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Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, a clean install of Windows 10 on a PC, laptop or tablet will cure even the most stubborn issues. And if you change the SSD or hard disk, you must do a clean install or at worst clone the old drive.

No, Microsoft does not recommend doing a clean install of Windows 10. It would rather you went to Settings, Update and Security, Reset this PC. It is also not the Fresh Start Option – these assume that you are keeping the drive.

What are your drive replacement options?

First, we assume you can use a Philips head screwdriver and can open the PC or laptop to get at the hard disk or M.2 SSD slot. If you cannot then discontinue reading and take the device to a computer repair place that can do the change. That option will cost a couple of hundred dollars on top of the replacement disk cost.

clean install of Windows 10

Assuming you have a 2.5” or 3.5” hard disk in a PC made in the last seven years, it should have a SATA 3 (3Gbps) or SATA 6 (6Gbps) interface – these are backwards compatible. You can simply replace the old hard disk with a new one or SSD and do a clean install Windows.

Or you may have a laptop with an M.2 keyed slot (or two keys) and have simply run out of space. All you need to know is if the laptop has an M.2 slot or a SATA 600 and or both. If it has one key pin, it does both PCIe NVMe and SATA 6, if it has two key pins it only does SATA.

There are many replacements

SATA 6 SSD 2.5″ and M.2 (SATA 6 and PCIe NVMe) SSD come from Crucial, Seagate, Samsung, WD and many more. These range in size from 128GB to 2TB. Here are a few reviews from 2018.

Prices are dropping – most PCIe NVMe M.2 are around 40-50 cents per GB, and most SATA 6 are around 20-25 cents per GB.

Our advice is that any SSD is better than an HDD for the boot drive. SSD will reduce the boot time from often over two minutes to several seconds and speed up data transfers by a factor of 5 to 20 times.

Depending on your PC case or laptop you may have room for two drives (or more). You can use the HDD as a second storage drive. Or you may want to look at Intel Optane memory to speed up a hard disk as well.

Clean install of Windows 10 – the preferred method

All instructions assume that you have at least backed up the folders My Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, Downloads and Desktop to an external storage device. Use Windows Explorer to drag and drop these to the backup device – do not use proprietary back-up/restore software.

Clean install of Windows 10

Do not back up your Windows System files – they are of no use.

A clean install always gives the best results. The downside is that you must reinstall Windows, all drivers and all your existing software again. So, make sure you have licences etc.

With your existing system intact

Download Magical Jelly Bean Finder (MJBF – there is a Mac version as well) and use it to find the Windows 10 CD Key – it looks like this DA246-4VFG4-RBS8C-YRZYV-YY49C. Write it down and also put a copy in a plain text file. You may need this key to activate Windows again (Control Panel, System, Activate Windows) if your machine does not recognise all you are doing is changing the storage.

Clean install of Windows 10

MJBF may also be able to find other installed software keys like Office, Antivirus etc. Also, copy these down.

Next, go to Windows ISO downloader and download the ISO Tool to make a bootable Windows install USB flash drive. The USB needs to be 8GB or more and should be quick formatted first. This is free and the USB can do a clean install of Windows 10 on any PC.

SATA 3 or 6 SSD 2.5”

Clean install of Windows 10

Power off and remove the existing boot hard disk. The new SSD disk should plug straight into the cables – if not you can’t proceed and will need to take the SSD back to the store

Put the bootable USB drive in the USB-A port and switch on. The computer BIOS should recognise it as a bootable device. If not, you need to go into the BIOS and set it accordingly or look up how to access the boot menu (often pressing FG2 or F10 during boot) on your device. It must boot from the USB to install Windows. If not off to the computer repair store.

After boot, a Blue Windows install screen should appear, and you set the country, keyboard, can allocate disk partitions and turn off all Windows snooping.

Clean install of Windows 10

M2 SATA 6 or PCIe NVMe

Clean install of Windows 10

Power off Power off and remove the existing M.2 SSD card. The new M.2 should plug straight into the slot – if not you can’t proceed and will need to take the M.2 SSD back to the store

The repeat the USB clean install process above.

Or clone it

Clean install of Windows 10
And if the master sheep has a defect all sheep have it!

Cloning is making an exact copy of the system, programs, boot tracks etc., to new storage. The problem with cloning is that any issues you already have will remain on the new storage. That could be a virus, malware, spyware, corrupted sectors and software etc.

lean install of Windows 10

To use cloning, you must have an existing bootable, trouble-free hard disk or SSD and a spare set of SATA 3 or 6 drive cables or PCIe NVMe M.2 slot.

Most don’t have spare cables or M.2 slots so you can buy external USB 3.0 adaptors.

If you don’t have a spare M.2 slot (with singe M key for PCIe or SATA compatibility or dual M key for SATA 600 only), you will need an M.2 PCIe with M Key to USB 3.0 adaptor. For reference one of the first available is here. Or if you have a desktop with a spare PCIe slot mwave has a Simplecom EC412 Dual M.2 to PCI-E x4 and SATA Expansion Card.

Clean install of Windows 10
Great addition to a desktop if you have a spare PCIe slot

You can get a USB 3.0 -SATA adaptor for under $21.99 from mwave or a large number of online sellers. Or Officeworks has a Comsol adapter for under $50.

Clean install of Windows 10
And you can use the old HDD later as external storage

Cloning Software

  • Samsung has disk closing and SSD tools here
  • Crucial has dick cloning tools here  
  • Seagate has disk cloning tools here
  • WD has disk cloning tools here

GadgetGuy’s take: A clean install of Windows 10 is easy if you have done it 100 times

OK, I have done it thousands of times, so it is muscle memory. So too have computer repair places, and we know if it all goes right it will take a couple of hours at the going rate. By the way, it will either work the first time – or seek professional help.

Don’t worry about asking repairers to reinstall software or download updates – you can save that money and DIY.

In summary – Any SSD is a vast speed and reliability improvement over a hard spinning disk.