How to upgrade to Windows 8.1 from earlier versions of Windows

Microsoft's latest operating system brings a handful of new features and improvements to the Windows platform. Here's how to get it.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Microsoft routinely retires older versions of its Windows operating system. Windows XP has officially been put out to pasture, while Windows Vista users are no longer receiving mainstream support (free patches and fixes). The company warned recently that mainstream support for Windows 7 will be coming to an end early next year. Microsoft is hoping to have all of its users migrate to Windows 8.1, the latest version of its Windows operating system.

Depending on your current operating system, it can be a real hassle to switch to the latest version of Windows. Here's what you need to know and how to switch from earlier versions of Windows:

Windows 8

Be sure to back up your personal data and check for any updated drivers before downloading the operating system. The Windows 8.1 update requires more than 3GB of space; make sure you have enough free space on your hard drive before proceeding.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

If you are not logged into your Microsoft account, enter the Store, go to the Charms menu, select Settings, click the "Your account" option, and sign in. Then, select the large "Update to Windows 8.1 for free" tile in the Windows Store.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

If this option isn't available, you may have to update your PC to the latest Windows patch. To do this, go back to the Start menu and enter the Charms bar. Next, select Settings, followed by the "Change PC settings" option, and click on Windows Update. Check for any new updates, install them, and restart your system.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Windows 7

Updating to Windows 8.1 from Windows 7 can be done through Microsoft's Upgrade Assistant. Windows 8.1 is available for $119.99, while Windows 8.1 Pro can be had for $199.99. The operating system can be purchased online as a digital download or in stores for a physical copy.

Windows settings, personal files, and most apps are saved when going from Windows 8 to 8.1, however only personal files are saved when upgrading from Windows 7.System requirements for Windows 8.1 are as follows: at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM for the 32-bit version or 2GB of RAM for 64-bit, 16GB of free hard-drive space for 32-bit or 20GB for 64-bit, and a graphics card capable of DirectX 9.

Microsoft

Windows XP/Vista

Unfortunately, there is no easy path for those of you who have held out from updating to the latest Windows release. Windows XP and Vista users must do a clean install with a DVD copy of Windows 8.1. The operating system can be purchased at Microsoft Stores and retailers like Best Buy for $119.99 and $199.99 for the Home and Pro versions, respectively.

It is also highly recommended that you back up your files when upgrading. No Windows XP or Vista files or programs will be carried over to Windows 8.1.

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