The Windows 8.1 preview is here and available to all Windows 8 users. Microsoft has been teasing us for months with all the great new features and tweaks so many users will be itching to get their hands on the preview. Proceed with caution though since the installation process will wipe all programs and settings from your Windows 8 installation. The easiest way to download and install Windows 8.1 is using the Windows Store, but that process will automatically install the Preview on your computer's primary partition, which will likely be your main installation of Windows 8. That's not likely the best way to go.
To install the preview on any computer, partition or virtual machine you want, you'll need to download the installation ISO file, which is a disc image of the installation media. You can either mount that file using Windows 8's ISO mounting feature, or burn it to a disc and use it anywhere you need to.
Getting Ready for your Windows 8.1 Preview
As we mentioned previously, running the Windows 8.1 preview has some permanent consequences for your Windows 8 installation. To ensure that your losses are minimal, it's wise to do some preparation before you get started.
- Back up personal files to an external media source such as an external hard drive, a flash drive or a DVD.
- Download installers for any desktop programs you have on your computer. They'll all be wiped out and having the installers handy will save time later on. Save those executables to your external drive as well.
Downloading the Windows 8.1 Installation ISO
- Head to Microsoft's site to find the file you need.
- Download the ISO file for your language and system architecture, which will be x64 or x86. If you aren't sure about your architecture, search "Computer" from the Start screen, right-click "Computer" and then click or tap "Properties." The information you need will be listed under "System "Type."
- Leave the browser window open; you'll want to come back to it later.
If you downloaded the file using the Windows 8 installation you want to alter, you're ready to begin. If not, you'll need to burn the ISO image file to a disc.
- Insert a burnable DVD into your drive.
- Right-click the downloaded ISO and click or tap "Burn disc image."
- Select your drive from the drop-down list in the window that opens and click or tap "Burn."
How to Install the Windows 8.1 Preview
Now that you've backed up your data and downloaded your installation file, you're ready to begin installing the Windows 8.1 Preview on your computer.
- Double-click the downloaded ISO file to mount it and double-click setup.exe, or insert your burned disc into your computer's optical drive and click or tap "Install" when prompted.
- Select "Go online to install updates now (recommended)" if you want to download any updates released by Microsoft that might help during the installation. Choose whether or not to select "I want to help make the installation of Windows better" and then click or tap "Next."
- If necessary, wait while Windows checks for, downloads and installs updates.
- Copy and paste the product key from Microsoft's website into the provided space in the installation window and wait while Windows verifies it. When prompted "Your product key works! Continue when you're ready," get ready and then click or tap "Next."
- Read, peruse, skim or glance at the license agreement provided before continuing. Click or tap the "I accept license terms" check box and then click or tap "Accept."
- Select what you want to keep on your computer during the installation, though it's a pretty easy choice. In the preview version of Windows 8.1 your only option is "Keep Nothing." Your settings and programs will all be deleted, but your personal data will be preserved in a "Windows.old" folder on your C: drive. While this should successfully preserve your files, don't trust it with anything important. If you haven't already, back up any important data before continuing.
- Close any programs or files you have running in the background. Once you're ready to go, click or tap "Install."
The installation will take a few minutes and your system will need to restart during the process. No input is needed from here on until the install is complete, so hold on for the ride and it'll be over before you know it.
When Windows 8.1 has finished installing, you'll need to run through setting up your Microsoft account again, just like you did when you first installed Windows 8. Follow the prompts on screen and once that's complete, you'll be able to log in and get started trying out all the great features offered by Windows 8.1.