This Windows installation guide may seem long, but it’s not very difficult. It covers as many common cases as possible. It also aims to be informative.
Step 0: Pre-Installation
It is worth noting that the performance of Windows on low-end hardware can be very slow. If you have old or slow hardware, consider installing Linux instead. Windows works best on high-end, fast, modern hardware. We recommend using an SSD.
Before installing Windows, be sure to disable Secure Boot and Fast Boot in BIOS, if the options exist. You can install Windows with Secure Boot enabled, but it’s still recommended to disable it. It is much easier to access recovery media when it is disabled.
If you already have a Windows installation on this computer, you should backup any files that you currently have on C:\ that you want to keep, as re-installing Windows will wipe your C:\ partition. But if you can’t boot your Windows installation, use a live Linux session.
If you already have Mac or Linux on this computer, you should make plenty room for Windows first. Give Windows’ C:\ partition at least 100 GB and for best performance do not let the drive fill up more than halfway or so. This helps avoid fragmentation, as NTFS likes to fragment.
Step 1: Picking A Windows Version
It may seem like there are not very many choices but there are lots of choices. There is Windows 10 vs 8.1 vs 7, and there is also Home vs Pro vs Enterprise, etc. If you already have a license for one version, you probably should stop reading this section (except for the last part) and just use that version.
Windows 7 is a great reliable and familiar option, and works better than newer versions for older software. However, because of its age it can have trouble with the latest hardware. Windows 8.1 is a newer option, arguably the most lightweight of the bunch, and still works for most things. The best part is that if you are a student you can get a free copy of Windows 8.1 (Embedded Industry Pro) through Microsoft Imagine. If you have a license for that student version, you can get the best of both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 with jfarre20’s Windows 9. This is a version that looks like Windows 7 but is Windows 8.1 Embedded Industry Pro under the hood.
Some very new hardware such as Intel’s Kaby Lake and AMD’s Ryzen have DRM that prevents Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 from working properly. If you have either of those new pieces of hardware, you’ll be required to use the next item on the list (unless you want to use Linux).
Windows 10 is the most recent option. It gives you the most integration with “the cloud” with services such as Cortana and synchronizing your settings with your Microsoft account. The “Home” and “Pro” versions of Windows 10 automatically update themselves. They also include lots of telemetry and advertising services, with varying amounts of pre-installed apps such as Candy Crush Soda Saga. If you do not like that, Microsoft offers an “Enterprise” version which gives you much more control over your system. Additionally, if you are using one of the earlier versions, you can get a free upgrade to Windows 10. Therefore, the monetary cost of Windows 10 is always less than or equal to the others.
Use the 64-bit version whenever possible. If you have a very old computer with a 32-bit processor (don’t know? try here), you may want to consider a lightweight Linux distro such as Lubuntu 32-bit instead. Windows will probably not run as well on your old or slow hardware.
Step 2: Creating Installation Media
If you are downloading Windows 10 from Windows, you will use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. You download it and run it, and it will download Windows 10 in the program. You select whether you would like to create a Windows 10 installation USB drive directly, or if you would like to download an ISO file, in which case see below. Also, the link above gives direct downloads to ISO files if you view it from a non-Windows computer.
If you are getting Windows 7, 8.1, or 10 without directly installing to a USB flash drive, you will get an ISO file. You will either need to burn this image to a DVD or you will need to put it on an 8+ GB flash drive. You can use the included software in your operating system to burn it to a DVD (Windows 7+ can burn DVDs). Otherwise, you can put it on a flash drive. If you are creating the installer from Windows, you’ll need to download a tool called Rufus. To put it on a flash drive if you are creating the installer from Mac or Linux, use the dd tool.
- Download and run Rufus.
- Near the bottom, select “ISO Image” and then browse for the ISO image.
- Select which flash drive you want to put the installer on.
- Select the target system type, GPT/MBR/UEFI/BIOS/etc. Don’t know? Try here.
- Click “Start” and wait for it to finish.
- Open the Terminal.
- First, without the flash drive inserted, run diskutil list in the Terminal.
- Plug in the flash drive and run diskutil list again. You can do this to identify the drive number.
- Unmount the flash drive you have identified. diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk[number], without the square brackets.
- Convert the ISO image. hdiutil convert /path/to/ubuntu.iso -format UDRW -o /path/to/ubuntu.img
- Write the image to the flash drive. dd if=/path/to/ubuntu.img of=/dev/rdisk[number]. Using /dev/rdisk instead of /dev/disk usually results in faster media creation.
- After dd is complete (you can press Ctrl+T to check the progress), eject the created installation media. diskutil eject /dev/disk[number]
- Open the Terminal.
- Use lsblk to get a list of devices. Look for the /dev/sd[letter] of your device, with no numbers.
- Open a terminal emulator to the directory where the ISO is stored.
- Use dd if=/path/to/windows.iso of=/dev/sd[letter] to create a bootable drive from the ISO.
- Wait until dd finishes. It will not display progress, but when it finishes, the terminal will display the next prompt.
Step 3: The Actual Installation
Reboot the computer and boot the flash drive or DVD. If you disabled Secure Boot and Fast Boot in BIOS (if applicable), this should be easy.
When the image boots, select your language options and select the “Custom” option. Erase any existing C:\ and minor partitions (but if you’re dual-booting with an already installed OS, don’t erase anything from that). Then, select the unallocated space and click “New”. Set the size to whatever you want, usually you want this to be the entire drive. If you’re dual-booting you would want to use half the space or so. If you want to easily re-install in the future make this number small (but at least 60 GB). This way you can later on make the rest of the drive a separate data partition that doesn’t have to be deleted on re-install.
The rest of the installation should be mostly self-explanatory. You have to enter the username and password that you want, choose your computer’s name, timezone, color scheme, etc.
If you are dual-booting with Linux, you will need to re-install GRUB so that you can select which OS you want at startup.
Step 4: Post-Installation Configuration
Perform all updates. Open Windows Update and perform all updates. You will probably have to reboot many times, check for updates on every boot, and wait a long time for the updates to complete.
To get a jump-start with your software, you may wish to use a tool such as Ninite to install many commonly used programs.
If you have a 2nd hard drive and which to store your Steam games there, ensure that the drive is mounted with your desired drive letter, and in Steam you can add a library folder by going to Steam -> Settings -> Downloads -> Steam Library Folders -> Add Library Folder, then select a location, click “New Folder”, and then set it as the default folder.
After installing all of your software, disable startup items. Task manager -> Startup, and msconfig -> services -> Hide Microsoft Services. Disable all but your AV and Steam, and whatever else you want to keep here. This basically just prevents these things from running when your computer starts. You can still run them yourself just fine.
Download a program called Piriform CCleaner and scan and clean files. CCleaner does a great job at removing all the junk left behind by installing programs, and it also allows you to remove regular programs and those possibly unwanted “apps” from one central place.
Disable “Fast Startup” and Hibernation. Power options -> Choose what the power buttons do -> Change settings currently unavailable -> Uncheck “Fast Startup (recommended)” and Hibernation. Also run powercfg -h off in an administrator command prompt. This ensures that you can always easily read and write to your system from recovery media, which makes recovering data vastly easier. It also means that each shutdown is actually a full shutdown instead of a pseudo-hibernate, which makes “turning it off an on again” more effective at fixing issues.
If you have an SSD or plenty of RAM, disable (or shrink) the page file. This PC -> Right-click -> Properties -> Advanced system settings -> Performance -> Settings… -> Advanced -> Change… -> Uncheck “Automatically manage…” -> No paging file -> Set -> Apply -> Ok -> Ok -> Reboot. This means that the OS doesn’t (or does less) use the disk as a cache for RAM. This ensures that only your RAM is used for RAM and prevents your system from grinding to a halt when your RAM fills up. Instead, Windows will ask you to close programs to free memory.
You may wish to store the time in UTC rather than Windows’ default of RTC. This means that Linux-based recovery media will detect the time correctly. It also means that if you are dual-booting with Mac or Linux the time will always be correct instead of having Windows fight with your other systems over what the time is.
Step 5: Things To Keep In Mind
Windows Update does not update all software on your system, it only updates Windows itself, as well as some drivers and Microsoft programs. Be sure to keep the rest of your computer up-to-date, too!
If you have a 64-bit system, use the 64-bit versions of software whenever possible. 64-bit programs will generally work better.
NTFS likes to fragment itself. On SSDs, fragmentation does not have much of a performance reduction and defragmenting severely reduces the lifespan of the drive. However, it is a good idea to keep fragmentation down to begin with. To do this, simply ensure that your disk always has plenty of free space. Keeping disks under two-thirds full is a good rule of thumb.
Windows 10 has “major updates” every year or so which effectively re-install the OS. Some of your settings may be reset during these updates, so you may wish to periodically check your settings to ensure they’re how you want them to be.