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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