How to download Windows 11 (preview) and perform a clean installation

As of today, the latest preliminary (preview) version of Windows 11 is available for testing. This guide explains how to perform a clean installation of the OS.

Windows 11 is the next major version of Microsoft’s operating system. The company plans to start the distribution of the final version on supported computers before the end of 2021. During development, an ISO image was made available in the Windows Insider Pretest Program. You can use this image for a clean installation of the system or to upgrade from a previous version.

A clean installation completely erases the contents of the hard drive to install a fresh copy of Windows 11. This option is usually chosen when the user observes serious operating system issues, in order to improve performance and autonomy. Since the final version of Windows 11 is yet to become available, you can use the ISO file to install the preliminary version on a spare computer or a virtual machine. This way, you can get familiar with the installation process and new functionality, as well as provide feedback for developers.

If you’re already a participant in the pretest program, you do not need to reinstall anything. Windows Update automatically downloads the latest OS version. If you install a clean version of the system on a different computer or virtual machine, you will need a key from Windows 10 to activate Windows 11. That is, if Windows 10 was not activated on that computer before.

This article describes how to download and perform a clean installation of the latest preview version of Windows 11 on a backup computer.

Changing the boot order

After checking the hardware compatibility, you need to ensure that your computer is going to boot from a USB drive.

Boot settings in UEFI

Changing the boot order of your computer requires you to perform the following several steps:

  • Turn on your computer.
  • When the booting starts, press a function button on your keyboard (F1, F2, F3, F10, F12), Esc, Delete.
  • You will see the motherboard firmware settings. Go to the Boot section.
  • Set the first number on the list to booting from the USB drive that contains the Windows 11 installation files.
  • Save your changes before exiting the UEFI settings.

After this, the computer will boot from the USB boot drive.

Accessing the UEFI settings from Windows 10

You can use the Settings app to access the UEFI settings inside Windows 10.

  • Open up the Settings app.
  • Go to the Update & Security section.
  • Open the Recovery section.
  • Under the “Advanced startup” heading, click “Restart now”.
  • Click on “Troubleshoot”.
  • Press Advanced Options.
  • Click on UEFI Firmware Settings.
  • Hit Restart.
  • In the firmware settings of the motherboard, open the Boot page.
  • Set the boot order so that the USB drive containing the Windows 11 installation files comes first.
  • Save your changes.

After these steps, your computer should boot from the USB boot disk.

How to download the Windows 11 ISO image

To download the Windows 11 preview ISO image, you need to:

  • Open the Windows Insider Preview Downloads page.
  • Sign in to your Microsoft account.
  • In the “Select edition” section, open the drop-down menu to specify the latest build of Windows 11, such as 22000.132.
  • Hit “Confirm”.
  • Select the installation language – in this case, English.
  • Click “Confirm”.
  • Select “64-bit Download”.

This will download the Windows 11 ISO image to your computer.

How to create a Windows 11 USB installation media

Since the final version of the new operating system has not been officially released, you can use Rufus or other similar tools for producing a bootable USB stick. From this media, you’ll be able to boot your computer or laptop to install Windows 11.

In order to create a bootable USB stick, connect the USB drive to your computer. The amount of free disk space must be at least 8 GB.

  • Open the download page of Rufus.
  • In the Download section, you have to click on the latest version (it’s the first link), then save the file.
  • Double click on the newly downloaded Rufus-x.xx.exe file – this will launch the tool.
  • Proceed to the “Device” section, where you should select the USB drive.
  • In the “Boot selection” section, look on the right and click the SELECT button.
  • Select the Windows 11 ISO file – you need to specify the path to the folder that contains it.
  • Click Open.
  • In the “Image option” drop-down menu, you need to select the option “Standard Windows installation”.
  • Use the “Partition scheme” drop-down menu and select the GPT option.
  • Proceed to the drop-down menu “Target system” and select the option named “UEFI (non-CSM)”.
  • In the “Show advanced disk properties” section, do not change anything.
  • In the “Volume label” field, confirm the drive name – for example, “Win11TestUSB”.
  • In the options named “File system” and “Cluster size”, everything should be left as it is.
  • Click “Show advanced formatting options”.
  • Check the box named “Quick format”.
  • Check the box named “Create extended label and icon files”.
  • Click on the START button.
  • Click OK.
  • Click CLOSE.

Hint: If you see a message saying that Secure Boot has been disabled, ignore it and try to perform the installation as usual.

After these steps are finished, Rufus will produce a USB drive of the bootable type. You can use it for installing Windows 11 on your computer.

Clean installation of Windows 11

Warning: all information on the disk will be erased. If there’s anything important on the disk, make sure to backit up.

  • Turn on your computer, booting it from your Windows 11 USB.
  • When a prompt appears, press any key in order to boot from the USB drive.
  • In the window of Windows Setup, click Next.
  • Press the button “Install now”.
  • Hit “I don’t have a product key” if your system is already activated on the computer. Otherwise, a product key is required.
  • Select a Windows 11 edition, if possible.

    Hint: You need to select the edition for which you have a product key. If you choose the wrong edition, the system will not get activated and you will have to repeat the process anew.

  • Click the Next button.
  • Hit “I accept the license terms”.
  • Press the Next button.
  • Hit the option “Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)” to proceed with the clean installation.
  • Select the partition with the current Windows installation (as a rule it’s Drive 0). Hit the Delete button.

    Hint: If Drive 0 has several partitions, you need to select and delete all these partitions, then the program will use the entire disk for installation. Windows 11 Setup will create the necessary partitions automatically. There is no need to delete partitions on other drives. If your computer has a blank hard disk, select it and click the Next button.

  • Click Yes.
  • Select a blank disk (disk 0, unallocated space).
  • Click the Next button.

This will install a clean Windows 11 copy to your computer.

Completing the initial Windows 11 setup

Once your Windows 11 installation is complete, you need to perform the initial setup of the system and create or log into a Microsoft account.

  • Select a region.
  • Click Yes.
  • Select your preferred keyboard layout.
  • Hit the Yes button.
  • Click Skip, if available.
  • If you have a Wi-Fi connection, set up the connection manually. This requires the network security key.
  • Confirm the computer name, up to 15 characters.

    Hint: If you want to give your computer a random name, select Ignore. If you want to give it a specific name, the computer will reboot to apply the changes.

  • Click the Next button.
  • 9. Select the option “Set up for personal use” if you are configuring Windows 11 Pro.
  • Click the Next button.
  • Enter your Microsoft account login.
  • Click the Next button.
  • Enter the password to your Microsoft account.
  • Press the Next button.
  • Click “Create PIN”.

  • Enter a pin code consisting of four characters.
  • Click OK.
  • Select “Set up as new device”.

  • Click the Next button.
  • Confirm your privacy settings.
  • Click “Accept”.

  • Indicate what you are going to use Windows 11 for to select the suitable tools and services.
  • Click “Accept” to continue. You can skip this option.
  • Select “Back up my files with OneDrive” or “Don’t back up my files”.
  • Click the Next button.
  • Click “No, thanks” to skip setting up Microsoft 365.

After you perform all these steps, the installation of Windows 11 is complete.