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. 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
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 checkWindows 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 SkyDrive to have all your files in one place and have the latest version on your PCs. For more info, see Getting started with SkyDrive
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 to Outlook.com
Compare and decide
- 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.
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.
- Open Performance Information and Tools by clicking 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.
- Click View and print details.
- 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:
- Click Start.
- 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.
- 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.
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?If you already have a Microsoft account
- 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
- Click Create a new account.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.