Windows 10 Installation notes

Overview

So, you are going to install Windows 10... There are lots of reasons you may want to do this. You may have a badly messed up machine in need of a reload. You may have an older machine that needs an update, as all older versions of Windows are now basically "abandonware". Or you may have a brand new computer that you just don't like the unwanted stuff that the hardware vendor added in as a money maker for them and a performance and reliabilty problem for you.

There are a few quirks about Windows 10 that you might (or might not) want to work around:

I'm not going to claim to be an authority on Windows 10, but here are some notes and observations I've made about the "From Scratch" Windows 10 installation.

Licensing Windows 10

What if you have a perfectly good Windows 7 or Windows 8 system, plenty of processor, lots of memory, plenty of disk space...but you can't keep running the orphaned Windows 7 or 8? Some time ago, Microsoft offered "free" upgrades to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8, but the offer has since "expired".

Or has it?

It turns out, at least as of this moment (mid 2020), and it appears for some time for the future, your old Windows 7 or 8 activation codes will work for Windows 10. It appears this is Microsoft's on-going plan for Windows 10.

Moreso, many "brand name" (i.e., Dell, HP, Sony, etc.) computers have an embedded code in their ROM to indicate the machine was sold with and able to be used with Windows 7 or later. MOST Windows 8 machines are set up this way, and don't even have a Windows sticker with a code on them. Windows 7 machine are mixed, I've seen both. But if your machine has a Windows 7 or later sticker, the activation code will activate Windows 10. If there is no sticker or no code on the sticker and your machine was sold with Windows 7, you are all set to run Windows 10 without a code.

(If you had a bootleg version of an older version of Windows, you are on your own. Sorry, I can't/won't help you)

Getting media

Microsoft now distributes installable images for Windows 10, which they didn't used to do. Unfortunately, they don't just let you download an image, you have to use their Windows-based Media Creation Tool. Search for "Windows Media Creation Tool", and you should be taken to a Microsoft site which will hopefully be right. Every time they come out with a new Windows subversion, they have a new media creation tool. That's the least of your problems -- the tool downloads quickly, the downloading of the image itself will be slow.

You have superficially two options for installation media, DVD or USB. As of 2021, I'd suggest just using the USB option, as basically any Windows 10 capable computer can boot from a USB drive, many don't have DVD drives anymore, and since MS changes the basic release reguarly, the rewritable nature of USB drives will be nice.

Turns out USB is actually two options of its down -- "MBR/BIOS" boot (the "old style") and "EFI/UEFI" (new style, works with >2T disks better for some operating systems, but that feature may be overrated). Problem is, the Windows Media Creation Tool will only create the same type of boot as the machine it is created on. And it will only install the way it was booted -- so if you use a MBR/BIOS USB drive, you get a MBR/BIOS install. So, if you have a relatively new machine that ONLY supports EFI, but your other machines are MBR/BIOS, you have a little problem.

Here's my way of dealing with that: Use the Media Creation Tool to download an DVD ISO image. Now use a program called Rufus which can take an ISO file and turn it into EITHER type of bootable USB image. Once you have your EFI stick, you could call yourself done, but personally, I prefer to install from "factory" images, myself -- so I usually make a new EFI stick with the MS tools once that first machine is bootstrapped. I have absolutely nothing to point to to say, "this is better", and if you are trying to do a one-time setup, don't feel obligated to do anything after the Rufus-created USB stick boots and installs.

Requiring a Microsoft account

The "Microsoft account" account is a mixed bag. If you don't mind the idea of having Microsoft's fingers deep in your computer, just do it and don't worry about it.

But if you don't want Microsoft's help, how do you get around it?

Relatively easy: Simply don't have the system connected to the network when you set it up.

So -- if you have a wireless adapter, DO NOT CONFIGURE IT. If you have a wired network, don't have it connected. If you don't have a network, it can't validate you against Microsoft. Done.

Getting around the security questions

In addition to when it asks you to enter a password, Windows install will ask you for three "Security Questions". The idea is these are questions only you should know, and if you forget your PW, you can prove you are you by answering those questions.

Security people consider these "security questions" a bad idea. I consider them a bad idea. Problem is, you can't get around them. And you can't (Easily?) clear them from your computer.

But...actually, you can -- there's a trick.

When you create a new user, create it WITHOUT A PASSWORD. No password, no security questions! You can then add a password later. HOWEVER I recomend doing this without a network connected, or in a "sure safe" environment. You do not want an account with no password exposed to the Internet.

Other tips

Always start your install from the most recent version of Windows 10 that you can download from Microsoft. IF you don't do this, the usual process is you will get several hours of updates to the version of Windows, and then it will pull down an entire new version of Windows. Unlike past releases, Microsoft seems to be providing updated versions of Windows for download, so you can easily start from something more current. (In the past, you would have to install the verison of Windows that came with your computer (for example, Windows XP), then have to download Service Pack 1, then lots of updates...which could take days to complete).

For the most part, drivers have not been a big problem for me in Windows 10 installs. Microsoft has done a great job of including a lot of good drivers in the base install, they update their install media so that new hardware can be supported. For the most part, I've had great luck simply booting the Windows install media, letting it do its thing and then running a few "Windows Updates" to clear up the drivers. Impressive compared with the olden days of Windows 9x and XP. I have found two big exceptions -- 1) a $100 laptop I got from Walmart, which was just unable to get drivers for its touch screen and other hardware, and it turned out, the hw provider didn't have a useful set of downloads, either. and 2), a very high end, but old Lenovo workstation, which had an onboard RAID adapter that Windows 10 (and 7 and ...) couldn't deal with without help. The Walmart machine, I just reverted to the factory load, the Lenovo, I figured was too old to be worth the trouble and recycled it. HOWEVER, you may well benefit from downloading your manufacturer's drivers for things...or not. Somehow, I hate pulling down 200MB of ...what?... for a video driver, so I'll often just live with the "found" drivers.

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since April 21 5, 2020

Copyright  2020, Nick Holland, Holland Consulting

Published: 4/22/2020
Revised: 3/4/2021