After many, many months of testing, Windows 10 is finally available. Microsoft's latest brings a number of welcome improvements to the table, and you may count yourself among the many that are planning to upgrade.
From an easy upgrade in Windows update if you reserved your copy, to the included USB stick if you go for a retail purchase, Microsoft provides plenty of options for installing Windows 10.
However, if you purchased a product key online, or simply lose your original installation media down the line and want to perform a clean install, you may want to create your own DVD drive or USB stick as a failsafe. This could come in handy if you're trying to install on a new machine without an OS currently on board, or if something goes horribly wrong with your current install.
Thankfully, this isn't as difficult as it sounds, and we're going to give you a step-by-step guide to installing Windows 10 from your own USB stick or DVD.
What you'll need
Perhaps the easiest option for create a backup install drive is via USB. If you plan on going this route, you'll need a USB flash drive that is at least 4GB in size. Keep in mind that anything currently on the drive will be erased in the process, so it's advisable to backup anything you may have saved on your drive of choice and start fresh.
Alternatively, you can create a backup install disc with a DVD if your computer happens to have an optical drive on board. Either way you go, you'll need a third-party program to get the job done. We'd recommend Rufus for USB, or ImgBurn if you're using a DVD.
Finally, you'll need your Windows 10 product key at the ready as well. You should be able to locate it in your confirmation email if you purchased online, in your Windows 10 box if you purchased at retail, or somewhere on your machine if you bought a PC with Windows 10 out of the box. If you still can't find it, we'd recommend downloading and running a tool called Belarc Advisor, which can show you your product key as well.
Download the Windows 10 ISO file
The main file we're going to be working with here is the Windows 10 ISO. Without getting too technical, an ISO file is basically a snapshot of the Windows 10 install media as it would appear on a DVD or USB disk.
This is where things get tricky. At the moment, Microsoft has restricted ISO downloads until after Windows 10 is launched. However, as a Windows Insider, I was able to download the necessary file from Microsoft at insider.windows.com before the restriction was in place.
There are a number of places where you can snag the ISO files online if you look hard enough, but we'd recommend sticking with an official download from Microsoft. The company will likely provide a way to download ISO files with an official tool, just as it did with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 for people who were installing with only a product key.
Creating your install disk
After you've downloaded your ISO file and either Rufus or ImgBurn, it's time to create your install disk.
For USB, insert your flash drive into a port on your computer and simply load up Rufus. From the main screen, make sure that your flash drive is selected under "device." From there, click the disk icon next to "create a bootable disk using," and select your ISO. You can then click start, and the process should take about 10 minutes or so.
To create a DVD with ImgBurn, simply load up the program with your disc in the optical drive. From there, select "write image file to disc," then make sure your DVD drive is selected as the destination. Under the "source" header, select your ISO file and then click the start icon. Keep in mind that this process may take a while to complete.
Down to the nitty gritty
From here, things are fairly straightforward if you've installed from USB or DVD in the past. The first thing you'll want to do is restart your computer with the USB drive or DVD inserted.
When your manufacturer logo comes on the screen, tap F12 or F2 (this varies by manufacturer) to jump into the boot menu. This is where you'll tell the computer to go ahead and boot from your install disk, rather than loading Windows as it normally does.
When the boot menu pops up, simply select whether you'd like to boot from USB or DVD, then hit enter. From here, the Windows 10 installer should load up, and you'll be well on your way to that fresh install.
Now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there are a few more important steps to go through. Once the Windows 10 installer loads up, you'll select your language settings and click next and then "Install Now."
After you agree to the licensing agreement, you'll be greeted with a screen where you can either upgrade or do a custom install. If you want to carry everything over from your current Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 install, click upgrade and follow the steps.
If you're on a newly built computer or want a clean install, click custom. The next screen will show your partitions. If you're on a freshly built computer without an installed operating system, just click the "unallocated space" partition and click next. If you're just going for a clean install on your current computer, you'll want to delete your old partitions, click on "unallocated space" and then click next.
The final stretch
From here forward, everything is gravy. Windows will begin copying files over, and may restart several times. You'll then be guided through several screens where you can customize your settings, set up an account, and sign in with your Microsoft Account.
After being guided through the setup process and letting Windows do its thing, you should be taken right to your fresh and clean desktop. Keep in mind that you may be prompted to enter your product key to activate Windows after everything is set up, but you should be good to go otherwise.