Windows 11 upgrade vs clean install: Here’s the difference

by Milan Stanojevic
Milan Stanojevic
Milan Stanojevic
Windows & Software Expert
Milan has been enthusiastic about technology ever since his childhood days, and this led him to take interest in all PC-related technologies. He's a PC enthusiast and he... read more
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  • There are several methods to switch to Windows 11, and the most popular ones are upgrade and clean install.
  • The upgrade is a simple and straightforward procedure that will preserve your files and apps during the setup.
  • A clean install will remove all files from a system drive, and ensure that your operating system works without any issues.
windows 11 upgrade vs clean install

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Windows 11 has been out for some time, and users are eager to switch and give it a try. Microsoft has streamlined this process, so you can upgrade with just a few clicks.

However, many are worried about potential compatibility issues that might arise so they are preferring to do a clean install instead.

In today’s guide, we’re going to take a closer look at both Windows 11 upgrade and clean install and see which is a better method to use if you want to upgrade to the latest version.

Should I go for a Windows 11 upgrade or clean install?

What does Windows upgrade do?

The upgrade process is designed to be straightforward, and it allows you to upgrade to Windows 11 with ease. This makes upgrading to the latest version as simple as installing a system update.

Just head to the Update & Security section in the Settings app, and you should see the option to download and install the latest version. Click the button and follow the instructions on the screen.

To learn more about this process, visit our guide on how to upgrade to Windows 11 for step-by-step instructions.

In case this method doesn’t work, you can use Windows 11 Installation Assistant tool to download the update and upgrade seamlessly.

Both these methods will preserve all your files and installed apps, so you can continue where you left off, once you upgrade to the latest version.

What are the disadvantages of an upgrade?

The main disadvantage of the upgrade is that it will utilize more of your storage space during the initial installation.

It will also move all your files, including old and junk files to the new installation. This might result in performance and compatibility issues on your PC.

Although these issues aren’t common several users reported them, so that’s something you should keep in mind.

What should you perform before you do an upgrade installation?

Before upgrading, it’s advised to check the hardware requirements for Windows 11 by using the PC Health Check app. If your hardware is supported, you can move to the next step.

Even if your device isn’t fully compatible, there’s no need to worry, since there are ways to install Windows 11 on unsupported hardware.

If possible, clean up your system drive and leave as much free space as possible. You’ll need at least 64GB, but it won’t hurt to have more available.

It’s highly advised that you back up your files. You can move them to an external drive, or a different partition on your PC, or even to the cloud.

To do this, we suggest using backup software since it will speed up and automate the entire process, plus it will give you access to some advanced features.

Backing up your files isn’t mandatory, but in case anything goes wrong, it’s always a good idea to have your important files in a safe location.

What does a clean install do?

A clean install is a bit more complex, and it requires you to download Windows 11 ISO from Microsoft’s website and create an installation media with third-party tools.

You can also use Media Creation Tool for Windows 11 to download and create installation media from a single application. This method is more straightforward, so we recommend using it instead.

Once you have installation media created, you need to change your boot configuration and boot from it to start the Windows 11 setup.

By using this method, you’ll get the option to clean your system drive and install the new operating system from scratch, without any performance or compatibility issues.

Clean install also allows you to circumvent certain requirements, such as TPM and Secure Boot, which is useful for users that are using older hardware.

If you can’t enable TPM 2.0 in BIOS then your only option is to bypass the TPM requirement when installing Windows 11, and this is possible with a clean install. To learn more, you should read our Windows 11 and TPM guide for in-depth information.

What are the disadvantages of a clean install?

Clean install requires you to create a bootable media, and use a USB flash drive to start the installation. If you have never done this before, it might feel a bit complicated at first.

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A clean install will also remove all your files and apps from the system drive, so you’ll need to back up important files beforehand.

This also means that you need to install all your applications again, which can take a while, depending on the number of apps that you use.

It’s worth mentioning that you can accidentally format a wrong partition and install Windows on it by mistake if you’re not careful, so this is why this method is recommended for more advanced users.

What should you perform before you do a clean installation?

To perform a clean installation, you need to download the Windows 11 ISO beforehand and create installation media, so be sure to have a 16GB or larger flash drive ready.

With a clean install, it’s crucial to move all your important settings to a different drive on your PC, or better yet on an external drive.

This is especially important because drives during the setup phase aren’t labeled, so you might select the wrong drive by accident.

Therefore, it’s advised to check the size and the available space of your partitions, so you can select the correct one during the setup process.

What is the difference between an upgrade installation vs a clean installation?

The upgrade process is designed to be straightforward, so even if you’re not tech-savvy, you’ll be able to install Windows 11.

All your files will be there, so you can continue exactly where you left off. Plus, the upgrade is available for free for a limited time, so there’s no reason not to perform it.

The clean installation is a bit more complex, and it requires you to create a bootable media and boot from it. This isn’t too complicated, but it does come with a learning curve.

The main benefit of the clean installation is that it will format your system drive, thus removing the previous installation, and all your files and applications.

If you’re not tech-savvy, and you just want to give Windows 11 a try without any file loss, the upgrade is the right choice for you.

On the other hand, if you’re an advanced user and you know what you’re doing, and you want a fresh start, you can use the clean install instead.

Is it better to upgrade or clean install Windows 11?

This depends entirely on your needs, but we suggest an upgrade for both less experienced and advanced users alike.

By doing the upgrade, you’ll transfer the license to Windows 11, so you don’t have to deal with activation later.

Plus, the free upgrade process won’t last forever, and according to Microsoft, the free upgrade process should last at least up to October 5th, 2022.

However, Panos Panay, chief product officer at Microsoft stated that the upgrade offer to Windows 11 is reaching its final phase of availability, and many are speculating that the free upgrade period is quickly coming to an end.

If this turns out to be true, it might be a good idea to upgrade and save yourself the trouble and use the free upgrade offer.

In case you run into any issues, you can always roll back to the previous version 10 days after the upgrade. To learn more, visit our guide on how to roll back to Windows 10 from Windows 11.

The main problem with the upgrade is that you’ll keep all your files, even the ones that you don’t need, along with all apps and registry entries, which might negatively affect your performance.

However, we would go for an upgrade, and if any performance issues appear, you can always perform a clean install to fix them.

This is everything you need to know about the differences between Windows 11 setup and upgrade, and we hope that this guide will help you make the right choice.

For more information about this subject, we suggest visiting our guide on how to install Windows 11 without file loss.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

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