Ask LH: What's The Best Way To Restore A Previous Version Of Windows?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm looking for some advice when it comes to upgrading to Windows 10. As several blogs have reported, it will soon stop being free so I'm keen to give it a go before MS starts charging. However, I'm not sure if I'll like it. My question is: What is the best way to backup my current computer configuration so I can switch back in the event that Windows 10 just doesn't do it for me? Thanks, Window Washer

Dear WW,

For those who haven't heard, Microsoft's free Windows 10 upgrade will no longer be offered from July 29. From that point onwards, Windows 10 Home will cost $179. If you're still using Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and are keen to give Windows 10 a go, now is the time!

The first thing to do is check whether your machine is actually up to the task. Windows 10 will run smoothly on almost any Windows 8.1 machine, but can be a bit flaky on older PCs running Windows 7. The minimum system requirements are as follows:

  • CPU: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard disk space: 16 GB
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
  • Display: 1024×600
  • A Microsoft account and internet access

Microsoft also recommends installing the latest version of your current OS — Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update — before upgrading.

If your computer qualifies, a clean install won't be necessary — but you should still backup all your files and important data just in case. This is annoyingly time-consuming, but in the unlikely event that something goes wrong the effort will definitely be worth it.

One thing to bear in mind is that you only have one month to return to your old operating system. While it's still possible to recover your previous configuration after this date, the process is more complicated. So try to make your mind up within four weeks, minimum.

Otherwise, rolling back to Windows 7 or 8.1 is a relatively painless process. After backing up your data, simply go to Settings, select Update & Security and click on Recovery. You'll then be asked to select a reason for going back. (You can be honest or just pick one of the options at random.)

After the OS recovery, all your personal files will be kept, but any apps and drivers installed after the upgrade will be removed. (Important: Don't forget your OS password or you run the risk of getting locked out.)

Microsoft provides the following additional tips on its support page:

  • Keep everything in the windows.old and $windows.~bt folders after the upgrade.
  • Remove any user accounts you added after the upgrade.
  • Know the password you used to sign in to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 (if you used one).
  • Have the USB drive you used to upgrade to Windows 10 (if you used one).
Note: If you go back to Windows 8.1, some apps that came with Windows, like Mail and People, might not work anymore. To fix them, reinstall them from the Store.

For what it's worth, we think Windows 10 is a worthy upgrade — especially if you're using Windows 8. You can check out some of the best Windows 10 features here and eight interesting new tricks and shortcuts here. Have fun!

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I had a terrible time of this when my work computer decided to shut down and install Windows 10 all by itself with no prompts. None of my programs would work, whether it be Win 10 or compatibility mode so I had to restore it back to Windows 7.

    After going through the whole process, my computer just blue screened every time it would try to boot up, so after finally getting it to recognize that I could go to a restore point before it installed Windows 10, it just failed to restore every single restore point.

    Then it suddenly booted up perfectly fine, except that Windows Live Mail had corrupted from the upgrade to Windows 10 (there's many threads on the Windows Support about this problem) and I had to go through the registry files to even get my emails working again!

    All in all, I lost about 4 work days fixing the issues simply because Windows 10 installed itself and the Windows 7 downgrade borked itself up. GG. /end rant

    Last edited 11/05/16 2:07 pm

    You don't need a microsoft account for Windows 10 do you?

    This article doesn't really answer the question. The simplest way to go back is to take a full image backup of your Windows 7 or 8 system just before running the Windows 10 update. However you should make sure your data (not programs or system software) is on another partition or another drive so that in the event of having to restore your previous Windows 7 or 8 system, the data you updated while trying out Windows 10 won't be lost.

    I'm diligent with backups, but my luck ran out recently.
    I have a dual boot win 7 and Linux Mint system running on a UEFI GPT 3GB disk. It was very tricky to set up, so once I got it going I backed up all the partitions individually with Active Disk Image software (after carefully checking that it was GPT compatible). I verified all the images too.
    6 months later a windows update issue that coincided with a CMOS battery failure left my system unable to boot into windows, but Mint was OK.
    I ran windows repair, which unfortunately made nothing bootable.
    "Lucky I backed up partition images" I thought.
    So I restored the GPT partitions. The restoration process threw errors at the end of the process, and converted my disk to MBR (3GB with 7 partitions = very broken!). After repeated attempts to restore, I discovered that the imaging software can't restore GPT partitions!
    I could recover some partitions and key files using the same vendors partition recovery software, but my system still won't boot.
    The vendor's paid support was responsive but are firmly in the mindset of "it must be user error", and 2 months without a solution is wearing thin.
    I have missed out on the free windows 10 upgrade now, and will either have to go back to a blank computer installed from scratch, or wait until LSoft fixes their software to support restoration of GPT partitions. Since they are currently denying there is a problem, I am not holding my breath.
    The learnings are: avoid disk imaging software that uses a proprietary file format, so you have more options. And the time and hardware you invest making backups reduces your risk but doesn't eliminate it.

    Last edited 25/07/16 10:52 am

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