What do I need to know about doing an OS upgrade?
January 7, 2019 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I have major concerns about updating my ThinkPad to Windows 10. Please talk me through them.

Due to Adobe's policy of deciding the newest version of InDesign won't run on Windows 8 or 8.1 (when it will run on Windows 7), I'm being forced to upgrade from 8.1 (64-bit) to 10.

While I'm not afraid to do my own tech support (everything from software troubleshooting to opening up the hardware to install a new keyboard), the one thing I've never ever tackled is an OS upgrade. I've always been reluctant to do so, fearing that I was going to mess things up beyond fixing. I'm especially concerned about wiping out the hardware manufacturer's specific software that will run the essentials of a laptop (including things like power and battery settings, screen brightness controls, etc.), not to mention things like video and sound-card drivers or the controls for the DVD player. How realistic are these worries?

Beyond the very basics (make sure I have full back-ups of all my data, double check that I have all the licences recorded for my purchased software), what do I need to do to ensure this entire process runs smoothly? I really want to make this as quick and efficient a process as possible. Is there a checklist or something to ensure I take all the necessary steps?

If it matters, my system has an i-7-4900 @ 2.8 GHz, with a 500GB hard drive (traditional, not SSD), 8GB RAM and an Nvidia Quadro K1100. I'll be installing the Pro version of Windows 10.
posted by sardonyx to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think you'll be fine. Be ready for the process to take a couple of hours, with lots of restarts. Windows 10 will almost certainly have all the right drivers for any hardware that isn't (a) 20 years old, or (b) very, very obscure.

If you want to be sensibly paranoid, you could create a clone of your current hard disk on an external drive, using one of the many available products (some, like Clonezilla, are free). Then you can just restore your old system in its entirely in the unlikely event of a mishap.
posted by pipeski at 8:12 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you planning on doing an in-place upgrade or a full new installation?

It's relatively painless to do an in-place upgrade of Windows 7 & 8 to 10. Unless something problematic pops up it's basically just running a wizard and waiting.

If you're doing a fresh, brand new install of Win 10 then it's more involved as you'll need bootable installation media (disc or flash drive) and want to manually download all the freshest drivers and software and run all the pending Windows updates after the base OS is up and running.

Also if you can tell us the exact model of your ThinkPad (W520, 13 Gen2 Type 20GJ, etc) we can help you ensure the availability of drivers for Windows 10 on the specific ThinkPad support page.
posted by glonous keming at 8:40 AM on January 7, 2019

I am not your tech support, but as long as you have a good backup and budget a few hours to go through the upgrade, you should be fine. In my experience, upgrades only really get hairy when you're upgrading from [significantly outdated software] to [latest and greatest]. Windows 8.1 to 10 should be straightforward and relatively painless.

Once you upgrade, I would spend another hour updating your video card drivers etc, but it sounds like you are well equipped to handle anything that pops up. Million of folks have done this successfully, and you will too.
posted by matrixclown at 8:40 AM on January 7, 2019

Backup backup backup.
I have a different older Lenovo which wasn't on the upgrade list (y580). I looked on lenovo's forums and saw that others had upgraded with only minor issues so I went ahead with it. So check there for your model to see what other's experiences were with upgrading.
posted by jclarkin at 8:57 AM on January 7, 2019

I'm especially concerned about wiping out the hardware manufacturer's specific software that will run the essentials of a laptop (including things like power and battery settings, screen brightness controls, etc.), not to mention things like video and sound-card drivers or the controls for the DVD player. How realistic are these worries?

No very much. Thing is, most if not all of those what you consider manufacturer-specific things tend to work just fine under Linux, which would be equivalent to a fresh install of whatever flavour of Windows you are going to use. And back when I started using laptops and ran my first Thinkpad triple-boot (SuSE 8, OS/2 and XP), all those specific drivers and tools for Windows could be found under the model-specific support page on IBM's site as well as via FTP. I would expect that to still be the case with Lenovo, though I don't know for sure because I've long left Windows behind, save for one ancient desktop appropriately named 'scrapheap', running one particular program. So grab them in advance and put them on a thumbdrive.
posted by Stoneshop at 9:46 AM on January 7, 2019

I was hoping to do a clean install, figuring that would be the best way to go, and would sort out any nagging registry issues and clean out whatever other crud that Windows picks up over the course of its lifetime, but I'm not really sure how that's going to work, as this is new to me. I was just going to purchase download what I needed from the MS site. I'm not sure what options it will give me after that.

Is a clean install the best approach, and if so, how do I ensure that happens and it just doesn't install over top the existing 8.1?

As for the model, it's a W540.

Thanks for all your support so far.
posted by sardonyx at 10:56 AM on January 7, 2019

Wow, I haven't heard SuSE mentioned for ages. That brings back memories.

Also, what upgrade list? Is there a specific list somewhere on the Lenovo forum? When Win 10 first came out, my computer did that "check to see if you can run Win 10 on your specs" test and it was fine. I just didn't bother with the upgrade at the time, because I didn't like the fact I was no longer in control of the OS when it came to things like downloading updates, etc. I'm still really not keen on that aspect of the OS.
posted by sardonyx at 11:01 AM on January 7, 2019

On Preview, W540. Ok. I'll have a look.

Response before preview:

You didn't give the specific model, which makes it more difficult to give you any specific advice, but Thinkpads are wonderfully hardy. I've got an X230 (i5 3rd gen) and I could easily run Windows 10 on it if I wanted to. Run a search about your specific model and windows 10, because there's a BIOS issue with some Thinkpads that have discrete graphics. Link to Thinkpad subreddit post about it. I think that it may be a problem with more than just the model in the first post. The Thinkpad subreddit has a lot of good info on all the Thinkpads. It is one of the nice places on reddit.

I just did Windows 10 installs on two new Thinkpads (T480 and L380).

Update to the latest BIOS.

I would recommend taking this opportunity to put in a solid state hard drive, and upping to 16 GB RAM if you can. Windows 10 is much smoother on an SSD.

Do a fresh install. 10 is not always good with update in place, and it is a good time to make a fresh new profile. Especially since you have backups, presumably not just images but files as well.

Download the windows media creator and make a bootable USB. If you had Home I'd tell you to just install 1809, but with Pro you could install 1803 and change the update settings to defer the OS update until 1809 is less risky.
posted by monopas at 11:09 AM on January 7, 2019

Here is the Lenovo tested devices list for 1809: Link
posted by monopas at 11:17 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've upgraded both Win7 and Win8 laptops to Win10, with no issues whatsoever. And frankly, despite my skepticism both systems actually run quicker and more reliably - even the Win7 laptop, which was already 4 or 5 years old when I upgraded.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:17 AM on January 7, 2019

It might also be a good idea to do a cleanout and repaste if your computer is running hot or loud.

And here's someone who had to do a little driver fiddling because of a graphics issue with the K1100.

Oh yes, and after install, second thing you want to do is to download Lenovo Vantage from the damn Microsoft Store. But download the Lenovo System Interface Foundation and install that first. Vantage is a bit obnoxious, but it generally works well and installs all of the newest drivers and manages power and it is the new Solution Center.

Looks like a new BIOS was released for the W540 in December.

Most recent Nvidia drivers from Lenovo.

Link to the generic W540 Lenovo downloads page, in case you need it in a pinch.
posted by monopas at 11:37 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

About 1809, I have had good luck just installing it directly, and I've also had one laptop update to it with no issues. Which is a miracle because it is a 2012 Alienware 17, which is made of quirks and RGB lighting.

I hope that your update to Windows 10 goes smoothly. I wish that I liked 10 better, but I can't stay with 7 forever. Note, it is tricky to find all of the damn settings in 10. Because there's the new settings, but there's still some stuff tucked away in the Control Panel. Right click on what I'd call the Start Menu button gets you to a lot of the important stuff quickly.

But you'll be ok. If I can do this, anyone can.
posted by monopas at 11:50 AM on January 7, 2019

I think that repaste is bit beyond me. I've cleaned out the fan before (well, blown dust from it), but that's about as far as I'm willing to go in that area.

Lenovo Vantage or Lenovo Solution Centre is definitely software I intend to reinstall. In fact, it's one of those things I've had open a lot recently, just to give me a snapshot of my system so I know exactly what I've got in terms of equipment and drivers and software. It's one of those things I really don't want to lose in an upgrade.

Here's where I'm going to start getting into specific questions. I get the concept of creating a boot device. I'm just unsure of the specific order of things. First I need to buy Windows 10. Then I download it to the boot device. Do I then download the content creator to the same device? (I presume I need to do this after downloading Windows 10, as I see it needs a 25-character product key in order to download it.

Outside of my current version of office (which I'm not going to bother updating at the moment), the only other paid software (besides Adobe CC) I need to make sure I've got a copy of is my transcription software: Express Scribe from NCH Software. What's the best way to do that? Just make sure I've got a copy of the everything in the program file? (There are three files: the main .exe, a setup .exe and a .dll.) Everything else I use is pretty much open source, so I'll just download new versions of those things.
posted by sardonyx at 11:55 AM on January 7, 2019

I sent you an MeFiMail that might save you $200.
posted by glonous keming at 12:54 PM on January 7, 2019

As far as I have found, Lenovo has a very easy set up. Easier than the other laptops I've done. I'm not a professional, and I don't do this regularly or for fun. But I end up helping all of my friends with their computers, and it has been a year of hardware issues, so I have done it enough to feel comfortable.

You don't need to buy 10 first. You can install first and buy the license after, just tell it that you'll enter the info later. Or because you had 8.1 installed, it might not need a new license even if you use a new hard drive. I've never done an upgrade on a computer that had had 8/8.1 on it, so I can't speak to that from experience.

Find a 16 GB USB drive that you are willing to sacrifice. Go here and download the media creation tool. If you want to do a completely fresh install use the instructions for creating an install drive for another computer, not the ones for upgrading the one you're on.

10 has a basic set of generic drivers that will make the computer work. It is the easiest OS install I've ever done. I do recommend turning off Cortana's voice control helper when you get to that point early in the install process. I also recommend creating a Microsoft account instead of using a local account when you set it up.

With a platter drive from a USB install stick, it will probably take a few hours to do a fresh install.

When you've installed 10 and manually run updates until there are no more left, and either it will install Vantage at some point, or you can go grab the app in the Store. (It is an app, not a program. Annoying but the distinction is important for some things in how you can uninstall them or how they get updated.)

Solution Center is no longer supported as of 12/1/2018. Lenovo Vantage is the replacement. It works well. You can't lose it, because it is a Lenovo computer, so it will install if you go get it in the Microsoft Store that is part of 10. It should then grab the Lenovo System Interface Foundation and install that as part of installing itself. Then you run update in Vantage, and it'll download and install all of the drivers for your laptop. Link to Lenovo's Vantage download page, if you need it. I think it redirects to the MS store.

I know it seems weird not to need to do a ton of prep, but beyond having the license info and getting the installers (physical or download) for other specific programs, and putting your files on after the installation is done if you haven't automated that too, it is a surprisingly painless and simple process to get set up in Windows 10.
posted by monopas at 4:53 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

For drivers, you should make a copy of the C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore folder.

When you re-install Windows, launch Device Manager, right click on anything with a question mark and select "install driver". When prompted for the location, point Windows at (you guessed it) the copy of the DriverStore folder you made.

That'll ensure that all the hardware you had working in the older version of Windows works on the newer version.
posted by mr_silver at 1:44 PM on January 10, 2019

Best answers for everybody, because everybody gave me something that helped me along this journey, be it moral support or technical details.

I set aside the weekend to do the update. I spent Saturday performing extra, more thorough back-ups and I did the OS upgrade on Sunday. I now have a machine running Windows 10 and the latest release of InDesign, so I'm back in business.

Thanks especially to glonous keming. My original plan was to buy a Win 10 licence before starting the upgrade, but I decided to just go through with the process and purchase one once (if) I needed to in order to register the upgrade. I followed the MS instructions to the letter, and at no point was I asked to pony up funds for the upgrade. I guess that may still happen at some point in the future, but for now, it seems it just took the Win 8.1 licence and used that for the upgrade.

Overall, it went much more smoothly than I expected, with way fewer restarts and reboots than I was anticipating (I've dealt with Win 10 before in corporate environments, and I'm used to losing big chunks of the working day for updates and reboots).

It did wipe out one of the display drivers and the driver for the fingerprint reader (which I don't actually use), but I was able (I think) to resintall those from the Lenovo site, and I also updated a few other drivers in the process (Pantone Colour Calibration driver, etc.) Thank you monopas for the Lenovo driver links.

So I'm going to mark this as resolved, and reiterate my thanks and appreciation to everybody who held my hand and helped me along this journey. I know I was making a bigger deal about the process than it likely deserved, but this laptop is not just my personal toy, but it's also the basis for my business, so I really wanted to avoid doing major harm to it.
posted by sardonyx at 11:25 AM on January 14, 2019

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