Cleanest Way to Upgrade Surface Pro 2 to Windows 10? Firmware? Drivers? Driving me CRAZY

Hey all! Long time viewer, first time poster here. These are some really nice forums!

I have been driving myself crazy trying to find details about the upgrade process on a Surface Pro 2 from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. Microsoft support doesn't seem to be especially helpful with some of the "nitty-gritty", friendly though they may be. I have tried other forums, Reddit, have researched various posts, and I can't quite find the specifics or clarity I'm looking for. My questions are as follows:

  1. If I install all available updates for Windows 8.1 on the SP2, and then run the upgrade to Windows 10 through the GWX app, and subsequently do a system reset WITHOUT keeping files on Windows 10, is this equivalent to a clean install that might be done through an .ISO and boot media?

  2. Windows Update for Windows 8.1 on the SP2 seems to recognize that the device is a SP2, and offers firmware updates through Windows Update. If I perform a clean install of Windows 10 via a .ISO and USB drive, will Windows 10 still be able to install firmware updates to the SP2, and recognize the device as a SP2?

  3. Do I need to prepare any drivers before upgrading? I can't seem to find any driver bundles from Microsoft for the SP2, and the few I can find URLs for redirect to official driver packages for the Surface Pro 3, not two.

Those are some of the questions that have been driving me bonkers. I really hope someone out there is as anal as I am, and has tested some of this stuff and can offer assistance. If nothing else, doesn't hurt to ask :).

Thanks all!

I'm assuming you've read this:

1) Yes in terms of the actual operating system/programs.

No, in terms of the layers underneath. The hard disk will not be reformatted and the file system will technically be left untouched. Any boot sector viruses will be transfer over unharmed and any recovery partitions will either be left alone or removed depending upon what you choose during the install.

A "real" clean install always deletes everything, including the hard disk structures, upgrading (reset/refresh) does not.

Keep in mind that even if you stick the installer .iso onto a usb drive and boot via USB to do a clean install, you're not necessarily doing a clean install. If you don't manually delete all of the underlying structures then "doing a clearn install" will follow the same code path as if you activated it from within Win 8.1.

MS doesn't really like the idea of wipe-and -reload and clean-installs scenarios. They want everyone to "upgrade" instead. Again, in terms of the upper layer software, the OS will be "clean".

2) No idea. Although, I wouldn't do fimware updates unless needed. If one fails, the device gets bricked. Not something I'd like to do just because it's "available" if it didn't fix a known issue.

3) An in-place upgrade to windows 10 will transfer the existing drivers for your hardware, since it's basically the same OS. Drivers might be an issue if you were doing an actual clean install, including wiping the disk, but even then, you could just re-download anything missing from windows update.

So uh, my recommendation is just to upgrade since the OS structures are all rebuilt anyway, and then you won't have to worry about drivers.

Thank you so much for your reply, very much appreciated. The SP2 is PRETTY MUCH factory new, no malware or viruses that I would be aware of. I'm generally pretty careful about what sites I visit, etc. and it really hasn't been online in a significant (browser navigation) way.

That being said, I can be pretty anal about the "cleanliness" of a system.

Would you mind elaborating a bit more on the file system being untouched and rebuilt, etc.? Technically, when you would do a system reset without keeping files on Win 8.1, would it format from the recovery partition, or just write over the old partition without formatting, or... something else?

Would love to hear more from others who've gone down these routes on this hardware and dug into the process a little bit, too :).

Now that I think about it. I don't actually do very many upgrades (8->10). I usually do clean installs for actual installations although I tested the PBR features a lot (the refresh/reset my pc stuffs you're asking about).

So the process may be different for actual "upgrades" although if I was MS, I'd make the process as close to identical for the two scenarios as I could.

For Windows 8/10. The PBR features do not ever modify the file system. Even when the documentation says they do, they don't. They do go through and delete nearly all existing files or (for "refresh" scenarios) move the existing files/folder to a folder called Windows.old that has C:\Windows.old\Windows, C:\Windows.old\Users, C:\Windows.old\Program Files etc

Then a new operating system is either copied (dism /apply-image) or rebuilt (in win 10 from the old component store c:\Windows.old\Windows\sxs) and booted into. For both, the old drivers are transferred to the new OS (dism /export-drivers or something and them dism /add-driver /driver:myfile.inf /recurse ). For Win 8, the OS is booted into directly, but for 10 all .ppkg files (OEM software packages) in C:\recovery\customizations are applied to the image, provided they match the architecture of the image, and then the OS boots.

For Win 8, the OS is "factory new" from the dism /apply-image operation from an existing install.wim file + custom.wim files from the restore partition.
For 10, the OS is "freshly rebuilt" from the component store. This style of "OS recovery" is very "fragile" and not meant to be resistant malware. It's made to take the least disk space as possible to get Win10 onto systems with <16 GB of space and still have working restoration features.

For all scenarios (except certain highly customized Win 8 systems from OEMs), the drivers, while re-used must be reinstalled and software applications re-initalized, the windows installation must be made instantiated as hardware-specific etc So basically all the stuff (including all files) above the file system layer is rebuilt but the filesystem itself is untouched.

Thank you for that enormously detailed response. It might take me a little while to chew through some of it, but in the mean time, is the essence of what you're suggesting is that a clean install with .ISO boot media is cleaner, and therefore preferable in this instance?

This is my current sort of "Step by step". Am I forgetting anything?

  1. Run all available updates on the Surface Pro 2 as to install the latest firmware(?)

  2. Download the Microsoft Media Creation Tool and create a .ISO USB installation for Windows 10 64-bit Professional Edition

  3. Download any drivers I may need for the Surface Pro 2 from : .

  4. Press Volume Down+Power Button to boot from USB.

  5. Product Key goes where??? (I am actually lost upon this point, as I had heard that a clean install without first upgrading / logging into a Microsoft Account will leave Windows 10 unable to activate. Any information on this would be greatly appreciated!)

  6. Install like any old version of Windows, delete all the partitions, etc.

  7. Create local account / do not connect to internet after Windows 10 has installed

  8. Install the drivers that were downloaded earlier (USB drive), connect to the internet, and let Windows Update handle the rest?

If I am forgetting something, or you see any issues, I would love to hear your suggestions and advice!

Thank you so much for all of your assistance and help :).

Mind you I don't own a Windows tablet.

Don't worry about drivers. MS tends to dl that stuff via MS update, especially for their own hardware.

You're really better off with an upgrade in the long run instead of doing a clean install, both in terms of drivers and activation.

In order to get the "free upgrade" from 8.1->10 the first install must be an upgrade. This will create a windows activation entry for your hardware and the associated 8.1 product key to also work with Windows 10. If you try to do a clean install, then the Win10 has no refrence point for the previously licensed copy of Windows that was installed so there's no way to take that license with you. After that, and not before, feel free to do a reinstall once Win 10 is licensed and delete the underlying structures. Most of that however assumes you've online and there's no additional harm in staying online during the install considering you're already agreeing to use Win 10.

It is possible to create a local account instead of a MS account while online during the install provided you watch what the menus are asking you and you "skip" the MS account screen.

With an upgrade, according to MS's documentation, they won't delete the C:\Windows.old folder for 30 days so you should be able to revert during that time if you dislike it. Doing a clean install removes that possibility unless you're able to do a clean install for Win 8.1 from usb yourself.