What to Do When You Can’t Upgrade to Windows 10

Nathan Segal

Back in July 2015, the Windows 10 upgrade became available to the general public, and I was excited about the possibilities for a new user experience.  I looked forward to being able to upgrade my laptop, a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge. Before running the installation, I made use of the compatibility checker, which gave my computer a clean bill of health.

Unfortunately, when the time came, the Windows 10 installation failed and rolled back to Windows 7. Each time that happened I received a message which read something like “hardware error CO 13.” Googling told me nothing useful.

Even calls to Microsoft didn’t help. I was on the phone for four hours and in the end, they told me I was dealing with a hardware error, but they couldn’t tell me what it was.

Fast forward two years, when I was able to get in touch with Microsoft MVP Richard Hay, who spends a lot of time troubleshooting and exploring Windows 10 for SuperSite: Windows. He was going to troubleshoot the installation process to see what was going on.

What follows are the steps we took to try and troubleshoot why my Lenovo Thinkpad Edge would not upgrade to Windows 10. For anyone who’s trying to walk through a similar conundrum, consider this a road map for what to do when your machine won’t upgrade.

It turned out to be an arduous journey, one which generated scores of failures. In the end, the process was simple, though getting there was not.

What follows is the long road of getting everything to work.

STEP ONE: ALWAYS BACK UP DOCUMENTS

As part of our new process, I backed up all my important documents. I made sure all of my important files were backed up to an external drive, then I made sure to document all the settings for my apps and all of the registration information for everything I purchased.

STEP TWO: RESEARCH YOUR SET-UP

I accessed the Lenovo site and found the information for my laptop, which is a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge Type 0579 S/N LR-2RFLN. After poking around the Lenovo site, I found a primer on upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10. (Another way to find these upgrade pages for your own hardware: Google for the manufacturers support site or your device name and model and the phrase “Windows 10 upgrade.”)

As you can see in the screen shot above, there is a long list of programs to uninstall first. The reason for uninstalling them is because they could cause the upgrade to fail or create problems with Windows 10 once the upgrade had completed.

STEP THREE: CONSIDER A BOOTABLE DISK

Rather than uninstall all these programs, we decided to do a clean install using a bootable disk.

To do this, you must have:

  • A robust Internet connection
  • Sufficient data storage (either an external drive or a lot of room on your computer)
  • A blank USB or DVD (and DVD burner) with at least 4 GB of space if you want to create media. We recommend using a blank USB or blank DVD, because any content already on it will be deleted.
  • Administrator privileges for your account

Start by going to Microsoft’s Download Windows 10 Disc Image (ISO File) page. Then follow the directions to create the installation media.

STEP FIVE: TROUBLESHOOT YOUR BOOT DISK

After downloading the ISO, burn it to a DVD. When I accessed the Windows DVD burning software, I received an error message, which told me there wasn’t enough room on my DVD (the ISO file was 4.43GB and my DVD’s were 4.7GB). Thinking it might be a software error, I installed the WinDVD software from Corel and attempted to burn a boot disk. Unfortunately, I encountered the same error and had to abort the process.

Fortunately, there was another option: Turn a 16 GB USB flash drive into a boot disk. As part of the process, it would be reformatted. Unfortunately, every time I tried to run the software, it wouldn’t recognize my drive, even after unplugging all other devices and switching the drive to a different USB port.

It was time for the next step: go into the BIOS and add the flash drive. After that, I was able to create a boot disk.

(A quick refresher on how to go into the BIOS: When the computer restarts, you must press the Enter key twice to stop the booting process. This will bring up a menu where you’ll be prompted to press F1 to enter the BIOS. Once you’re in the BIOS, you use the arrow keys to go through the menus, make the necessary changes to add drives, save what you’ve done and when you’re finished, hit Esc/F3 to exit. The computer will then restart, and run through the entire booting process again.)

STEP SIX: CONSIDER A CLEAN INSTALL

I decided not to do the installation on my existing drive, partly because I wanted to use my SSD (a SanDisk Extreme PRO), and partly because I wanted to have my original drive available in case something went wrong. There have been few failures with the upgrade, though I wanted to err on the side of caution.

Installing the flash drive was relatively straightforward, except for one problem. There was a thin metal case around my drive and I was unable remove the screws. After some fiddling, I realized I could install the SSD without the metal case and use a piece of plastic which came with the SSD to hold the drive in place. All I had to do was open the access panel on the bottom of my laptop, slide out the existing drive, slide the SSD in, put the piece of plastic on top, close the case and I was ready for the installation.

STEP SEVEN: DECIDE HOW TO HANDLE SETBACKS

The next thing was to install to install the Windows 10 from my external flash drive to the SSD. Unfortunately, it didn’t work because the BIOS would not recognize it. This was especially frustrating despite the fact that it worked earlier. Even accessing the BIOS again didn’t help. It showed my external flash drive as being present, but when I rebooted, it still wouldn’t recognize my USB flash drive.

Another option would have been to update the BIOS, but two different concerns stopped me: because if I used the wrong BIOS or if there was a power failure during flashing the BIOS, I would have ended up buying a new computer.

The next option was to attempt to install Windows 7 using a backup disk I had. Fortunately, I had the software key at hand – it was on a sticker underneath the battery.

As I went through the installation process, I reached a point where Windows 7 would not recognize the hard drive because there were no drivers for it on the Windows 7 installation disk. And while it was possible to access the SSD there were no drivers there, either.

When I had a closer look at the instructions, I discovered that there were no drivers on the SanDisk site for my SSD drive, nor were there any on the Microsoft site.

(Blame an oddity in tech timelines: This drive came out very recently, so the seven-year-old operating system Windows 7 had no inbox drivers to recognize it.)

What became apparent in the SanDisk instructions is that we would have to clone the existing drive and put that onto the SanDisk drive. It would not work any other way.

STEP EIGHT: KNOW WHEN TO DO A TOTALLY FRESH INSTALL

This left only one option: Reinstall the original drive – my Windows 7 machine with all my original files — and attempt to do an in-place upgrade.

The difference this time around is Supersite Windows’ Richard Hay told me to choose the “keep none” option, meaning that a fresh Windows 10 install would effectively create a blank new machine for me. (Note that as part of the installation, my files and the old Windows install were copied to a directory on the root of my hard drive called Windows.Old. I could fetch all my files there.) I did that and left my computer alone for an hour. When I came back, much to my surprise, Windows 10 was installed. Not only that, it was a breeze to set up and configure.

Note that I did lose my old files when I chose the “Save None” option for the installation. Ironically, I also lost all the Lenovo apps that I had initially balked at uninstalling.

When I installed Windows 10, one of the first things I did was to download Google Chrome, which works well with LastPass, my password protection program. Once Chrome was installed, I downloaded LastPass, and added it as an extension in my browser. From there, I could use all my passwords and gain access to different cloud-hosted software suites, such as Microsoft 365 and the Adobe Creative Suite.  I then downloaded the programs and reinstalled local versions. Since I made backups of other programs on my external hard drive, I reinstalled them used the serial numbers I had and I was good to go. It was surprisingly painless and I was back at full functionality in only a day and a half.



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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2017-04-20:

Nathan Segal

About Nathan Segal

Nathan Segal has been a freelance writer for over 15 years. He has authored over 600 articles and six books. His topics have included digital imaging and Photoshop, technology, tutorials, and travel.