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How to install Windows 10 or 11

Set up the operating system, and your PC build is complete

This is it, folks. We’ve squeezed thermal paste together, seated graphics cards together, and tidied cables together, so now all that’s left to finish building your own gaming PC together is to install Windows on the SSD or hard drive.

But which version to choose? Windows 11 could be argued as the very, very slightly better option for a games-focused rig, if largely on the back on its Auto HDR feature. DirectStorage games, starting with Forspoken, might load slightly faster on Windows 11 as well. However, it also has tougher system requirements than Windows 10, and I personally prefer the comforting familiarity of the older operating system’s Start menu and UI design. You might feel different on that note, though you can always update from Windows 10 to Windows 11 for free later on.

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What you will need, for whichever version, is a valid activation/license key and some form of installation media. You can get both in one go by buying an official Windows 10/11 USB stick or, alternatively, you can create your own USB installation tool and acquire the license separately. Before getting into how to install Windows 10 or 11 on your newly handcrafted PC, I’ll explain how to create installation media for both versions. The subsequent installation itself is more or less identical across 10 and 11; it’s only the method for creating these USBs that varies slightly.

You’ll also need a functioning PC or laptop to create installation media, so if this PC you’re building is your only computer, you might need to borrow a friend’s. Or just buy a ready-made USB stick (UK / US), and skip to the installation guide further below.


A USB drive (in focus) held up in front of a monitor showing a UEFI BIOS (out of focus).

How to create Windows 11 installation media

Step 1: Plug in a USB flash drive, at least 8GB in size, and download the Windows 11 Media Creation tool from Microsoft.

Step 1 of how to create Windows 11 installation media: connect your USB drive and download the Windows 11 Media Creation tool.

Step 2: Run it, click 'Yes' to allow it to make changes, accept the license terms. Confirm that the language and edition settings are set to what you want, then click 'Next'.

Step 2 of how to create Windows 11 installation media: Launch the downloaded .exe and allow it to make changes. Confirm that the language and edition settings are set to what you want, then click ‘Next’.

Step 3: Leave 'USB flash drive' checked, then click 'Next'. On the next screen, select the USB drive you want to use, and click 'Next'.

Step 3 of how to create Windows 11 installation media: Leave ‘USB flash drive’ checked, then click ‘Next’. On the next screen, select the USB drive you want to use, and click ‘Next’.

Step 4: Wait a while the Windows 11 files are downloaded to the USB drive. Once finished, click ‘Finish’ to finish, finishingly.

Step 3 of how to create Windows 11 installation media: wait for the tool to finish creating the installation files on your USB, then click 'Finish'.

The default Windows 10 desktop image.

How to create Windows 10 installation media

Step 1: Plug in a USB drive that’s at least 8GB in size and download the Windows 10 Media Creation tool.

Step 1 of how to create Windows 10 installation media: download the Windows 10 Media Creation tool.

Step 2: Run the .exe you’ve just downloaded, allow it to make changes, and accept the license terms. Select 'Create installation media' then 'Next'.

Step 2 of how to create Windows 10 installation media: launch the downloaded .exe and follow the onscreen instructions, selecting 'Create installation media’  when asked.

Step 3: The default language, edition, and architecture settings should already be correct, but check them regardless – the architecture in particular should be '64-bit (x64)'. Click 'Next' once you’re satisfied.

Step 3 of how to create Windows 10 installation media: Make your language, edition, and architecture selections and click Next.

Step 4: Make sure 'USB flash drive' is checked, then click 'Next'. Then, select your USB stick and click 'Next' once again.

Step 4 of how to create Windows 10 installation media: Make sure ‘USB flash drive’ is checked, then click ‘Next’. Then, select your USB stick and click ‘Next’ once again.

Step 5: Take a break while the tool downloads and installs the Windows 10 files on your USB drive. Click 'Finish' once it’s done.

Step 5 of how to create Windows 10 installation media: wait for the tool to download and install Windows 10 files, then click 'Finish'.

The Windows 11 desktop in dark mode.

How to install Windows 10 or 11

Step 1: Take the USB drive with your installation media on it, and insert it into a spare USB port on the back of your new PC. The front panel’s USB ports, for reasons I like to refer to as "Computer Bullshit", won’t work for this. Anyway, once it’s in, turn on your PC while repeatedly tapping one or all of the F2, F12 or Del keys on your keyboard. This will open the BIOS, but don’t be afraid, as all you need to do is find the boot priority menu and drag the installation USB to the top of the list. This tells your PC that it should boot from this stick, rather than any other connected storage drives.

Step 1 of how to install Windows: Insert the installation USB into the back of your PC. Start up your your PC, but open the BIOS by tapping F2, F12 or Del keys as it boots. Find the priority boot menu and make sure the USB is at the top of the list.

Step 2: Hit 'Save and exit' in the BIOS, and your PC will restart, with any luck to the blue glow of the Windows installation setup screen. Select your language, time/currency format, and keyboard format. The defaults will probably be fine. Click 'Next', then 'Install now'. Exciting times!

Step 2 of how to install Windows: save and exit the BIOS and your PC should reboot to the Windows installation screen. Click ‘Next’, then ‘Install now’.

Step 3: After a few moments you’ll be asked to enter your Windows activation key. Pop that in, or click 'I don’t have a product key' to skip this part and enter it later. Then, select the version of Windows you want to install – presumably Windows 11/10 Home, for a gaming PC – and you’ll be fed the license terms. Check the box to confirm you’ve read them, then click 'Next'.

Step 3 of how to install Windows: Enter your product key if you have one, or click ‘I don’t have a product key’. Select the version of Windows you're installing, agree to the license terms then click 'Next'.

Step 4: On the next screen, select 'Customize', as you’re installing Windows to a new PC – don’t select the option for upgrading Windows. You’ll then be asked where you want to install Windows, complete with a list of your newly installed storage drives. Select the one you want to install Windows on (your 'main' drive, as it were), and click 'Format'. Then, to make it fully ready for Windows, click 'New' while it’s still selected, followed by 'Apply'.

Step 4 of how to install Windows: select 'Customize' then select the storage drive you want to install Windows on. Click 'Format', then 'New', then 'Apply'. Finally, select the largest, newly-created partition and click 'Next'.

This will create a couple of additional partitions, but these are for recovery purposes, and won’t take up much space. Finally, select the Primary partition, which should be by far the biggest one, and click ‘Next’.

Step 5: Sit back and let the installer do its thing. Your PC will restart a few times in the process, so don’t be alarmed if it appears to switch off temporarily.

Step 5 of how to install Windows: wait for the installer. Your PC will reset itself.

Step 6: Eventually you’ll reach a screen asking for your country or region. This is the home stretch: all you have to do now is select your preferences as you’re asked for them, connect to a Wi-Fi network (if you’re not using an Ethernet connection) and either log into or sign up for a Microsoft account. This is annoying, especially if you just want to log in with an offline account, but there is one benefit: Windows keys are linked to Microsoft accounts, so if you ever want to re-use the same key for a reinstall or fresh install on a new PC, you can just log in with your account.

Step 6 of how to install Windows: Once you reach the region select screen, keep entering your preferences until you get to network setup. Connect to a network, then either login or sign up for a Microsoft account.

Step 7: Select a few more preferences, mostly privacy related, and at last you’ll reach the promised land. That’s right, you’ve reached the desktop, on a PC you built yourself. Is there no greater sight, perhaps in all of human existence, than a default wallpaper?

Ste 7 of how to install Windows: make a few more preference selections until you finally reach the desktop. Remove the installation media, and download your graphics card's drivers.

Be sure to remove that installation media USB before the next time you boot up, and to install the latest graphics cards drivers for your GPU – here they are for Nvidia GeForce, AMD Radeon, and Intel Arc cards. Otherwise, you’re good to go, and can set about installing any games, launchers and other software you want.

And remember: while you can and should savour this success, it’s also only the start. You now possess not just a working PC, but also the skills and the knowledge to customise, replace and upgrade any individual parts you want to in the future. See? What a fine way to spend a few hours.


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