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Installing Windows 10 with a Microsoft Windows 10 USB Key

Written on August 18, 2016 by Chad Warmenhoven

Before you install Windows 10, it’s a good idea to save any work and back up your PC before you start. There are a number of ways to gain access to Windows 10 installers but we will focus on the ISO creation tool provided by Microsoft as that is the simplest.

Instructions for the "Windows 10 Install USB creation tool" can be found HERE

If your system does not immediately boot from the USB inserted you may need to use the 'Boot Option' screen to select it from the list of available boot devices. You can also use the BIOS to adjust boot order if you are familiar with that process but the 'Boot Option' screen is very simple and easy to access.

One Time Boot from USB

To boot to the USB thumbdrive from the boot option menu, you can refer to the below legend depending on your motherboard manufacturer. Repeatedly tap the key corresponding to your motherboard below to access the menu. Select the inserted Windows 10 thumbdrive from the populated list, let the system boot from the USB then jump down to step 1 below.

Boot Option Menu Keys

MSI and Gigabyte Boot Option screens

The Installer has Launched

1. You should now see a screen that looks like this:

2. Make sure the language and keyboard input method are correct in regards to your region and area then press 'Next'

3. You will now see the following screen:

4. Select the 'Install Now' option and the following screen should ask for a product key:

5. Inside of the box from Microsoft that contains the USB key, you should see a slot on the left side once it has been opened that contains a small card with a picture of a key on it. Pull that out and you should see a line of alphanumeric text, input this line into the product key text box, and press “Next”. If you are coming from Windows 7 and purchased your key online this is where you will type it in. We have seen that valid Product keys for previous editions of Windows will activate when used with Windows 10, but we haven't heard anything official from Microsoft so use at your own risk.

6. The next screen looks like this:

The two options you have are 'Upgrade' and 'Custom'. We recommend using the 'Custom', also known as a 'Clean install' option. We advise always performing a complete backup of all files and applications before starting the 'Custom' install. Check out our backup advice in our article about "Backup Options Within Windows 10" and our "Recommended 3rd Party Backup Solutions for Windows 10"

7. Select the 'Custom' option and you should see the following screen:

8. Select 'I accept the License Terms' then press 'Next'. Now you will see the following screen:

Now you'll get this wonderful screen! So this is where you select which drive to install Windows on. In earlier versions of Windows, you might need to click the "Drive Options (advanced)" button to get all of these helpful choices. This part is where you need to be really careful if you've got a drive with important data on it. Disconnect any external drives to be safe. Before you do anything, BACKUP ANY IMPORTANT DATA BEFORE TOUCHING A THING HERE. Seriously, if you do this wrong, you'll lose any pictures, music, movies - anything you've got. In the example here, there's only one hard drive. By default, Windows makes more than one partition on the drive and one is always called "System Reserved". You will need to delete ALL partitions on the drive we are installing Windows on. In our example it is Drive 0 and should be in your system as well but you will want to match the drives total size (add up the partitions sizes) with what you expect your drive to be. For example, a 2TB drive will show up as around 1800MB.

9. Select each Partition and then click 'Delete' until you have 'Drive 0 Unallocated space' like below step 9. (Your drive number may differ) You will see a message like the one immediately below, Select 'OK' in order to proceed

10. Click the "Unallocated Space" leftover and click 'Next'!

You may wonder why we aren't formatting the disk. This is because Windows will automatically partition out and allocate the drive as necessary. You may also notice additional drives, make sure the one that you are installing the operating system is the correct primary disk inside of your system, and not one that contains data or information that you want to leave untouched.

11. Click the "Unallocated Space" leftover and click 'Next'!

You may wonder why we aren't formatting the disk. This is because Windows will automatically partition out and allocate the drive as necessary. You may also notice additional drives, make sure the one that you are installing the operating system to is the correct primary disk inside of your system, and not one that contains data or information that you want to leave untouched.

12. Once the above steps have been completed, your windows installation will begin, then go through a couple of different screens, and multiple reboots. You will see this screen during the process:

Once the installation has finished, you will now be directed towards this screen:

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Tags: windows 10 install, setup, install, upgrade, usb, How-to Guide, 10, Boot, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Support, Windows 10, Windows, Windows 7, Windows Updates

All one has to do is download the Windows 10 ISO & upgrade existing Windows 7 or 8.1 and will activate. If signed in, with a digital license. Then (if desired) clean install Windows 10, no need to purchase new key for existing Win 7 or 8.1 if a legit license. The correct version of Windows 10 (Home or Pro) will be installed.

However, I've discovered after 2-3 Windows 10 upgrade versions, a clean install will speed things up nicely. One can tell a huge difference in OS responsiveness. This would be roughly once every year to 18 months, depending on how fast new Windows 10 releases are issued. These upgrades really slows NVMe SSD's, more so than a 2.5" (SATA) model.

It's best to keep the latest 10 ISO for repair if needed, or fresh install when recovering from infection (I never trust a once compromised OS).

Posted on 2019-11-09 16:33:18
Ben Nelson

Hello Cat,
Yes 100% true. Recently we've been referencing a video TechQuickie made regarding activating Windows 10 using Win7/8 product keys.

We always recommend the clean installation route opposed to an in-place upgrade. Like you mentioned there is the responsiveness benefit, but also we've encountered several problems with Windows.old files causing occasional crashing and update problems.

Posted on 2020-01-10 17:49:37

Agree with you, I've also had some crashing and update issues after upgrades, likely caused by preinstalled software and/or drivers. The clean install after an upgrade to Windows 10 is best & gets rid of the bloat.

I was getting used to 120-128GB SSD's being too small, as long as too much software isn't installed, the OS size will often be under 50GB. Of course, this will expand will upgrades, but I'm now doing clean install after each upgrade (one upgrade per clean install) & all is great.

The other benefit is drivers, for the most part, Windows 10 drivers are better than stock for my Z97 builds (except SATA or Samsung NVMe). Oh, and it still runs fine on many pre Intel 'i' series MB's (plus AMD AM3+/AM3), have two systems with Core 2 Quad 9650's & as smooth as a sewing machine. Just have to use lightweight security & not have too many Chrome pages open. 1909 Pro 64 bit also runs good on a AMD AM3 Phenom x4 965BE system on ASRock 970M Pro3 MB with a small OC. I don't toss any good running working computer, if Windows 10 is no longer supported, will install Linux Mint Cinnamon for 4-5 years more lifespan.

Anyway, anyone with an OEM PC can install Windows 10 at no cost. There's great deals on eBay for 3-4 year old Dell Windows 7 or 8 Pro machines (usually Optiplex Sandy or Ivy Bridge systems) in the $60-125 range. These ships with Windows 7 or 8 Pro, tough as nails & parts are plentiful & low cost. Try getting a mini tower vs SFF though, more room to upgrade PSU & GPU, that is if that matters to you. A low cost SSD makes these machines fast & there's onboard TPM security.


Posted on 2020-01-29 10:09:07