How to install the Windows 10 May 2021 Update on your PC right now


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At the tail end of April, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 version 21H1 is now the Windows 10 May 2021 Update. It’s available for all Windows Insiders and should come to everyone else in, well, May. The good news is that if you just can’t wait, you can install it right now. First, let’s look at what Windows 10 version 21H1 actually is, and then we shall explore how to install the Windows 10 May 2021 update right now.

What is the Windows 10 May 2021 Update?

It’s the next feature update to Windows 10, and it’s been in testing with Windows Insiders since February. It’s also a very minor update. Microsoft only highlighted three features:

  • Windows Hello multicamera support to set the default as the external camera when both external and internal Windows Hello cameras are present.
  • Windows Defender Application Guard performance improvements including optimizing document opening scenario times.
  • Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) Group Policy Service (GPSVC) updating performance improvement to support remote work scenarios.

More importantly, it’s worth noting that what you’re installing today is actually not a preview update. These are actually the final bits for the Windows 10 May 2021 Update. Yes, it’s labeled as a preview, but let’s break this down.

Windows 10 version 21H1 isn’t an actual feature update, at least in the traditional sense. With some updates, Microsoft releases a full build that weighs in at over 4GB. That’s a major feature update, and there’s a lot more potential for things to go wrong. When those updates are in the Release Preview channel, they’re still in preview because they have to be serviced before they’re released.

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This update, like 20H2 before it, is just an enablement package. Now, Windows 10 versions 21H1, 20H2, and 2004 are all getting the exact same cumulative updates. There’s just that little enablement package that sets them apart. All the enablement package does is light up existing features and increase the build number by one.

In other words, if you go and install the enablement package now, you’ll be on 21H1 but nothing about the bits on your system will actually change. That’s why this isn’t actually a preview update. And when you go to install it, assuming you’re coming from version 20H2 or 2004, it should take a couple of minutes at the most, even if you’re not running top-end hardware.

How to get Windows 10 version 21H1 through the Windows Insider Program

Getting it through the Windows Insider Program is the easiest way. Once you’re done, you can just unenroll from preview builds.

  1. Go to Settings -> Update & Security -> Windows Insider Program
    Windows Insider Program settings page
  2. Click Get started. You’ll be presented with an option to link an account.Option to link an account for Windows Insider Program
  3. After adding your account, you’ll be given the option to choose a channel. You’ll want to use Release Preview. At this time, Beta will get you the same results, but that’s subject to change.
    Channel selection for Windows Insider Program
  4. You’ll be prompted to reboot your machine, so go ahead and do that.Reboot for Windows Insider Program
  5. Once you’re rebooted. Go to Settings -> Update & security -> Windows Update -> Check for updates. You’ll be given the option to install Windows 10 version 21H1.
    Page showing Windows 10 version 21H1
  6. Click on the “Download and install” link. Once it’s done, you’ll be prompted to reboot.
  7. Once you’ve rebooted, run the winver command, and you’ll see a new version and build number.
    Winver screen showing Windows 10 version and build number
  8. Now that you’re done, you can go back into the Windows Insider Program settings and unenroll, if you wish.
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Using an ISO to install the Windows 10 May 2021 Update

Using an ISO isn’t necessarily harder, but you do have to download extra stuff. You can also choose to do a clean installation with this method.

  1. Head over to the Windows Insider Program ISO download page.
  2. Choose the SKU that you want. You’ll probably want the one at the top of the list, which is Windows 10. Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Home China are also options.
    Windows Insider Program ISO selection
  3. You’ll also be asked to choose a language and whether you ant 32- or 64-bit versions of the OS.
    Choice between 32-bit or 64-bit Windows download
  4. Once it’s finished downloading, you can open it in File Explorer.
  5. Double-click on the Setup file. You’ll be greeted by a few screens that you can click through, including the Windows 10 licensing agreement.
  6. Eventually, you’ll get to a screen that says “Ready to install”. By default, it’s set to “Keep personal files and apps”. If you click the option to change it, there are two other options. You can choose to keep just files (no apps), or nothing at all. With the default, you’re upgrading the same way you did above. If you choose nothing, it’s a clean installation.
    Dialog for choosing what to keep when installing Windows 10
  7. You can click through the rest of the process. Eventually, your machine will reboot and you’ll be on the Windows 10 May 2021 Update.
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Once Windows 10 version 21H1 is released to non-Insiders, this process will change slightly. Installing via Windows Update will be the same, but you won’t have to enroll in the Windows Insider Program to get it. The ISO process will be the same as well; you’ll just have to use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool instead of the Windows Insider Program download page.

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