Microsoft is ending extended support for Windows 8.1 on January 10, 2023. That means those of you still running the old operating system after that time will no longer be able to get security fixes, technical support, and other types of updates or assistance. For that, you will need to install Windows 10 or 11. Fortunately, there are ways you can directly upgrade from Windows 8.1.
Back Up Your Files
Before you upgrade, make sure your data is being properly backed up. All your files, documents, applications, and settings should be preserved, depending on the process you use to upgrade. Still, it’s a good idea to manually back up any important files in case something goes awry.
You can enable File History in Windows 8.1 to back up key folders and files to external media. Alternatively, you can turn to a third-party backup software or a cloud storage service. Note that Microsoft’s own OneDrive is no longer supported in Windows 8.1, so that’s not a reliable option. Dropbox or Box may be better options.
How to Upgrade to Windows 10
Microsoft initially let you upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 for free. Technically, that offer has since expired, but if you sign into Windows with a Microsoft account, a license should be linked to your account. This will then remain in effect after you move from Windows 8.1 to 10.
Log into your Windows 8.1 PC and head to Microsoft’s Download Windows 10 website(Opens in a new window). Click the Download Now button to download the Windows 10 installation media. Double-click the download MediaCreationTool21H2.exe to install the program.
At the screen that asks what you want to do, select Upgrade this PC now and click Next. The Window 10 download then kicks off. Make sure the edition of Windows 10 that you want to install matches the one for Windows 8.1 (Home vs. Pro, for example), then accept the license terms.
Click the Change what to keep link to confirm the personal files and apps you want to keep. Now click the Install button and allow the upgrade to proceed. When finished, your PC will reboot and allow you to log into Windows 10. Let the new operating system configure and update.
A screen may appear asking you to finish setting up your device. Click Continue and then follow any subsequent screens. You should then be deposited into your new Windows 10 environment.
Check your personal files and apps to make sure they survived the upgrade. You should then head to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and check for any new updates.
Did you get an error message telling you that the Windows 10 installation has failed? This can happen with some PC configurations. If so, your best bet is to update to Windows 10 from the ISO file. Run the Media Creation Tool again. At the screen asking what you want to do, select Create Installation Media and click Next.
Select or confirm the language, OS edition, and architecture (32- or 64-bit). The next screen then asks which media you want to use. Select ISO file, then click Next. Choose a location on your PC to download the ISO file and click Save. After the ISO file is generated, click Finish.
In File Explorer, navigate to the folder where you downloaded the file. Right-click on it and select Mount from the menu. From the mounted files, double-click setup.exe to begin the upgrade. A screen for installing Windows 10 will appear.
Click Change how Windows Setup downloads updates, then select the Not right now option and click Next. Review the license terms and click Accept. At the Ready to install screen, confirm that the upgrade will install Windows 10 and keep your personal files and apps. Click Install and allow the upgrade to proceed.
Your PC will then need to reboot before you can sign into Windows 10. Allow the OS to configure and update, then go through any setup screens. Check that your personal files and apps are installed. Then, open Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update to check for any updates.
How to Upgrade to Windows 11
Upgrading from Windows 8.1 to Windows 11 is more challenging than upgrading to Windows 10. This is largely because Windows 11 imposes much stricter hardware requirements, including a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and the Secure Boot option set in the BIOS, two items that may not be available on older Windows 8.1 PCs.
Normally, you would run Microsoft’s PC Health Check Tool(Opens in a new window) to see if your computer can handle Windows 11, but that tool is designed for Windows 10 and won’t work in Windows 8.1. Instead, go directly to Microsoft’s Download Windows 11 website(Opens in a new window). Scroll down to the section for Download Windows 11 Disk Image (ISO). Click the drop-down menu for Select Download and choose Windows 11 (multi-edition ISO).
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Scroll down the screen and click Download, open the drop-down menu for Product Language, select your language, and click Confirm. Next, click 64-bit Download to grab the ISO file.
Open File Explorer and navigate to the folder where you downloaded the file. Right-click the downloaded ISO file and select Mount, then double-click the setup.exe file to begin setup.
At the Install Windows 11 window, click the Change how Setup downloads updates link, then select the Not right now option and click Next. You will then be notified if your PC doesn’t qualify for Windows 11 with a message saying that it lacks TPM 2.0 and/or Secure Boot.
There are Registry hacks that will bypass the TPM and Secure Boot checks, but you would want to weigh the pros and cons of relying on such tricks against the benefits of buying a new PC with Windows 11 properly installed and supported.
If your PC can handle Windows 11, confirm that the edition you wish to install matches the one for Windows 8.1, such as Home vs. Pro. Accept the license terms and click Next. Confirm that you want to keep your personal files and apps and click Install.
After the upgrade, allow your PC to reboot and sign into your new Windows 11 environment. Wait for the setup to complete, then make sure your files and apps are intact. You can also head to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update to check for any available updates.
Even if your Windows 8.1 PC does qualify for Windows 11, you may still run into obstacles trying to upgrade directly to the latest OS. In that event, one option is to first upgrade your computer to Windows 10, then try updating to Windows 11. This may sound like a clumsy route to take, but it can circumvent any problems you encounter in a more direct upgrade.
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