Windows 8.1: A Clean Install of Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 Reached End of Mainstream Support in January 2018. Extended Support lasts until January 2023. For more details see End of Support.

Microsoft are keen for you to Upgrade to Windows 10. The Upgrade is Free and you may directly Clean Install Windows 10 Version 1809 or perform an Upgrade Install of Windows 10 Version 1809. See Windows OEM FAQs and Downloads for more details.


Note this guide cannot be used with the "Windows 8.1 with Bing" or "Windows 8.1 Single Language with Bing" editions due to lack of installation media.

Part 1: Windows and Office Licensing and Obtaining Installation Media

This section talks about obtaining Windows and Office installation media and their product keys. If you already have all the media and product keys the bulk of this section can be skipped. You will still need to download the standalone updates and system drivers however.

1.1 Information about your Windows License and Obtaining Installation Media

Its important to know whether your license is OEM or Retail and hence where you should request media, support and how to activate.

1.2 Information about your Office License and Obtaining Installation Media

Its important to know whether your license is OEM or Retail and hence where you should request media and support. The retail license will have boxed media with a product key or a product key sent via email, the OEM license will be on the MPI card. If you have lost your product key you can retrieve it with Belarc Advisor however Belarc Advisor won’t retrieve an Office 2013 key.

In order to install Office you need installation media. I prefer this as a download.

If you are looking for the free Microsoft Office 2010 Starter, its obsolete and there are no official download links. Use the free Microsoft Office 2013 WebApps instead which have all the functionality of Office 2010 Starter and much more.

Download the Microsoft Office installers and save to an external hard drive. Its useful to save your product key in a text file beside the installer.

1.3 Downloading Windows Updates [Part 1 Downloading]

This step is optional, Windows 8.1 with Update 1 Media is relatively up to date so  performing this additional step doesn't save too much time.

At this stage you should download the Standalone Windows Updates or most of the Windows Updates using WSUS Offline Update for Windows 8.1 and copy the folder to a USB external hard drive.

1.4 System Drivers Download and Installation [Part 1 Downloading]

SATA drivers generally only need to be loaded if the installation cannot detect any hard drives or reports later during the setup that it can't configure your hardware.

At this stage you should download the System Drivers and copy them in a folder to a USB external hard drive.

Part 2: Backing Up Data

This section talks about backing up data, if you have no data to backup then this section can be skipped.

2.1 Backing up Data

Follow Backing Up your Files unless your installation can't boot in this case follow Data Recovery Using Fedora.

You may also want to backup your old Windows installation in some cases:

Part 3: Updating the BIOS and Hardware and Preparing the System for Windows Installation

This section takes you through upgrading some hardware which will optimise your systems performance. It also takes you through updating the BIOS and making some changes which may or may not be necessary depending on your hardware configuration. Finally it takes you through preparing the hard drive before Windows installation i.e. securely wiping it.

3.1 BIOS Updates

The latest BIOS Update is recommended to be installed before upgrading to Windows 7 or 8.1 however requires a working Windows installation. If you cannot update the BIOS from the old Windows installation or your previous installation is infested by Virus or Malware then update it after installing Windows.

3.2 Hardware Upgrades

Ensure that you refer to your Service Manual (older systems) or Owner's Manual when adding/removing hardware. DDR2 RAM is quite expensive now and the best performance from old systems will be from a SSD.

3.3 SATA Operation, UEFI and Secure Boot and other BIOS Settings

SATA drivers generally only need to be loaded if the installation cannot detect any hard drives or reports later during the setup that it can't configure your hardware.

3.4 Preparing your Hard Drive

Part 4: Windows Installation and Driver Installation

This part takes you through the actual Windows installation aswell as updating it and installing the system drivers.

4.1 Windows Installation

Its recommended to carry out direct Windows 8.1 installation if your system came with Windows XP, Vista or 7 or installation on a new or securely wiped hard drive or for those who want to alter partitions etc.

The Windows 8.1 Reset on the other hand may be more appropriate for users reinstalling the same Windows 8.0/8.1 license.

4.2 Office Installation

Office installation is pretty simplistic, simply launch the .exes and input your product key, I recommend installing Microsoft Office immediately after Microsoft Windows.

4.3 Standalone Updates [Part 2 Installing]

This updates Windows using the standalone updates downloaded with WSUS Offline Update. WSUS Offline Update can be set to update Microsoft Office as well as Microsoft Windows. This should only be done after Windows 8.1 and update 1 is installed, I recommend installing these manually.

4.4 System Drivers Download and Installation [Part 2 Installing]

At this stage you should install the drivers in the correct order.

4.5 Product Activation

4.6 Windows Update

If you disabled the Windows Update settings on in order to prevent Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update 1 installation problems ensure to enable them at this stage:

4.7 Additional Microsoft Services

4.8 Power Settings

Its recommended to optimise your power settings to your preferences.

4.9 Customisation and Desktop Enhancements

Some quick notes on Desktop Enhancements.

4.10 Recovering Files

This will only be present if you haven't securely wiped or formatted your system.

Part 5: SSD/HDD Optimisation

This gives some hints about optimising a SSD/HDD configuration. If you aren't using both a SSD and HDD this section doesn't apply.

5.1 SSD (non-cache) and HDD configuration – Recommended

Use for >120 GB SSDs and >1 TB HDDs.

5.2 mSATA Cache Drives – Not Recommended

Use for 32-64 GB SSDs and >1 TB HDDs.

Note: If your system has a mSATA Solid State State Cache Drive you should review this document for configuring the Intel Rapid Responsiveness software here.

Note: If your system has a mSATA Solid State State Cache Drive you should review this document for configuring the Intel Rapid Responsiveness software here.

Part 6: Creating a New Restore Partition, New Factory Settings and New Recovery Media

These steps are highly recommended as it gives you a means to quickly restore your clean Windows installation if something goes wrong. I recommend making one before any additional software is installed.

6.1 Dell Backup and Recovery

The free version of the Dell Backup and Recovery program (Dell Systems only) will make a hidden recovery partition on the same HDD/SSD you installed the Operating System on upon installation. You can then make a Recovery USB (Recommended for MBR <2010 systems) or Recovery External Hard Drive (Recommended for UEFI BIOS >2010 systems) of this image and revert to it at any time.

A Refresh Image can be created on any Windows 8.1 system and the user can select where to locate the refresh image; for instance on a separate drive.

6.2 Windows 8.1 Refresh Image

Note for Dell Systems the Dell Backup and Recovery image will supersede the Refresh Image.

Part 7: Third Party Software

This gives some notes about backing up your working Windows installation and then installation of additional Dell software and other Third Party software.

7.1 Dell Preinstalled Software (Dell Systems Only)

* My Dell Downloads came with most Dell systems which came with Windows 7 (2009-2012). Dell Digital Delivery supersedes it for Windows 8.1 systems (2014). For systems which came out with Windows 8.0 (2013) try using Dell Digital Delivery and if it fails then use my Dell Downloads.

7.2 Security

7.3 Adobe Software

7.4 Other Software

12 thoughts on “Windows 8.1: A Clean Install of Windows 8.1

  1. I have got a Dell Optiplex 980 Desktop & a Sony Vaio Laptop. both came with Windows 7 pre-installed. I upgraded both to Windows 8, during windows 8 inaugural launch offer. Got retail Product Keys for both the computers. I now have both the systems upgraded to Windows 8.1. I want a clean install of Windows 8.1, with a hard reset of the hard disk, on both the computers. Got a few queries:
    1. Can I use this guide for the Sony Vaio as well?
    2. Can I just follow the Media Download section, File Back Up section & Windows Installation section only & skip the rest?

    1. 1. You can use this guide on the Sony Vaio. It is however based on a Dell system so there will be some slight differences.The biggest difference is how to boot from BIOS. In a Dell its simply press F12 at the BIOS boot screen. I had a look at a friends Vaio the other day recently, to boot I had to turn the system off and then hold down the assist button and then press the power button.

      2. You should download the necessary system drivers for both models as well as the Windows installation media. Given your situation I advise carrying out the Windows 8.1 Reset opposed to the full manual installation as you won't need to input your product key and it'll perform a drive wipe. For the Reset you shouldn't need to boot from BIOS.

      The BIOS Update and hardware upgrades are optional. There should be no need to carry out any fancy product activation if the correct .iso is used that matches your Windows Edition or you carry out a Reset in which case the product activation should remain intact.

      The WSUS Offline Update isn't necessary with Windows 8.1 with Update 1 Media is fairly up to date unlike Windows 7 SP1 which has about 200 updates.

      Creating a Recovery Partition with Dell Backup and Recovery (Dell only) is optional and useful but this may require the manual clean installation opposed to the reset. This may depend on how you initially installed Windows 8, e.g. if you have an old Windows 7 Recovery partition residing on the drive – I still need to do tests with the Reset and a Recovery Partition.

      Creating a Refresh image is easier and is a Windows feature so can be carried out on either system.

  2. Hi @Philipyip,
    Thanks a lot for the reply.

    1. The Dell Optiplex 980 was partitioned while it had Windows 7, into 2 partitions. The Windows 8 Pro was purchased & upgraded using the utility provided by Microsoft, for the upgrade. Subsequently I had someone reinstall windows 8.1. I dont know how he reinstalled windows 8.1, I am having graphics issues. While using Solid Edge & Solid Works, the graphics are not smooth, they stutter. The reason I wanted a clean install from scratch, myself. If you still suggest a reset, I'll do so.

    2. Sony Vaio doesnt have any HD partitions. Bought Windows 8 upgrade & did the installation using the Microsoft utility. I think the system is infected. Need the reinstall.

    I had a check with Microsoft Phone Support Staff. Both the Product Keys I have, are Windows 8 Pro Retail product keys. Can I use Windows 8.1 Pro iso, which I will download using the link in your tutorials, for the Windows Reset?

    1. Yes you should be able to use the Windows 81. Professional .iso for they keys.

      The reset has the option to wipe the drive so should get rid of the virus. The reset is equivalent to the clean install except it has this drive wipe and maintains the Windows key and product activation and there are no options to delete partitions etc. Its up to you whether you want to reset or clean install after a secure wipe with DBAN.

      1. @PhilipYip,

        Thanks once more for the advice. As of now, I will go with the windows reset option. Will let you know about how it went, after I am done. There's a small confusion in my mind, clarification from your end would be great. If I wipe the drive, will it just wipe the partition on which Windows is installed OR will it just completely format the hard disk & install the Windows on it, without partitioning it?

      2. I tried checking Dell's website for Drivers. It does not show Win 8/8.1 drivers for my Desktop's Service Tag. How do I download the exact drivers required for my system.

  3. I have an Inspiron 1545 with Intel® Core™2 Duo T6500 processor (2.1 GHz, 2 MB L2 cache, 800 MHz FSB) and Windows 7 installed (it came with Vista). I've got some questions:

    1) It's possible to install Windows 8.1 in it?
    2) Do you think installing Windows 8.1 64 will increase its performance?
    3) If so, which Windows 8.1 version is recommended?
    4) Where can I find the drivers (the drivers page contains several Inspiron models, but not 1545).

    Many thanks in advance!

    1. Drivers wise you can use the Windows 7 drivers which will work fine with Windows 8.1 and 10. I only made unofficial sets for Dell systems which didn't come with Windows 7 drivers that were upgradable. While Windows 8.1 should perform slightly better, my advise is do not waste your time or money installing Windows 8.1 on that system. Both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10 which will be out in about 5 months.

      You can evaluate the Windows 10 Technical Preview. I replied to your other comment assuming you had an OEM version of Windows 7. In the case of a retail upgrade you should have the Windows 7 installation media and product key.

  4. Greetings
    I was presented Dell 15Z from Microsoft store in USA by my uncle as I don’t have any financial support. Now I am doing 4th year BTech. Even I prepared my system for Windows 10 update.
    Recently I installed UBUNTU for research purpose. In this process the existing WINDOWS 8.1 (upgraded) crashed. I tried with the backup/restore media through USB which was backup when the system was presented by me. This was also failed. Now I am not in a position to use the PC. I have taken it to Dell care at Bemgaluru, India they informed me to install licensed Windows 8.1 which may cost around Rs 8000/-. Neither I can buy Win 8.1 nor I am interested to use piracy media to install Windows.
    I am requesting kindly suggest me “ how to download recovery media for Dell 15Z-5523”

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