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Migrating to a new operating system is a chore, whether for a personal or office computer. To make it easier, Microsoft introduced the option to upgrade from an existing operating system (OS) sometime between Windows 95 and Windows XP. Prior to that, you were forced to do clean installations—i.e. format the storage drive and then install the new OS.

Tech experts often recommend consumers do clean installs for a variety of reasons. For businesses however, upgrading remains the best way to migrate to a new operating system. Let’s compare the two routes and find out why.

What is a clean install?

The simplest type of OS installation, it requires you to format a HDD or SSD and install. Nothing from your previous OS carries over—it is tabula rasa.

What is an upgrade install?

An upgrade installation means loading the new operating system on top of the old one and migrating your old documents, settings, and compatible applications. This can have several benefits and issues.

Pros and Cons

Clean Install
Pros Cons
Fixes most performance-related problems. Software licenses need to be manually accounted for.
Clears spyware and registry file. Setting up the new operating system will take longer.
Faster startup due to lack of startup programs and applications. Need to manually backup documents, applications, and settings in old OS.


Pros Cons
Less setup time required for the new operating system. Old performance-sapping applications and registry errors will remain.
Easier setup with fewer steps. Slower startup due to existing startup programs and applications.
Preserves applications, data, and settings.


Clean installs are the preferred route for consumer systems

So go with a clean install, right? Well, not always. While most techies do recommend them for speed, IT departments need to look at it from more than just a performance angle. Consumers reason that the faster performance benefit vastly outweighs the additional setup and configuration time. They store everything in an external hard drive or NAS, format the installation drive, and load up the new OS. For personal use, that’s fine.

How a business saves time with an upgrade install

Doing a clean install for a business system is a tricky proposition. Standard operating procedure for Newegg’s in-house IT dictate  formats and clean installs Windows only if a PC is abnormally slow, or if the pros of a clean install outweigh the risks of data loss.

Many business systems may be running in-house developed apps and use settings specifically to support whatever function it serves. The migration process can take much longer because after the OS installation, you still need to:

  1. Install the programs again
  2. Find the software licenses or buy new ones if you can’t find them
  3. Restore old system settings
  4. Restore all the old documents;

A business machine shouldn’t have many performance-sapping Registry errors or programs anyways. In a properly administered IT environment, third party programs and spyware shouldn’t be able to get a foothold. Maybe if a computer had a virus, then you’d perform a format. Short of that however, a clean install is unnecessary.

Upgrade installs mean less downtime

Instead of having to format the drive and restore everything, upgrading automatically transfers the vast majority of your data. It means settings are preserved so your business systems continue to function as intended with no fiddling with configuration files. If you don’t know the settings required for an internal application to work, which means downtime until a developer can get on the case.

From an IT standpoint, it also means less liability because you may not know what files or settings a user wants to keep. Even if they tell you, can you completely rely on their memory? Perhaps they forgot about a file because they buried it in layers of subfolders only to realize it three months too late. It’s best to upgrade with all the files and let the user keep or delete as they want—if something goes wrong, you are not at fault. When there’s business data involved, formatting is a high risk to take.

Windows 10: Save Time, Avoid a Clean Install - HardBoiled
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Windows 10: Save Time, Avoid a Clean Install - HardBoiled
Wondering if you should do a clean install or upgrade install for your business computers? We tackle the question from an IT standpoint, not consumer.
Wallace Chu

Author Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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