Illustration: Cat Finnie
A new licence for Windows 10 costs £119.99 bought direct from the Microsoft website. However, it might be possible for you to upgrade your computer for free. Follow our step-by-step guide to installing Windows 10 on your Windows 7 PC
If you're still using Windows 7, it's time to upgrade: after a decade of support, Microsoft is ending support for Windows 7.
Microsoft is aiming to move all Windows users on to Windows 10, which is the 'final version': there won't be a Windows 11; instead Microsoft will put out feature updates twice a year as well as regular security updates. So long as you keep your computer up-to-date, your Windows 10 will always be supported.
In a recent survey of 1,013 Which? members, we found that 13% were still using Windows 7 on their main computer, while some 30% of people around the world were still using Windows 7.
Not everyone is going to be able to upgrade for free, but here's how to check and proceed.
What to do first
For the best chance of getting a free upgrade, your current version of Windows 7 must be legal and activated with Microsoft. Check this using Control Panel from the Start Menu, clicking on System and Security, and then System. At the bottom, it will say if the licence is activated. You’ll need to be on Windows 7 Service Pack 1 – if your PC is up to date, this should already be the case. Check your PC exceeds the minimum requirements on Microsoft's website.
Agree to the terms and conditions
You now need to get the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. Head to the Windows 10 download page and select Download tool now. Once the file’s downloaded, open it and agree to the various terms and conditions that are required. Select Upgrade this PC now when given the choice. If you don’t have enough space on your hard disk, you might need to free up space and run the installation from a USB stick. The setup will guide you through this.
Keep files or start afresh?
You will be given the choice as to whether you want to keep your files and programs, or start afresh with none of your programs and files. The latter option is better for starting with a clean operating system, and if you backed up your files, you’ll be able to move the files and programs you need back on to your computer as and when you need them. But keeping everything is arguably simpler and avoids you running into possible issues if you’ve lost the licence keys for some of the software you’re running on Windows 7.
Sit back and let the upgrade happen. This could take a few hours depending on the speed of your PC and internet connection. Your PC will restart itself a few times, but eventually you’ll see the welcome screen for Windows 10. You’ll need to make choices about some privacy arrangements and sign into your Microsoft account if you have one. Then search for ‘activation’ in the Start Menu and click on it to see whether your Windows 10 licence is activated. If your Windows isn’t activated, you’ll need to buy a licence.
Want some more help with upgrading from Windows 7? Our friendly tech team can help you with one-to-one support on a range of tech issues. Find out more here.
Your questions answered
Why is Microsoft stopping support for Windows 7?
After launching new versions of Windows, Microsoft runs a period of ‘extended support’, bringing both feature updates and vital security protections against malware. You typically get more than 10 years of support for Windows editions, but with cyber criminals so keen to target Windows users, when support ends it’s important to move on.
Do I have to buy a new computer?
No, not necessarily. Check the Microsoft website to see if your existing computer can handle Windows 10. If not, you’ll need to look at upgrade options. If you’re truly wedded to your old PC (some 1% and 2% of members, respectively, still use the creaking Windows Vista OS and Windows XP OS), you should ensure it isn’t connected to the internet and be careful what files you access via a USB stick.
If you do decide to buy a new laptop, head over to our latest reviews.
What about moving files and programs?
The most important thing to do before upgrading your system – and generally, in fact – is back up your data. You might need to reinstall some programs after you upgrade your system, so make a note of your product keys for software such as Office.
Will my printer and other devices work if I move to Windows 10?
This really depends on the age of your printer, scanner or other devices. The manufacturers try to keep the drivers up to date with the latest version of Windows, but any change can result in older kit no
longer working. Check the manufacturer’s website of your device to see if there’s any information available before updating your system.
What alternative do I have to Windows?
You could join the 18% of Which? members who own an Apple Mac. However, Macs tend to be pricey, so you might want to consider a Chromebook instead. These laptops run Google’s Chrome OS, which is more stripped back and simplified than Windows, but runs well on cheap machines. Some 1% of members use the Linux OS, which is more compatible with older hardware, but isn’t suited to the novice computer user.