This guide contains instructions for Downloading Windows 10 (OEM and Retail) Installation Media, Creating a Bootable USB, using the Dell Data Wipe, Clean Installing Windows 10 (with and without a Microsoft Account) on Dell Hardware with a UEFI BIOS and Secure Boot and using Dell Command Update to get Dell System Drivers.
This guide gives detailed instructions on Downloading the Windows 10 ISO and Creating a Bootable USB on a Windows 10 PC and then Clean Installing on Windows 10.
In the vast majority of cases you will want to use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool (Section 2.3) to download the Latest Mainstream Windows 10 Build, will be installing Windows 10 on a UEFI BIOS (Section 3.1) and therefore wish to use Rufus to Create the Bootable USB (Section 4.1). You should then proceed to Clean Installation (Section 5).
This guide covers downloading Windows 10, downloading all Previous Builds of Windows 10 using either the Media Creation Tool or Direct Download Links and creating a Bootable USB for new (UEFI) and legacy (Legacy BIOS) computers.
To save confusion the content for these various additional options is hidden by default. Click Show More to expand the relevant sections.
Table of contents
- Windows 10 Channels, Builds and Versions
- Downloading Installation Media
- Differences Between Media Creation Tool ISO and Direct Download Links
- Windows 10 Download Page
- Downloading a Windows 10 ISO Using the Media Creation Tool
- Downloading a Windows 10 ISO using Direct Download Links
- Downloading a Windows 10 ISO (Previous Build) Using the Media Creation Tool
- Checking the Media Creation Tool "Windows" ISO Version
- Downloading a Windows 10 ISO (Previous Build) using Direct Download Links
- Direct Download Links "Windows" ISO Checksums
- Differences Between Media Creation Tool ISO and Direct Download Links
- UEFI BIOS Settings
- Creating a Bootable USB
- Creating a UEFI Bootable USB – Windows 10 Media Creation Tool ISO
- Creating a UEFI Bootable USB – Direct Download Link ISO
- Creating a UEFI Bootable USB with Driver Pack Slipstream – Direct Download ISO
- Creating a Legacy BIOS USB – Media Creation Tool ISO
- Creating a Legacy BIOS USB – Direct Download Link ISO
- Creating a UEFI Bootable USB – Windows 10 Media Creation Tool ISO
- Clean Installation
- Booting From Windows 10 Installation Media
- Your Windows Product Key
- Windows 10 License Agreement
- Drive Options
- Data Recovery
- Format vs Wipe
- Single Drive: Format your Drive Windows Setup
- Multiple Drives: Format your Drives Windows Setup
- Wiping a Dell Drive Using the Lenovo UEFI BIOS (Dell Data Wipe)
- Wiping a Lenovo Drive Using the Lenovo UEFI BIOS
- Secure Erase using Parted Magic Bootable USB
- Drive Options Error Messages
- Loading Storage Controller (SATA) Drivers
- Data Recovery
- The Windows Setup
- Regional Settings
- Internet Connectivity
- User Account
- Privacy Settings
- Windows Update
- Product Activation
- Booting From Windows 10 Installation Media
- System Drivers
- Productivity Settings
- Chromium Edge
- Office 365
- Your Phone
Windows 10 Channels, Builds and Versions
There are three Windows Insider Preview Channels, one Mainstream Channel:
- The Active Development Channel (Previously Known as Fast Track)
- The Beta Channel (Previously Known as Slow Track)
- The Release Preview Channel
- The Mainstream Channel
The Active Development Channel is the bleeding edge testing version and has test features that may or may not make it through to a final Mainstream release. This channel is usually unstable. The Beta Channel follows through from the Active Development when more popular features are brought forward and is usually more stable. The Release Preview Channel is usually about a month or so ahead of the Mainstream Channel for final testing and should be stable but still may contain some bugs. The Mainstream Channel should be stable enough for general use…
All Windows 10 ISOs in the Insider Preview Channel and Mainstream Channel have a 4-5 digit build number and the higher the number the newer the build.
For the Mainstream Channel, which this guide focuses on there is also a Version number. Microsoft previously used the following designation YYMM where MM was the month they intended to release the version to Mainstream. However some of the builds ended up being in the test phase for a couple months more than expected. Version 2004 corresponding to April 2020 was released in May 2020 for example making the name and version inconsistent. Microsoft are now planning to release 2 Mainstream Builds a year and have decided to use the notation YYHX where YY stands for the Year, H stands for Half and X stands for the value of the Half.
20 Half 2 is the latest mainstream build and includes the Chromium Edge Browser by default.
Downloading Installation Media
Differences Between Media Creation Tool ISO and Direct Download Links
The latest Mainstream Windows 10 Build is available to download as an ISO using the Windows 10 Download Page. The Windows 10 Download Page defaults to the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool which is a Windows Application when ran on a Windows 10 PC and defaults to direct download links when ran on a non-Windows PC e.g. Linux Operating System.
The Windows 10 Media Creation Tool downloads a series of Windows setup files which can be used to create an installation ISO or Bootable USB. Because the ISO is created on your computer, it has a unique timestamp and hence a unique checksum. There is no need to check the integrity of the ISO as the Media Creation Tool checks all the files before creation of the ISO. The Windows 10 Media Creation Tool uses an install.esd and all files on the ISO are <4.0 GB making it easier to make a UEFI Bootable USB which uses the FAT32 File System that has an upper limit of 4.0 GB per file.
The direct download links access an ISO file directly on Microsoft's Servers. This ISO file often contains more editions such as the Workstation Editions which aren't commonly used. Unfortunately the Direct Download Link ISO uses an install.wim which often exceeds 4.0, the upper limit for FAT32 and this makes it more difficult to make a UEFI Bootable USB as this file exceeds the upper file size for the FAT32 file system. Details on splitting the install.wim to a series of install.swm files of <4.0 GB size which can fit on a FAT32 file system are given when making a Bootable USB.
Windows 10 Download Page
The Windows 10 Download Page has the following form on a Windows 7/8.x/10 PC and defaults to the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool.
On a non-Windows 10 PC it will have the following form and defaults to direct download links.
If you do not have another computer running Windows and are using another Operating System to Create a Windows 10 Bootable USB please see the following guides to make a Bootable USB from these direct Download ISOs:
The Windows 10 Insider Preview ISOs are always present as direct download links and there is no Windows 10 Media Creation Tool for Insider Preview Builds.
It is possible to access direct download links on Windows 10 by emulating a non-Windows OS in your browser. It is not possible to access the Windows 10 Media creation tool in a non-Windows OS as the Media Creation Tool is an application which must be ran on Windows.
The front end user interface to the Microsoft website only offers the latest ISO images. If there is a flaw on the latest build it is possible to access previous builds using third party utilities. These third party utilities essentially mimic how Microsoft used to have their website or Media Creation Tool.
Downloading a Windows 10 ISO Using the Media Creation Tool
Downloading a Windows 10 ISO using Direct Download Links
Downloading a Windows 10 ISO (Previous Build) Using the Media Creation Tool
An unofficial script is available on GitHub which allows you to select the version of Windows 10 Media Creation Tool to Download:
Select Download .ZIP.
Checking the Media Creation Tool "Windows" ISO Version
By default the ISO Downloaded with the Media Creation Tool calls the ISO "Windows" and says nothing about the Version or Build. The Build can be determined by mounting the ISO and looking at its contents. From the Build we can get the Version.
Downloading a Windows 10 ISO (Previous Build) using Direct Download Links
An unofficial Windows ISO tool is available which allows you to select the version of Windows 10 Direct Download Link to Download:
Note that the Mainstream builds don't expire (but may be at end of life and insecure) whereas the Windows Insider Preview builds only remain activated within a time window.
Direct Download Links "Windows" ISO Checksums
I have listed the SHA256 checksums for all the English (UK) and English (US) ISOs. Click Show More to expand the table with the checksums. On a Chromium Browser (Google Chrome or Chromium Edge), you can press [Ctrl] + [ f ] and paste your ISO checksum. If it finds a match your ISO is complete, if it does not than your ISO is likely unique and hence corrupt (you should try the download again in this case). For non-English languages, a Google search of the ISO checksums should find a match, if it does not your ISO is likely unique and hence corrupt.
UEFI BIOS Settings
If your computer was manufactured in 2014 or later and has never had Windows 7 or Linux installed on it. You will have a UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot and should proceed directly to Creating a UEFI Bootable USB.
You may or may not have these technologies depending on the age of your system.
If using your Computer to Download Windows and make the Bootable USB, do not change the UEFI BIOS Settings until you have created the Bootable USB as changing the settings will prevent your old Windows or Linux installation from booting.
It is recommended to update the UEFI BIOS before clean installing Windows 10. This can be done using a USB Flash Drive in newer models or a FreeDOS Bootable USB in older models.
Dell UEFI BIOS
- OptiPlex 390/790 – 2011 (2nd generation Sandy Bridge) UEFI BIOS – No Secure Boot, there is no option for Legacy ROMs as these are always Enabled
- OptiPlex 3010/7010 – 2012 (3rd generation Ivy Bridge) UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot (only with the latest UEFI BIOS Update)
- OptiPlex 7020 – 2014 (4th generation Intel Haswell) UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot
- OptiPlex 7040 – 2015 (6th generation Intel Skylake) UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot
On a Dell system press [F12] when powering to enter the Boot Menu. Other OEMs may use different usually function key combinations and have slightly different BIOS General User Interfaces.
Look for the term "Boot Mode" or "UEFI".
If these terms are not present on the Boot Menu you have a Legacy only BIOS.
Next look for the Secure Boot status (a handful of early UEFI systems don't have Secure Boot) such as the OptiPlex 790 boot menu below. These system will use a UEFI Boot that always enables Legacy ROMs:
In the UEFI Boot Menu above some systems will allow you to select Change Boot Mode Settings to UEFI without Secure Boot or Legacy Directly:
Windows 10 64 Bit should be installed using a UEFI Boot with Secure Boot (when supported by the hardware). A Windows 10 32 Bit install requires a Legacy Boot (Secure Boot Off). Note the Windows 10 32 Bit architecture is non-standard and many systems build in 2012 or later have only Windows 64 Bit Drivers.
In other systems you may need to enter the UEFI BIOS setup to amend the settings.
Lenovo UEFI BIOS
For a Lenovo we will use a Lenovo P320 ThinkStation with a 6th Generation Intel Skylake Processor as an example. When powering up the system press [F12] to get to the UEFI Boot Menu:
HP UEFI BIOS
When powering up press [F9] to get the Boot Menu and [F10] to get to the UEFI BIOS setup. On some older systems you need to power up pressing [Esc] to get to a startup menu which you can use to access the BIOS setup or Boot Menu respectively.
Creating a Bootable USB
Instructions to create a Bootable USB depend on the Partitions Scheme (UEFI or Legacy, UEFI for most computers), as well as the Operating System used to create the Bootable USB (WIndows 10 in most cases). There is also a dependence on the size of the install.wim or install.esd or install.swm files.
The Bootable USB needs to be FAT32 formatted in order to Boot using a UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot. FAT32 has an upper size limit of 4.0 GB. For the Direct download links in particular Microsoft have not carefully restricted the file size to less than 4.0 GB. Unfortunately this means that conventional utilities to create a Windows 10 Bootable USB on Windows, Linux and Mac OS won't work correctly.
Rufus can be used directly to create the Bootable USB from the ISO Downloaded from the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool however additional workarounds will be required for the ISO downloaded via direct links as the install.wim exceeds 4 GB (the maximum size for FAT32).
Creating a UEFI Bootable USB – Windows 10 Media Creation Tool ISO
The install.wim or install.esd has to be less than 4.0 GB. Otherwise Rufus will make a NTFS formatted USB which will be rejected by Secure Boot.
Creating a UEFI Bootable USB – Direct Download Link ISO
The install.wim exceeds 4.0 GB and has to be manually split into <4.0 GB chunks to fit on a FAT32 formatted USB. A number of manual steps are required.
This occurs quite often with the Direct Download Links ISO but is dependent on language. If your install.wim does not exceed 4.0 GB you can use Rufus directly (see above).
Creating a UEFI Bootable USB with Driver Pack Slipstream – Direct Download ISO
Driver packs can be slipstreamed into the install.wim of the direct download link ISO. The install.wim will once again exceed 4.0 GB and has to be manually split into <4.0 GB chunks to fit on a FAT32 formatted USB. A number of manual steps are required.
Note these instructions do not work on Windows 7 which has an older version of DISM.
Creating a Legacy BIOS USB – Media Creation Tool ISO
Creating a Legacy BIOS USB – Direct Download Link ISO
Booting From Windows 10 Installation Media
Insert your Bootable USB into your Computer and Remove any other USB Storage Devices such as USB Sticks and External Hard Drives.
Power off your computer.
Power it up and press the key combination for your OEM to get to the Boot Menu.
- For a Dell or Lenovo System this is [F12].
- For a HP and other OEMs it is often [Esc] or one of the Function Keys [F1-F12].
Preparing Boot Menu should Flash Up. If not and you are taken straight into Windows, you will need to power down and try again:
If your system was built in 2012 or newer the next screen you should have should mention Boot Mode and Secure Boot. For optimal Security and Performance with Windows 10 64 Bit you should have these set to UEFI and ON respectively. See the UEFI BIOS Settings section above for more detail.
Use the [↓] key to get to your Bootable USB and once it is highlighted press [Enter]
You should see your OEM Logo:
You should now see the following Windows screen.
The Language to Install is for informational purposes only and lists only a single option. To change it you need to Download the Windows 10 ISO of the Desired Language and begin the install with your new Windows 10 Bootable USB.
The Time and Currency Format and Keyboard or Input method can be changed to Australian or Canadian settings for example.
Once you have made the correct options select Next:
The next screen gives you the option to Repair your Computer. This guide focuses on Clean Installation however:
Your Windows Product Key
Select Install Now:
Windows 8.0/8.1/10 OEM Embedded Product Key
The next screen will say Setup is Starting and you will see an Hour Glass Appear.
Windows 10 will look for an embedded OEM Product Key. If present Windows 10 Installation Media will find the key, the key will dictate the Edition of Windows 10 to install and take you straight to the license agreement screen.
Windows 10 Installation Media treats Windows 8.0 OEM and Windows 8.1 OEM Product Keys as Windows 10 Product Keys.
Bypass OEM Embedded Product Key
In the background the Windows setup will look in order for:
- A PID.txt in the sources folder.
- An embedded OEM Product Key.
To bypass the embedded OEM product key you can create a text file within the sources folder of the Bootable USB called pid.txt.
Windows 7 OEM Printed Product Keys
The technology to embed a Product Key wasn't available when Windows 7 was released. Windows 7 OEM Keys were instead physically printed. The following screen will accept a Windows 7 Product Key however if Windows 10 has already been installed and activated then your systems hardware details are already stored with a Microsoft Product Activation Server. It will recognise your system and automatically reactivate Windows on it even without input of a Product Key. Select "I don't have a Product Key" and then either Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro:
|Windows 7 Edition||Windows 10 Edition|
The Windows 7 Product Key can be used for the initial first time activation of Windows 10. If the Product Key has faded the GatherOSState application can be used instead.
Unlicensed Mode: No Product Key and No OEM License
The Product Key can be skipped and Windows 10 will be installed unlicensed.
For an unlicensed install there will be a watermark on the bottom right hand side of the Desktop and at the bottom of Settings. Some minor personalisation settings will be grayed out but otherwise Windows 10 will be fully functional.
Some users have been running Windows 10 Unlicensed on old Windows Vista PCs since 2015. Microsoft recommend saving your money towards new hardware which will come with a Windows 10 OEM License opposed to spending money on a Full Retail License for a system whose hardware is at End of Life.
Windows 10 License Agreement
Accept the License Agreement then select Next:
THE NEXT STEP WILL RESULT IN DATA LOSS. DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE IMPORTANT DATA ON YOUR DRIVE.
If you are reinstalling Windows because you cannot boot into your old Windows Installation e.g. to a Windows Update problem or failing hardware you can attempt to use a Linux Fedora Live Bootable USB to Back all your files to an External Hard Drive.
Format vs Wipe
Imagine your drive as a large open space. Next install a series of fences, the fences partition the open space creating a series of fields (known as partitions). Each partition contains a series of crops (known as data).
A format removes all the fences in the field and everything in the field is assigned to free space. However all the crops in the open space will remain until they are dug out and replaced with new crops. As a result it is possible to recover the crops using third party utilities and to rebuild the fences.
A wipe will remove all the fences and then dig every crop out of the open space until it is completely empty.
Data on a drive is written in binary (zeros and ones) and the drive can be thought of as a series of light switches that are either off (0) or on (1). A wipe will zero out the entire drive, making data irrecoverable.
It is recommended on using a wipe if you are selling your computer on second hand or reinstalling due to a malware/virus issue.
The Windows Setup cannot form a wipe. Most computers manufactured in 2016 or later can natively wipe all internal drives using the UEFI BIOS. Scroll down form more information.
Single Drive: Format your Drive Windows Setup
You can use the Windows Setup to remove all previously existing partitions on your drive.
Highlight each partition and select Delete. Do this until all you have is Drive 0 Unallocated Space. Do not worry about any of the partitions being recovery partitions, they correspond to old versions of Windows and in any case won't work when a manual installation is performed. The Windows 10 will create all the additional partitions it needs during the Windows setup. Once you have deleted all the partitions select next to proceed with the install.
Deleting the partitions performs a low level format and does not zero the drive. This means data may be recoverable using third party tools. You should perform a Data Wipe if you are concerned about your data and handing
Multiple Drives: Format your Drives Windows Setup
If you have multiple drives like shown then it is likely there is a low capacity Solid State Drive (SSD) and larger capacity Hard Drive (HDD) in your computer.
Wiping a Dell Drive Using the Lenovo UEFI BIOS (Dell Data Wipe)
Dell models post 2016 have the ability to perform a Data Wipe from within their UEFI BIOS.