In-Depth

My Strange Windows 10 Upgrade Odyssey

It's a free upgrade, right?

Microsoft's free Windows 10 upgrade offer ends on July 29, so if you got the "all clear" signal, should you actually go through with a Windows 7 system upgrade?

In response to such a question, I only have my sad tale of woe to relate. Millions of others may have had more positive experiences, but my in-place upgrade to Windows 10 on my home machine was anything but "free." The upgrade itself was fairly effortless, and things worked fine for a couple of months. But then it all went south, and I'm still digging out.

Quite frankly, I'm no techie. I can't distinguish hardware problems from software problems. I don't have the test tools. I'm just relating my experience here as a typical PC consumer user, and a naïve one at that.

GWX: Friendly but Deadly
Let's backtrack a bit. Like many, I received the Get Windows App, also called the "GWX app," which is a persistent notice from Microsoft on your Windows 7 PC that it is entitled to undergo a free upgrade to Windows 10. You purportedly can click into the GWX app to see details about why your system is ready, since the GWX app runs a system check. However, I didn't find any such details when I tried doing that.

It looked like I had gotten the all-clear signal from Microsoft for a system upgrade. I pulled the trigger, the machine upgraded and I had Windows 10 in place after a couple of hours.

For the record, my home PC was a five-year-old Gateway desktop. It's nothing special. It had an aging graphics card that I was thinking of replacing. Otherwise, it worked fine with Windows 7.

After two months working trouble free with Windows 10, I started getting green screens, which are essentially frozen screens that require a system reboot to clear. Later, they were pink, black, and even the traditional blue color.

Those screen problems were intermittent, and happened only at the boot stage, but it wasn't the only problem I had encountered. I'd also get periodic screen freezes during computer sessions. I also found that my PC would start emitting low-tone buzzing noises during audio playback from time to time. I plunged into the Microsoft forum pages and found that most people were blaming this sound problem on an incompatibility with the RealTek Wi-Fi LAN driver.

I tried rolling back Windows 10 to an earlier period using my backup, but it didn't work. Those taking advantage of the free Windows 10 upgrade have just 30 days to roll back before Windows 10 becomes permanent. Unfortunately, I didn't see the problems within that 30-day time period and it was too late.

Bad Decisions
So I decided to take my PC to a local fix-it shop. The shop had an explanation for the screen freezes. I had a failing hard disk drive, probably due to dust having collected in the PC compartment, causing overheating. I asked the tech, "So how often should you clean out your PC case, once per year." He said he recommends blowing them out once a month. Ouch. I'd never had the dust overheating problem before, but I suppose it's an old hat-type situation for IT pros.

Also, I had a partially working memory module in the machine. I approved those hardware repairs (the new hard drive and memory module) and I also paid for the reimaging of Windows 10 on my machine with the theory that my problems weren't due to the Windows 10, but were due to hardware issues.

Boy, was I wrong on that point. And now I was out $300 plus for the new hardware and OS reimaging work.

While the screen freezes and green screens were gone after the hardware replacements, the buzzing sound was still there. I could make the buzzing noise go away if I rebooted the PC, but it sometimes took three reboots to make that happen. That's weird, but maybe Windows 10 tries to fix things if they aren't working. I also sometimes had moments when the boot drivers wouldn't load except after shutting the machine down and turning the power back on.

It turns out that people who are having problems with Windows 10 upgrades can contact Microsoft for support. They can get support either through their local Microsoft retail store or they can call phone support (1.800.642.7676). Even though I cover Windows 10 and Microsoft news a lot, I never knew about those support options.

I took advantage of the offer and made an appointment with Microsoft's phone support to talk with a technician.

The Microsoft support guy patiently heard my tale of woe. He checked the drivers on my PC, just as I had done myself. He also zeroed in on the RealTek Wi-Fi LAN driver as the possible source for the buzzing sound problem. However, there was a potential problem in replacing it. Gateway hadn't posted updated drivers for my PC model. That turns out to be a red flag, because OEMs often use customized drivers for their products.

While RealTek does have an updated Wi-Fi LAN driver for Windows 10 available at its Web site, it might not work on my Gateway machine. The tech support guy didn't try to install the updated driver, probably because it might not be a supported option.

In fact, after spending about 30 minutes with me, Microsoft's tech support admitted that my PC wasn't compatible with Windows 10. In fact the tech guy told me that my machine would likely get even worse over time if it continued to run Windows 10.

And so I decided to buy a new PC, even though I typically hang on to my PCs till the bitter end. This new one was expensive, with a well-ventilated case to avoid potential overheating issues. And yes, it's a new Windows 10 PC as I assume that the operating system actually does work if you have new hardware.

The Question
So once again, we come back to the initial question. Should you accept the free Windows 10 upgrade before August 29? Really, it's just a matter of whether you are feeling lucky, I think. The GWX app only indicates that you have the right to an upgrade, not that it'll actually work.

I also have some practical advice to offer if you are still making up your mind. Just check if your OEM computer maker has published new drivers for Windows 10. If the OEM hasn't done that, then you might have difficulties with an upgrade. The real problem is drivers support. Microsoft hadn't solved that problem when it unleashed the GWX app on the world.

My experience wasn't a good one, but others have had far worse. A surprise Windows 10 upgrade resulted in a $10,000 lawsuit victory for one California plaintiff, Teri Goldstein, and she's now published a book to help others sue Microsoft over the GWX app's detrimental effects. Based on her book's blurb description, Goldstein was an early beta-test victim of the GWX app, which adversely interrupted her business.

The GWX app is a beautiful idea at the abstract level, but quite frankly, it wasn't ready for prime time. Microsoft can't control the driver makers, and all of the possible hardware scenarios. The GWX app could have done what I did and simply checked the OEM's site for compatible drivers, but it looks like that didn't happen, at least in my case.

Mostly, I spent time trying to research the problems I was having, so my Windows 10 odyssey wasted a lot of my time. In the end, I decided to scrap my system a bit earlier than I had planned because of the problems. My inability to distinguish hardware and software problems just led to bad decision making.

Please learn from my bumbling, if it helps. And if you've had a bad or good Windows 10 upgrade experience, don't be silent. Please let other readers know!

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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