How to Handle Windows 10 Installation Problems

By Woody Leonhard

This information is for folks who are using Windows 7 or 8.1 and trying to upgrade to Windows 10 but can’t, and for those who are trying to move from one version of Windows 10 to the next. It’s no surprise that some might find some Windows 10 installation problems. Here, you will find some installation problems, including initial setup problems, and offer a bit of advice and some pointers, should you find yourself trapped between the offal and the impeller.

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

Assuming you’re upgrading from a genuine Windows 7 or 8.1 machine, or if you’re switching versions of Windows 10, if you’re prompted for a Windows 10 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 good that Windows will recognize the error of its ways and not bother you again, although it may take a few days for the activation routine to figure it out.

The installer hangs for hours or reboots continuously when trying to install Windows 10

First, make sure that you’ve disconnected any nonessential hardware: Unplug any 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.

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, Home Premium, or Windows 8.1 (standard, usually called Home), or you want to move to the next version of Windows 10 Home, you should install Windows 10 Home. If you started with Win7 Pro or Ultimate, Win8.1 Pro or Pro for Students, or Windows 10 Pro, 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 aware of the fact that your genuine license depends 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. If you start with a valid Windows 10 machine and use the media creation tool to move to the next version, there should be no licensing problems. Check out the full instructions on Installing Windows 10 using the media creation tool. Make sure that you follow the steps in order.

Error: “Something happened 0x80070005-0x90002”

The Windows 10 installer has such descriptive error codes, doesn’t it? The 80070005 error code is a classic and 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.
  2. Reset Windows Update by going to KB 971058 and following the instructions to reset.
  3. Run the Windows 10 installer again (presumably through Windows Update).
  4. If that doesn’t work, turn your AV and firewall back on, and then follow the instructions at KB 947821, which explains how to run DISM or the System Update Readiness Tool.
  5. Turn off your antivirus and firewall, and then try installing Windows 10 again.

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

Error: “The installation failed in the SAFE_OS phase”

This error comes in many variants: Errors 0xC1900101-0x20017, -0x30018, -0x20004 and others, “The installation failed in the SAFE_OS phase with an error during INSTALL_RECOVERY_ENVIRONMENT operation” or something similar.

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

It’s a good idea 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 error is a mammoth, insurmountable time sink.

Trouble with video, sound, and other drivers when installing Windows 10

After basic installation problems — typically ending in hangs or reboots — the problem that arises the most involves lousy drivers. Sometimes the driver problem appears immediately after you install Windows 10. Sometime, the problems don’t appear until you’ve rebooted the machine a few times and allowed Microsoft’s forced updates to wipe out your stable drivers.

A lengthy post by Microsoft MVP and Answers Forum moderator Andre Da Costa steps through the finer points of installing drivers. He shows you how to install drivers the official way, through Windows Update, and the semi-official way, through Windows 10’s Device Manager. Then he drops back a few yards and punts with instructions for using compatibility mode.

Da Costa doesn’t cover the next phase of driver untangling, where you manually uninstall a driver and then prevent Windows 10 from automatically updating it, presumably to a bad (but newer!) driver. The article discusses using the wushowhide program and KB 3073930 in this Computerworld post.

Unfortunately, wushowhide has to be handled in a specific way. It can only hide updates that are currently available, and you can’t reboot between uninstalling the bad driver and running wushowhide. It’s not a friendly solution.

If your problem lies with a faulty device driver being pushed by Microsoft, you may have to go straight to the manufacturer’s website to get the right one and then install it manually.

Create a local account in Windows 10

Microsoft really, really wants you to use a Microsoft account. Over the years, they’ve made it increasingly difficult to create a local account — one that isn’t hooked into Microsoft’s stuff in the sky. (It’s an open point of debate as to whether using a local account also curtails Microsoft’s snooping, given the ever-present Advertising ID, but that’s another story.