On January 10th, 2023, Microsoft definitively ended support for both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. That means these two operating systems are no longer receiving updates of any kind, and that includes security updates. Despite Microsoft’s efforts, some users held back from upgrading to Windows 10 since it was introduced in 2015, but if you haven’t done so yet, now is the time, or you could be in huge security risks before long.
Why you should upgrade to Windows 10
Windows 7 was initially released all the way back in 2009, and it had its support period extended significantly. While mainstream support officially ended in 2020, Microsoft introduced an extended security update (ESU) program for businesses, allowing them to get three additional years of updates, though with an annual cost that doubled for each year after the first.
Windows 8 made its debut in 2012, and received the free upgrade to Windows 8.1 the following year, which became the only version supported after a few years. As is the case with every Windows release, it would get support for at least 10 years after Windows 8 launched.
Because Windows 8 was not anywhere near as popular as Windows 7, it didn’t get an ESU program, and that means these two operating systems are running out of support completely at the same time. Of course, unless you were paying for ESU, Windows 7 hasn’t been supported for a while, but this is the true end of the road.
Now is the time to upgrade to Windows 10 if you haven’t already. While it has been succeeded by Windows 11, Windows 10 will remain supported until October 2025, so you have a couple more years of support left without having to buy a new machine.
Upgrading to Windows 10 with the Media Creation Tool
Microsoft initially offered Windows 10 through Windows Update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users, but that possibility has since gone away. Now, the best way to upgrade to Windows 10 is to use the Media Creation Tool, which can either be used to perform an in-place upgrade or to create installation media if you want to do a clean install. We’ll be focusing on the former, as it doesn’t require you to delete your data. Still, you should always back up important data before a major upgrade like this. Here’s what you need to do:
- Head to this Windows 10 download page and click Download Now. The Media Creation Tool will download.
- Run the file you downloaded and accept the license agreement. In the next screen, choose Upgrade this PC now in order to perform an in-place upgrade.If you’d like to create installation media for later, keep in mind you’ll need a flash drive with at least 8GB or an empty DVD.
- Once you click Next, Windows 10 will start downloading and installation media will be created. Leave the window open until it finishes.
- In the last screen on this window, click Install, and Windows 10 will start installing on your PC. The process can take some time, so make sure you’re ready to wait. 4 Images Close
- Once it finishes installing, your computer will boot into the Windows 10 lock screen. Enter your password and you’ll see a series of prompts to enable certain Windows 10 features like diagnostic data, location permission, and more. You can accept or deny these permissions at will and click Next until you’re done.
- You’ll now be on the Windows 10 desktop, and your PC is now supported for a couple of extra years.
That’s the easiest way to upgrade, and the path we recommend to most users. However, you can use installation media to upgrade, too.
Upgrading to Windows 10 with an ISO file or USB drive
As we mentioned above, you can choose to create Windows 10 installation media to use later with the Media Creation Tool. If you choose to do it this way, you can either create an ISO file, a USB drive, or a DVD that’s used to install the new operating system. To use an ISO file on Windows 7, you’ll need dedicated software such as WinCDEmu, so it may be easier to use a flash drive or DVD. Windows 8.1 thankfully is capable of mounting ISO files natively, which makes things a lot easier.
If you use a USB drive as installation media, any data on it will be deleted. Make sure to back it up to another device.
If this is the route you want to take, run the Media Creation Tool as mentioned above. We’re going to be focusing on using an ISO file here, but the process is very similar if you want to create a USB drive. Here’s how it goes:
- After accepting the license terms, choose Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC. Don’t worry, you can use this method for the same PC you’re already using.
- You’ll see a screen with language, architecture, and edition options related to the Windows installation. Since you’re trying to upgrade, you’ll want to leave this with the default settings since they match your PC. If you’re setting this up for a different computer, make sure the settings match what’s on your target device.
- Here, you can choose whatever method you prefer, and if you’re using a USB drive, you’ll want to have it plugged in at this point. Again, for our example, we’re using an ISO file. 2 Images Close
- You’ll be prompted to choose a location to save the ISO file to. Browse to whatever folder you prefer, choose a file name, and click Save. If you want to use a USB drive, you’ll simply see a list of all the external drives plugged into your PC so you can choose the right one. It might be better to only have one drive connected so you don’t accidentally select a different drive.
- Windows 10 will start downloading and installation media will be created.
- For USB drives, when the process ends, you’ll immediately have the installation drive ready. You can skip over to step 7. If you created an ISO, find the ISO file that was created and mount it. On Windows 8.1, you can simply double-click the ISO file, but on Windows 7, you’ll need to use a third-party program such as WinCDEmu.
- Download and install WinCDEmu. During the installation process, you’ll see a prompt for the program to install a device driver. Click Install and let the process finish.
- Right-click the ISO file and choose Select drive letter & mount.
- You can choose any drive letter you want here, and you can choose to disable autorun or to keep the virtual drive after a restart. Click OK once you have the desired settings. 2 Images Close
- You’ll have a new drive on your PC that’s used to install Windows 10. Simply open the drive, and launch the Setup file. Click Yes in the dialog that appears.
- The Windows 10 setup will launch. Click Next, then Accept when you get to the license terms.
- After checking for updates, you’ll see a summary screen of your installation settings, which will keep your existing files. Click Install. 4 Images Close
- After that, the process is the same as if you used the Media Creation Tool to upgrade directly.
Why not upgrade to Windows 11?
One thing you may be wondering seeing as Windows 11 has been widely available for a while now is why wouldn’t you upgrade to that instead and get a much longer support period. Technically, using the Media Creation Tool to upgrade to Windows 11 is also possible. The problem is, machines running Windows 8.1 or 7 are most likely too old to support Windows 11.
It’s mostly because of the CPU and TPM requirements, which computers made for those older operating systems don’t meet. TPM 2.0 was only introduced in 2014, and it wasn’t required for users until Windows 11 launched in late 2021. PC manufacturers were required to include it in Windows machines for a few years before that, but it doesn’t change anything for such old devices.
On top of that, the overlap of supported CPUs for Windows 8.1 (or 7, for that matter) and Windows 11 is minuscule. Only a handful of X-series Intel Core processors (which are just barely consumer-grade parts) are supported by both operating systems, though a few Intel Xeon models for workstations and servers are also officially supported by both.
Unless you want to upgrade your hardware, Windows 10 is the best route to take if you want to stay supported right now. With support until late 2025, you have a lot more time to prepare to upgrade your hardware to something that supports Windows 11 and last many more years. However, you can check out our list of PCs that support Windows 11 if you’re looking to buy a new machine.
That’s all there is to it, and it should be a fairly simple processor overall. While we always recommend backing up your data before a major upgrade like this, it shouldn’t result in any data loss and you should be good to go once the upgrade is finished. Windows 10 retains plenty of familiar elements from Windows 7 and 8.1, so while there may be a small learning curve, the upgrade should be painless, and it’s definitely worth it for the additional security you get.
If instead of an upgrade you want to buy a new laptop, check out our list of the best laptops you can buy right now. All of those will run Windows 11 (excluding Macs and Chromebooks, naturally) and most likely, whatever version comes next.