Battles with Upgrading an Older Computer to Windows 10

Upgrading a computer from Windows XP to Windows 10 isn’t something most of us would need to do very often. But it’s exactly what I found myself doing this week after receiving a call from a client. Actually, she had told me that her computer was running Windows Vista, and it was only when I arrived that I saw it was in fact Windows XP. Nevertheless, I set about carrying out this upgrade for her, not realizing what a marathon effort it would turn out to be.

Read on for some lessons learned should you ever find yourself wanting to upgrade from Windows XP straight to Windows 10. You may also find some tips here for other upgrade and migration scenarios.

An old computer

My client told me that her computer was around 6 years old, but it was obviously much older than that. Not only was it running Windows XP, but the CPU was an Intel Celeron 420 and the RAM was DDR2. This CPU was first launched in 2007, the same year in which DDR3 RAM was launched. Clearly, the computer was quite a number of years older than my client believed.

Upgrading to an SSD

Before I had even laid eyes on the computer, I had decided that I wouldn’t install Windows 10 to the existing hard drive. There is no upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 10, so a fresh install of Windows 10 would have been required whichever method was used. It would have been possible to install Windows 10 to the existing drive, without the need to first erase the drive, and to preserve the client’s files. However, given the age of the computer, I had decided to install a Solid State Drive (SSD) for the Windows 10 upgrade. This would also mean that it would be possible to revert to Windows XP by booting from the original drive if this was ever deemed necessary.

I began by checking the disk usage of the current hard drive and confirmed that a 120 GB SSD would suffice. I then opened the case and moved the power and SATA cables from the existing hard drive to a new 120 GB SSD. I then confirmed that the CPU was 64 bits and proceeded with the installation of Windows 10.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get the computer to boot from my Windows 10 installation media, despite configuring the boot order correctly in the BIOS. I removed the SSD, installed it on my own laptop, and then proceeded with the Windows 10 installation to the SSD using my laptop.

Windows 10 installation troubles

Having successfully reached the end of the Windows 10 installation, I then shut down the laptop at the screen where the user is prompted to specify their region, language, etc. I then installed the SSD back into the desktop tower and switched the computer on, booting from the new SSD.

Unfortunately, the setup became stuck at one of the Just a moment screens. After allowing plenty of time for the installation to proceed, I then shut down the computer, transferred the SSD back to my laptop, and completed the initial Windows 10 setup there. Having successfully arrived at the Windows 10 desktop screen, I shut the laptop down again, transferred the SSD back to the tower, and booted into Windows 10.

I was now presented with a black screen with a mouse pointer and, after waiting for several minutes, it failed to advance to the Windows 10 desktop screen. I restarted the computer only to see the same thing happen. It is possible that, had I waited long enough, the Windows 10 desktop would have appeared. But, in my experience, a boot into safe mode usually resolves this issue. I proceeded to boot into safe mode and arrived successfully at the Windows 10 desktop screen. I then rebooted into the normal mode and reached the desktop successfully once again.

Magical activation of Windows 10 Home

I usually create a system restore point right away upon successful installation of Windows 10, so this was the first activity I undertook after booting into Windows. I then intended to activate Windows using an activation key. However, to my surprise, I found that it was already activated with a digital license. This was very surprising because this computer had not, to my knowledge, ever previously been activated with Windows 10.

Updating device drivers

I then proceeded to update the computer’s device drivers. This can be done by right-clicking on each missing driver in Device Manager and selecting Update driver. However, this is somewhat tedious and it is also possible to run a utility to perform this operation. My preferred approach is to use a tool called Snappy Driver Installer. I run this tool from my flash drive and it identifies and updates drivers without the computer even needing to be online, as the drivers are actually installed from the flash drive, not from the internet.

Snail’s pace computing

As I began using the computer and started installing the required applications, I realized how slowly it was running, even with the SSD. Microsoft’s system requirements for Windows 10 specify a processor which is at least 1 GHz, and at least 2 GB of RAM for a 64-bit installation. The clock speed of the Intel Celeron CPU in use was 1.6 GHz, however, there was only 1 GB of RAM installed in the computer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any DDR2 RAM on hand so I had no choice but to persist with what was available. The speed, however, was intolerably slow.

I had expected the entire upgrade process to require 1.5-2 hours, including the time to copy the client’s files across from the old hard drive. However, after more than 6 hours, and after installing several applications at a snail’s pace, we still hadn’t succeeded in installing Adobe Reader or the Canon printer. At this point, I was suggesting that we needed to have at least 4 GB of RAM to make this upgrade viable.

Migration of email from Outlook Express to eM Client

We booted back into Windows XP on the old hard drive and it became clear at this point that the client had been using Outlook Express to read her emails. She would then move the emails she had dealt with into folders in Outlook Express.

I was unable to export the emails from Outlook Express as I received a MAPI error. I then added an IMAP email account to Outlook Express with the intention of copying her offline folders to the mail server which would synchronize and upload her folders, including all the emails. Upon completing this operation we would be able to readily access all the email folders either on the web or using another email client. Unfortunately, Outlook Express reported a server error and this approach wasn’t possible.

Many people using Windows 7, or an earlier version of Microsoft Windows, would be using either Windows Live Mail or Outlook Express to access their emails. Often, when upgrading these clients to Windows 10, I will recommend an excellent email client called em Client. It’s completely free if you’re using a single email account, and you are able to import email from other clients, including Outlook Express. In preparation for this, I copied the Outlook Express Store Location folder to my flash drive and confirmed, using my own laptop, that I was able to import my client’s emails successfully.

The way forward

At this point, we made the decision that, due to the painfully slow speed of the computer, it was only worthwhile to proceed after upgrading the RAM in the computer to at least 4 GB. The alternative would be to install the SSD in or clone it to, another computer with better performance. By doing so, the hours spent preparing this Windows installation wouldn’t go to waste. We chose the latter course of action and, within an hour, the clone was in place on the new computer and everything running satisfactorily.

This upgrade guide was written by Norm McLaughlin, founder, and owner of Norm’s Computer Services. Norm offers local computer repairs, services, and upgrades in Brisbane, Australia.

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