12 irritating Windows 10 installation issues, and how to fix them

Having trouble installing and setting up Win10? You aren’t alone.

12 Windows 10 install issues -- and what to do about them
Credit: Mark Hachman

With Microsoft saying that 110 million PCs run Windows 10, you’ve no doubt encountered a problem or two or three, either with your upgrades or with those of your colleagues, family, or friends. Of course, we’ll never see statistics on the number of folks who were coerced into installing Windows 10, which happens when Windows Update won’t work because it’s frozen on the Win10 payload. We’ll never know the number of systems that were upgraded and rolled back. But even if a tiny percentage of those 100 million machines hit hiccups, the total number of problems is enormous.

I’ve bumped into many different problems, and I bet you have, too.

Here’s my attempt to address the most frequent Windows 10 installation problems, including initial setup problems. Hopefully the advice and pointers will help ease the pain, should you find yourself trapped between the offal and the impeller.

Further reading: The best Windows 10 tips, tricks, and tweaks

The prime directive: If you’re prompted for a product key but don’t have one, don’t sweat it

Windows 10: Skip the product key

Assuming you’re upgrading from a “genuine” Windows 7 or 8.1 machine, if you’re prompted for a Win10 key, click Skip, Do This Later, or Next (depending on the dialog box). Don’t bother trying to find a Windows 10 key. Chances are very good that Windows will recognize the error of its ways and not bother you again, although it may take a couple of days for the activation routine to figure it out. If you get repeated prompts, see the section below on Activation problems.

Installer hangs for hours or reboots continuously

First, make sure you’ve disconnected any nonessential hardware: Unplug all hard drives other than the C: drive. Yank that external hard drive, disconnect peripherals that aren’t absolutely necessary, including extra monitors, smart card readers, weird keyboards, whatever. If possible, consider turning off Wi-Fi and plugging into a router with a LAN cable (that worked for me).

Second, make sure you have the right upgrade: 32-bit for 32-bit machines, 64-bit for most. If you started with Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, or Home Premium, or Windows 8.1 (standard, usually called Home), you should install Windows 10 Home. If you started with Win7 Pro or Ultimate, or Win8.1 Pro or Pro for Students, you should install Windows 10 Pro. If you’re working with any Enterprise version of Windows 7 or 8.1, the upgrade isn’t free—it’s dependent on your Software Assurance license terms.

Then try running the upgrade again.

If you continue to have the same problem, Microsoft’s best advice is to use the Windows 10 media creation tool to create a USB drive (or DVD). See the Download Windows 10 page for details, but be very aware of the fact that your “genuine” license is dependent on running the upgrade sequence correctly. Specifically, you must first upgrade the PC instead of performing a clean install, to make sure your old Windows 7 or 8.1 license is recognized as a valid license for the free Windows 10 upgrade. There are full instructions on the Installing Windows 10 using the media creation tool page. Be sure you follow the steps in order.

If that still doesn’t work and you end up with an installer hang or repeated reboots, simply sit back and wait. Microsoft’s still ironing out a lot of bugs, and you may have one or two (or 20) of them.

Error: “Something Happened 0x80070005-0x90002”

The Windows 10 installer has such descriptive error codes, doesn’t it? This one’s a classic. The 80070005 error has been around for ages, and it generally means that the installer can’t work with a file that it needs. Possible causes are many, but the general solution goes like this:

  1. Disable all antivirus and firewalls. Yes, even Microsoft’s.
  2. Reset Windows Update by going to KB 971058 and running the Fixit.
  3. Run the Windows 10 installer again (presumably through Windows Update).
  4. If that doesn’t work, turn your AV and firewall back on, then follow the instructions at KB 947821 to run DISM or the System Update Readiness Tool.
  5. Turn off your AV and firewall, then try installing Win10 again.

If that doesn’t work, try any or all of the suggestions listed here.

Error: 0xC1900101-0x20017, -0x30018, -0x20004 and others

More specifically: “The installation failed in the SAFE_OS phase with an error during INSTALL_RECOVERY_ENVIRONMENT operation” or something along those lines.

This is another Windows installer error that dates back (at least) to the times of Windows 8. Many people report these errors occurring in conjunction with freezes and crashes of varying intensity and length.

There’s a six-page thread about this on the Microsoft Answers forum, one on Reddit that’s about two miles long, and many others around the Web, but nobody seems to have found a general solution.

My advice is to wait. If you have a spare weekend, you can try the comprehensive solutions presented by Gunter Born on his blog. But in general, this one’s a mammoth, insurmountable time sink. Give Microsoft a few months or more to figure it out.

Next page: More Windows 10 installation woes and fixes.

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