Upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows Vista or Windows XP

Windows Vista, Windows XP

Windows 8.1 brings you the Windows Store, Start screen, and Microsoft account, but also enhancements in personalization, search, Store apps, and cloud connectivity—and the security and reliability features you expect from Windows.

1. Before you begin

To upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows Vista or Windows XP, you'll need to install it from a Windows 8.1 DVD and perform a clean installation. This means you won't be able to keep any files, settings, or programs when you upgrade.

Windows 8.1 isn't designed for installation on PCs running Windows Vista or Windows XP, so we strongly recommend you do the following before buying the Windows 8.1 DVD.

Review system requirements

We recommend that you download and run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant to check if your PC meets the system requirements for Windows 8. If you're running Windows XP, you need to have Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) installed to use Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. For more info, go to the Service Pack and Update Center.

The Windows 8.1 system requirements are nearly the same as the Windows 8 system requirements—so if your PC can run Windows 8, in most cases, you can get the free update to Windows 8.1. Upgrade Assistant will also check program and device compatibility, and provide a free compatibility report.

Still be sure to review the system requirements for Windows 8.1 before buying the Windows 8.1 DVD. We also recommend that you visit your PC manufacturer's website for info about updated drivers and hardware compatibility.

Here is a summary of the system requirements:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster

  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)

  • Free hard drive space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)

  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

If you're unable to install Windows 8.1 on your current PC, you might consider shopping for one of the new generation of PCs that are available today. For more info, see the Windows PC buying guide.

Notes

Check compatibility of programs and devices

The Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant will check if your programs and devices are compatible with Windows 8, but you can check Windows 8.1 compatibility info for a specific program or device (including info from community forums) in the Windows Compatibility Center, or contact the program or device manufacturer.

Most programs created for earlier versions of Windows will work in Windows 8.1, but some older programs might run poorly or not at all. There are several things you can try to fix compatibility problems. For more info, see Get your apps and devices working in Windows 8.1.

Drivers for basic device functionality are available "in-box" (meaning, as part of the Windows image). This includes drivers for storage, networking, input, and display. These drivers allow you to complete the Windows installation and connect to the Internet. You can get more drivers from Windows Update or from the device manufacturer once you're online. For more info, see Download and install drivers.

Back up your data

Since you won't be able to keep any files, settings, or programs when you upgrade from Windows Vista or Windows XP, we recommend you back up all files and locate any program installation discs (or purchase confirmation emails) prior to updating.

You can transfer files before you upgrade by copying them to an external hard drive, USB flash drive, or CD, and then moving them to the location you want on your new PC. Be sure that the drive or disc has enough space to hold everything you want to move. If don't want to use an external hard drive, USB drive, or CD, you can move your files to OneDrive to have all your files in one place and have the latest version on your PCs. For more info, see Getting started with OneDrive.

After you upgrade to Windows 8.1, you'll need your original program installation discs, or purchase confirmation emails if you purchased programs online, to reinstall your programs. Insert the program CD or DVD into your PC or follow the directions in the confirmation email.

If you've been using Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail, or the version of Windows Mail that came with Windows Vista, your email messages and contacts can be imported into Outlook.com using the Mail Migration add-on. For more info, see Import email from a desktop app.

Note

  • You can still restore your personal files after you upgrade to Windows 8.1. Your files are saved to the Windows.old folder, where you can retrieve them after the upgrade. For more info, see Retrieve files from the Windows.old folder.

2. Buy Windows 8.1

You can buy Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.1 Pro on a DVD from a participating retailer (DVDs of the upgrade aren't available in all countries and regions). You can see current pricing on the Which Windows is right for you? webpage.

Determine if your PC can run a 64-bit or 32-bit version of Windows

After you open the Windows 8.1 packaging, you'll see two installation discs: a 64-bit version of Windows and a 32-bit version of Windows.

The terms 32-bit and 64-bit refer to the way a PC's processor (also called a CPU), handles info. The 64-bit version of Windows handles large amounts of random access memory (RAM) more effectively than a 32-bit version. To install a 64-bit version of Windows, you need a CPU that's capable of running a 64-bit version.

Hide all

To find out if your PC running Windows Vista is 64-bit capable

To see whether a PC running Windows Vista is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, do the following:

  1. Open Performance Information and Tools by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type Performance Information and Tools, and then, in the list of results, click Performance Information and Tools.

  2. Click View and print details.

  3. In the System section, you can see what type of operating system you're currently running under System type, and whether or not you can run a 64-bit version of Windows under 64-bit capable. (If your computer is already running a 64-bit version of Windows, you won't see the 64-bit capable listing.)

To find out if your PC running Windows XP is 64-bit capable

To see whether a PC running Windows XP is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, do the following:

  1. Click Start.

  2. Right-click My Computer, and then click Properties.

    • If "x64 Edition" is listed under System, your processor is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows.

Notes

  • If you start your PC using a 64-bit Windows 8.1 installation disc, but your PC isn't capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, you'll see a Windows Boot Manager error. You'll need to use a 32-bit Windows 8.1 installation disc instead.

  • Most programs designed for a 32-bit version of Windows will work on the 64-bit version of Windows. Notable exceptions are many antivirus programs. Programs designed for a 64-bit version of Windows won't work in a 32-bit version.

  • Device drivers designed for the 32-bit version of Windows won't work on PCs running a 64-bit version of Windows. If you're trying to install a printer or other device that only has 32-bit drivers available, it won't work correctly on a 64-bit version of Windows. To learn how to check for drivers, see Download and install drivers, or go to the device manufacturer's website.

Find your product key

Your product key should be on the box that the Windows 8.1 DVD came in. It looks like this: PRODUCT KEY: XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX.

You'll need to input your product key during installation. It's a 25-character code used to activate Windows, which helps verify that Windows hasn't been used on more PCs than the Microsoft Software License Terms allow.

It's a good idea to save a copy of your product key for your records in case you ever need to reinstall Windows.

3. Insert the Windows 8.1 DVD

Turn on your PC so that Windows starts normally, insert the DVD, shut down, and then restart your PC. You might have to press any key to boot from the DVD.

If you restart your PC and your current version of Windows starts, you might have to open a boot menu or change the boot order in your PC's BIOS or UEFI settings so that your PC boots from the media. To open a boot menu or change the boot order, you'll typically need to press a combination of keys (such as F2, F12, Delete, Esc, etc.) immediately after you turn on your PC. For instructions on changing the boot order for your PC, check the documentation that came with your PC or go to the manufacturer's website.

If your current version of Windows still starts, try again by waiting until Windows asks you to sign in, shut down completely, and then restart your PC again.

Choose country or region settings

Windows Setup screen to choose language, time and currency, and keyboard or input method
Windows Setup screen to choose language, time and currency, and keyboard or input method

You need to choose a language to install, a time and currency format, and a keyboard or input method before installing Windows 8.1. You can always change these settings later.

For info about how to add a language, see Add a language or keyboard. For info about how to add a different keyboard layout or an input method editor (IME) for entering text, see Add a keyboard layout.

4. Install Windows 8.1

Windows Setup screen to choose a custom installation
Windows Setup screen where to choose a custom installation

Be sure to plug in your laptop or tablet if that's what you're using. The installation could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours with a high-speed Internet connection (1.5 Mbps–10 Mbps). The time depends on your Internet connection, PC, and other factors and might exceed these estimates.

Perform a clean installation

Windows Setup screen where to format a partition
Windows Setup screen where to format a partition

Warning

  • When you format a partition during installation it erases any data on the partition. Be sure to back up the data you want to keep before you begin.

To clean install Windows

  1. Click Install Windows.

  2. On the Enter the product key to activate Windows page, enter your product key.

    The product key should be on the box that the Windows 8.1 DVD came in. It looks like this: PRODUCT KEY: XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX.

  3. On the Please read the license terms page, if you accept the license terms, click I accept the license terms, and then click Next.

  4. On the Which type of installation do you want? page, click Custom: Install Windows only (advanced).

  5. On the Where do you want to install Windows? page, click Drive options (advanced), click the partition that you want to change, click the formatting option you want to perform, and then follow the instructions.

  6. When you've finished formatting, click Next.

  7. Follow the instructions to finish installing Windows.

Note

  • You can only choose Custom: Install Windows only (advanced) when updating from Windows Vista or Windows XP. The option to upgrade isn't supported.

Windows Setup screen showing installation of Windows
Windows Setup screen showing installation of Windows

After Windows 8.1 installs, you'll first be asked to choose settings.

5. Choose your settings

After Windows 8.1 installs, you'll first be asked to choose settings for your PC.

Personalize

Personalize screen during setup
Personalize screen during setup

Choose a color you like—you can always change this later from the Start screen. To do so, on the Start screen, point to the lower-left corner of the screen, move your mouse all the way into the corner, click Settings, and then click Personalize.

Use express settings

Settings screen during setup
Settings screen during setup

You'll see a list of recommended settings, called express settings. To accept these settings and continue, click Use express settings. You can change any of these settings later, after you finish setting up. If you'd like to change some of these settings now, click Customize.

For more info, click Learn more about express settings. To learn about how these settings affect your privacy, click Privacy statement.

Sign in

Microsoft account sign in screen during setup
Microsoft account sign in screen during setup

Next, you'll be asked to sign in. If you see a local account sign in page, you'll need to sign in with your local account first, and then we'll ask you to set up a Microsoft account.

Hide all

If you already have a Microsoft account

  1. Enter your Microsoft account email address and password.

    If you have more than one Microsoft account, you'll need to choose one. For more info, see Which email address should I use for my Microsoft account?

  2. We'll send a security code to the alternate email address or phone number you've set up for this account, and you'll need to enter that code to verify that you're the account owner. This helps us protect your account and devices when you access sensitive info. If you don't have alternate contact info set up for the account yet, you'll be asked to provide it now.

    If you signed in to your PC using a Microsoft account before you installed Windows 8.1, then you might not see this step.

If you want to create a Microsoft account

  1. Click Create a new account.

  2. Next, you'll be asked to choose an email address you'd like to use as a Microsoft account. This can be any email address you use, and isn't limited to just addresses that come from Microsoft. Enter the email address that you use the most. We'll use it to set up the Mail and People apps for you with email and contacts that you already use every day.

  3. Enter the password you'd like to use, and fill in the rest of the info, including your first name, last name, and your country or region.

  4. Next, you'll be asked to provide an alternate email address or phone number where we can reach you by email, phone, or text message (SMS). This helps us protect your account and devices whenever you access sensitive info using this account. After you enter this info, we'll send a message to you containing a security code, and you'll need to enter that code to verify that you're the account owner.

If you want to keep using a local account

Windows 8.1 is designed to be used with a Microsoft account, so we recommend that you give it a try. Simply put, a Microsoft account is the glue that holds together so many useful features of the new Windows. Without one, you won't be able to, for example, get new apps from the Windows Store, automatically sync your settings and documents between PCs, back up your photos to the cloud so you can get to them from anywhere, or see all your contacts from multiple email and social networking accounts together in the People and Mail apps.

But if you're sure you want to use a local account instead, click Create a new account, and then on the new account page, click Continue using my existing account.

OneDrive cloud storage

OneDrive screen during setup
OneDrive screen during setup

If this is your first time setting up a PC with Windows 8.1, you'll see the new OneDrive options.

If you click Next on this screen, your PC will use these default OneDrive settings:

  • Photos you take with this PC are saved to your camera roll folder on this PC, and a smaller copy of each photo is automatically backed up to your OneDrive.

  • When you create a new document, the default save location is OneDrive. But you can always choose to save individual documents locally or on another drive.

  • Windows will save a backup copy of your PC settings to OneDrive. If something ever happens to your PC and you need to replace it, your settings are saved in the cloud and you can transfer them to a new PC instantly.

You can change any of these settings later in PC settings. If you'd prefer to turn off all of these settings now, click Turn off these OneDrive settings (not recommended). For more info, see OneDrive: FAQ.

Note

Install updates

Because Windows is always being updated, it’s possible that critical updates have become available since Windows 8.1 was released. Windows checks for these critical updates when you finish setting up Windows 8.1 for the first time, and if it finds any, it will download them automatically. Downloading and installing these updates might take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or so, depending on the updates needed. Your PC might also need to restart one or more times to complete the updates.

You're done

Start screen
Start screen

Windows will finalize your updates and then take you to your new Windows 8.1 Start screen. For more info about installing Windows 8.1, see Update to Windows 8.1: FAQ.