be copied to a bootable USB flash drive formatted using the FAT32 file system (FAT32 is required for booting on a system with UEFI firmware).
Windows 10 Enterprise editions are available through the Volume Licensing Service Center. A free 90-day trial edition is also available from the Microsoft Evaluation Center.
What's the most recent Windows 10 version?
Microsoft made Windows 10 version 2004 (also known as the Windows 10 May 2020 Update) available to the Release Preview ring of the Windows Insider Program on April 16, 2020, and plans to begin making it widely available to consumers via Windows Update at the end of May.
This major update succeeds version 1909 (also known as the Windows 10 November 2019 Update). That version was released to the general public on November 12, 2019. The previous version was version 1903, which was released on May 21, 2019. The version 1909 release was deliberately scaled down to include only "a scoped set of features for select performance improvements, enterprise features, and quality enhancements." Anyone running version 1903 received the version 1909 update as a lightweight "enablement package," which installed in only a few minutes.
In its first two years, Windows 10 had separate release schedules for consumer and business editions. In mid-2017, Microsoft consolidated these two channels into a single one. Business and enterprise customers can opt to defer the appearance of new releases in Windows Update for up to 365 days after the general release date using the Windows Update for Business feature set.
Each major release is associated with a build number. The initial July 2015 release was build 10240. The build numbers of subsequent updates are as follows:
- Version 1511 - build 10586
- Version 1607 - build 14393
- Version 1703 - build 15063
- Version 1709 - build 16299
- Version 1803 - build 17134
- Version 1809 - build 17763
- Version 1903 - build 18362
- Version 1909 - build 18363
- Version 2004 - build 19041
A number after the major build number identifies the most recent update installed.
To check which version of Windows 10 is installed on a device, open Settings > System > About. As an alternative, you can click in the search box and type settings:about. The same information is also available using the winver command, which displays results in a compact About Windows dialog box.
The system shown below, for example, is running the May 2019 Update, version 1903, with the 2019-04 Cumulative Update applied.
Will Microsoft automatically update my PC to the latest release of Windows 10?
If you're currently running Windows 7 or 8.1, you will not be offered an upgrade to Windows 10.
If you are running any unmanaged edition of Windows 10 using default settings, these feature updates (the new, official terminology for what were once called upgrades) are delivered through Windows Update. In versions prior to 1903, feature updates download and install automatically. You can schedule the installation for a more convenient time or postpone it for a few days, but you cannot delay the update indefinitely.
Beginning with version 1903, Microsoft began offering feature updates for installation separately from security and reliability updates. The company says these updates will not be downloaded or installed automatically unless the current version is at or near the end of its support window.
On systems running Windows 10 Home and Pro, the support period for each version is 18 months. Windows 10 Enterprise and Education editions have a longer support period of 30 months for the version released in the second half of each year.
Each feature update delivered through Windows Update requires roughly 3 GB of bandwidth and disk space. If your PC is running an outdated version (as might be the case if you restored it using the manufacturer's recovery media) and you don't want to wait for Windows Update, you can use the Windows 10 Update Assistant to get the latest version. Visit the Download Windows 10 page and click Update Now to start the process.
That action downloads a very small installer file that runs a compatibility check and then, assuming the device passes all compatibility tests, begins the full upgrade. The Update Assistant is a straightforward wizard that doesn't require technical knowledge to use; it does, however, require an administrator's credentials to install.