That’s 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 seems to be “yes” — your system appears to meet the Windows 10 minimum requirements — it may still be “no.”
So, all I can say is … “Maybe.”
Microsoft provides Windows 10 minimum requirements to determine whether or not your computer can run it. The problem is, those criteria don’t always seem to be enough, or are easily misinterpreted. Even after supposedly meeting the requirements, some upgraded machines run into trouble.
I’ll review the issues I’ve heard about and make recommendations as to what you should do.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Windows 10 works for most
It’s important to note that I only hear from people who are running into trouble. Ask Leo! doesn’t hear from people for whom Windows 10 is working.
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, and works well, for most1 people. But that doesn’t help if you’re one of the folks who have trouble.
Windows 10 minimum requirements
Microsoft has a page devoted to Windows 10 system requirements. In short, the Windows 10 minimum requirements include:
- A 1-gigahertz (GHz) processor.
- 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM for 32-bit Windows, or 2 GB for 64-bit.
- 32 GB of hard disk space.
- A graphics card that supports DirectX 9 or later, with a WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) driver.
- A display with a resolution of at least 800×600 pixels.
Being the bare minimum, those requirements might get you a system that works, but 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. Obviously, more is better is all categories.
And yet, even on machines that meet or exceed my requirements, folks can have 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. In cases like that, it doesn’t matter that your computer meets Windows 10 minimum requirements. If the printer doesn’t work and the manufacturer hasn’t provided updated drivers, 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 you’ll run into a problem increases, even if Windows 10 technically works on your machine.
Less common, but still a problem, are machines meeting the minimum requirements on paper, but when Windows 10 is installed, something doesn’t work.
I’ve heard of scenarios where hardware meets the minimum requirements, but the drivers don’t fully support Windows 10. Though perhaps most common for monitors, I’ve had reports of random failures with various apparently incompatible pieces of hardware.
Don’t necessarily believe the compatibility test
Perhaps the most frustrating situation is when the tools that test your computer for Windows 10 compatibility — including the upgrade assistant and the Windows 10 installer itself — get it wrong.
I’ve seen it both ways:
- Occasionally, tools indicate a machine is compatible. After or during the installation or upgrade process, you find some component that isn’t.
- I have personally seen Windows 10 refuse to upgrade because of a claimed incompatibility. After a clean install, however, the machine2 runs without a problem.
That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to rely on the compatibility test to accurately test your machine’s compatibility.
You’re left with two options.
Option #1: Don’t bother
If your machine works, don’t upgrade. Particularly if you’re running Windows 7 or 8 and are happy with how things are going, in my opinion you can continue to use them as long as you use common sense.
At a minimum, you don’t need to be in a rush. You can even still get Windows 10 for free.
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 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 entire computer 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 that safely.
1: By “works”, I mean from a technical perspective. Whether you’re happy with the user interface or concerned about potential privacy issues is less about technology and more about personal taste and policies.
2: My virtual machines all originally refused to upgrade because of a claimed incompatibility with the video driver. A clean install worked just fine every time.