- Back up all of your important data. This is the most important step!
- Make a Windows 10 USB stick.
- Upgrade to Windows 10 from the USB stick. You must run the upgrade from within the OEM license Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 while connected to the Internet. If it asks for a CD-KEY, you've got an Enterprise or VL (Volume Licensed) version of Windows, and don't qualify for the free upgrade.
- Waste about 45 minutes while Windows 10 installs.
- Account Setup: Don't make a Microsoft account or convert a local account to a MS account, it's unnecessary. Skip or Later is the correct option.
- Customize Setup: Do this part Turn everything off. You have to scroll on one screen to get every slider
- Log in, verify on the System control panel that you are activated. MS now has a copy of your computer's fingerprint on record at Redmond.
Optional, but highly recommended for stability and cruft removal:
- Boot from the Windows 10 USB you just created. Select the OS version you just installed (95% of the time it is 64-bit)
- Wipe your Disk clean, and install Windows 10 again (You did back up earlier, didn't you?)
- Do steps 4 - 7 above, 'skip' or 'do it later' for any requests for a CD KEY (you are registered with MS from your upgrade)
Note that the Hardware key is primarily tied to your motherboard + video + network card; if you replace it, you'll be on the hook for Windows 10 if you're out of the 1 year period. Lifetime of the hardware seems to mean lifetime of the motherboard, or three to five hardware swapouts, whichever comes first.
That said, I've triggered the software licensing module when I upgraded the RAM and Video twice each in the same computer (and for a while used the onboard video, which probably counts as a swap as well), due to a bad RAM and a defective Video chip. In any case, my Windows 8.1 Media Center became useless because the Media Center key they'd given out was a time limited key. I worked around it by running my backup disc Windows 7 onto a blank hard drive and updating that to Windows 10 on the Internet, then updating the Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. I had to run the setupprep.exe from within the arch directory of the USB stick to manually force the setup to continue. When it saw Win 10, it activated immediately. Works great now, better that it has in a while.