That’s actually a very good question. It’d be great to know if your computer can run Windows 10 before installing, right?
What’s frustrating is that even when the answer appears to be “yes”, it may still be “no” – which means at best, all I can say is … “maybe”.
Microsoft provides criteria to determine whether or not your computer can run Windows 10. The problem is that several months after its release, it’s clear that that those criteria aren’t enough. Even after supposedly meeting the requirements for Windows 10, some upgraded machines still run into trouble.
I’ll review the issues I’ve heard about, and make some recommendations as to what you should do.
Windows 10 works for most
It’s important to note that the people I hear from are those who are running into trouble. Naturally, users for whom Windows 10 is working don’t reach out to sites like Ask Leo!
But that can lead to a misconception about just how stable Windows 10 is or isn’t.
My sense is that Windows 10, in either upgrades or clean installs, works for many people – in fact I suspect that it works, and works well, for most1 people. But that doesn’t help if you’re one of the folks who have trouble.
Windows 10 requirements
Microsoft has a page devoted to Windows 10 system requirements. In short, the minimum recommended specifications include:
- A 1-gigahertz (GHz) processor
- 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM for 32-bit Windows, or 2 GB for 64-bit.
- 16 GB of hard disk space for 32-bit, or 20GB for 64-bit.
- A graphics card that can support DirectX 9 or later, with a WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) driver.
- A display with a resolution of at least 800×600 pixels.
Naturally, being the bare minimum, those requirements might get you a system that works … just barely. Instead, I recommend at least:
- A 2-GHz processor
- 4 GB of RAM
- 100 GB of hard disk space
Even on older machines, that should result in something closer to acceptable performance.
And yet, even on machines that meet or exceed those requirements, folks are having difficulties.
It’s about more than your computer
By far the most common area of failure appears to be related to devices external to your computer: printers, scanners, cameras, some audio devices, and more.
Your computer may support Windows 10, but your printer? Not so much. And in cases like that, it doesn’t matter that your computer meets the specified minimums. If the printer doesn’t work and the manufacturer hasn’t provided updates drivers for Windows 10, you’re out of luck.
A newer computer and an older printer appears to be a recipe for failure. If you’re using even more esoteric devices, the risk becomes even higher that you’ll run into a problem, even if Windows 10 technically works on your machine.
Less common, but still a problem, are machines that meet the minimum requirements on paper, but when Windows 10 is installed, something still doesn’t work.
I hear about scenarios where hardware meets the minimum requirements, but the drivers for that hardware simply don’t fully support Windows 10. Though perhaps most common for display interfaces, I’ve had reports of random failures like this for various apparently incompatible hardware.
Don’t believe the compatibility test
Perhaps most frustrating is that in many of these situations, the tools that test your computer for Windows 10 compatibility – including the upgrade assistant and the Windows 10 installer itself – just get it wrong.
I’ve seen it both ways:
- I often hear reports of the tools indicating that a machine is compatible with Windows 10, only to find out after (or even during) the installation or upgrade process that there’s some component that actually isn’t compatible.
- I also have personally seen Windows 10 refuse to upgrade because of a claimed incompatibility with respect to the video driver. After a clean install, however, the machine2 runs Windows 10 without a problem.
That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to rely on the compatibility test to actually test your machine’s compatibility.
You’re left with two options.
Option #1: Don’t bother
If you have a machine that’s working, don’t upgrade. Particularly if you’re running Windows 7 or 8, and are happy with how things are going, I know of no compelling reason to upgrade.
Yes, there’s a free offer that expires in the summer of 2016, but “free” is meaningless if it’s not going to work, and even then … just picking something up because it’s free isn’t really a good reason.
At a minimum, you don’t need to be in a rush. Windows 10 has been making improvements since its release, and it’s very possible that more device manufacturers will provide Windows 10 support for their equipment before the offer expires.
Option #2: Upgrade, but with a safety net
If you really want to upgrade, or you have a reason to upgrade, there is a perfectly safe way to do it; unfortunately, not that many people seem to use it.
- Take an image backup of your machine.
- Upgrade or install Windows 10.
- Carry on – Windows 10 works for you!
- Restore the backup image you took before you upgraded or installed.
- Carry on – Windows 10’s not ready for your machine (or vice versa).
Seriously, it really is that simple. It’s one of the reasons I talk so much about backup programs and image backups specifically. An image backup is like freezing your machine in time, so you can always go back to the way it was before the upgrade.3
To be completely practical, it appears that the only way to be 100% certain that Windows 10 will, or will not, work on your machine is to try it out, and revert if it doesn’t.
An image backup is how you do it safely.