How to prepare for a clean install of Windows 10 Creators Update

On April 11, Microsoft will start releasing the Creators Update files for OS upgrade through Windows Update. These tips and tricks will help you prepare for and deal with a clean install of the new version.

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With the public release of the Creators Update for Windows 10 arriving Tuesday, April 11, it's time to start prepping for that "feature update" (aka version 1703). There are several steps that you can and should take to get your machines ready.

Let's begin with a discussion of upgrade versus clean install of this new major Windows 10 release and an overview of the pros and cons for each approach.

Clean install versus upgrade install

The fastest and easiest way to move up to the Creators Update is to simply let Windows Update handle it. That is, you'll be offered the Creators Update through Windows Update sometime after the release goes public, when you accept the offer, the update will download itself and get installed on your PC(s).

During an upgrade install, download files are copied locally, and then setup.exe runs to upgrade version 1607 (aka the Current Branch of Windows 10, or the Anniversary Update) to version 1703. The old version will be retained for 10 days in a folder named Windows.old (unless you elect to run Disk Cleanup with administrative privileges or click the "Clean up system files" button before the end of that ten-day period). The new, upgraded side-by-side folder will also inherit the contents of the old WinSxS folder, along with any new elements introduced by the new release.

A clean install differs from an upgrade in several ways. With a clean install, you'll get the option to rebuild your boot drive completely, including the invisible bootup partition, the Windows recovery partition and the OS partition, along with any other partitions on that drive.

You will also get a clean and brand new registry and WinSxS folder, untouched (and untroubled) by remnants of earlier Windows versions that may have resided on the target PC, perhaps even prior to the version 1607/Anniversary Update. Remnants of old Windows versions can suck up a lot of disk space over time. (My wife's PC had been upgraded from Windows 7 to 8 to 8.1 and then to Windows 10, and by the time I decided to clean out her WinSxS folder, it had accumulated over 20 GB of orphaned, obsolete entries.) A clean install gets rid of all this detritus in one fell swoop.

Many Windows experts recommend a clean install for new versions of Windows because it provides a fresh start on a Windows system along with a new version of the OS. So why do so many people upgrade instead? Because unless they take steps in advance to customize the Windows image they install for the new version, they must reinstall every single application running on those machines to put themselves back where they were before that installation occurred.

On production machines that have numerous applications installed, the process of reinstalling applications can take one to two days to work through, not to mention the hassle of digging up all of the license keys necessary to handle this task. Thus, inertia is a profound (and entirely valid) explanation for why so many users choose to upgrade, even when a clean install might offer relief from occasional or even chronic Windows instability or reliability issues.

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