Welcome to this week’s episode of Ask ZDNet, where we answer the questions that make Dear Abby’s eyes shine.
In the mailbox this week: is it possible to downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10? What’s the best way to avoid paying a fine for filing your tax return late? And how hard is it to replace the hard drive in a laptop?
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Can I downgrade from Windows 11 Pro to Windows 10 Pro?
Windows 10 Pro worked fine. Windows 11 isn’t here yet and it’s giving me a headache. Can I replace Windows 11 with Windows 10? Please tell me the answer is yes.
Okay, the answer is yes. Well, technically the answer is “Yes, but there is a catch.”
The catch is you can’t “downgrade” from Windows 11 to Windows 10; you need to do a clean install. That means backing up and restoring your data files and reinstalling all your apps. But your Windows 11 license is enough to activate Windows 10 and vice versa, meaning you’ll still have the option to upgrade to Windows 11 later on after Microsoft (I hope) fixes the things that are bugging you right now.
If this is a new PC with Windows 11 preinstalled, may I ask if you really want to do this? The PC maker designed this system to run Windows 11. You may find glitches and hardware incompatibility when you install Windows 10, and those issues can be even more annoying than any problems you have with Windows 11.
If the PC was originally designed to run Windows 10, your chances of successfully installing Windows 10 are much higher. In any case, I recommend making a full backup of your system before proceeding.
The ideal way to perform a clean install is to download a Windows 10 recovery image created specifically for your PC model. To find out if this solution is available for your PC, see this article for instructions: “How to get a free Windows (or Linux) recovery image for your OEM PC.”
If you cannot find a recovery image, you will need to download and install Windows 10 manually. To create bootable installation media, you need a USB flash drive with a capacity of at least 8 GB. Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool will erase and format the drive, so make sure it doesn’t contain any important files. With those warnings, here’s how to proceed.
- Insert the USB stick into your Windows 11 PC and disconnect all other non-essential USB devices; then go to https://aka.ms/downloadwindows10.
- Under the “Create Windows 10 installation media” heading, click Download Tool Now.
- Run the Media Creation Tool Installer and follow the prompts to create bootable Windows 10 installation media using your USB flash drive. Leave the drive connected to your Windows 11 PC.
- Go to Settings > System > Recovery and click Restart now under the Advanced startup heading.
- From the Windows 11 recovery menu, choose Use a device and select your USB drive. When you see the prompt to boot from the USB drive, tap the spacebar to start Windows Setup.
- Follow the prompts to install Windows 10. When you reach the step where you are asked to enter a product key, click on I don’t have a product key and then choose the edition (Home or Pro) you want to use. “downgrade” from.
When the installation is complete, you should boot into Windows 10 and the operating system should be activated automatically. You will need to install the latest updates and you may need to download some drivers from the PC maker website. Once you’ve recovered your data files and reinstalled any apps, you’re good to go.
Is there an easy, fast way to file my tax return before the deadline?
I put it off and now the deadline for filing my income tax return is just a week away. Is there an easy way to file my tax return without paying a fortune? What happens if I file a return after the deadline?
We have good news for you. This year’s federal income tax deadline for most residents of the United States is April 18, 2022, three days later than usual. You can thank the District of Columbia and its Emancipation Day holiday for the extra weekend. (Washington, DC, holidays affect tax deadlines for everyone.) If you live in Maine or Massachusetts, you have until April 19, 2022 to file your tax return due to the Patriots’ Day holiday in those states.
If your return is simple and your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is less than $73,000, you can get help completing and filing your federal return online for free, and you may even qualify for a free state return. The Tax and Customs Administration has a well-arranged page with free online file options where you can track down all your choices. (Spoiler alert: The tax software companies really don’t want you to find this page.)
If your AGI is over the limit or your returns are complex (for example, if you’re self-employed or have rental income or capital gains from selling stocks), you’ll need to pay for professional help or for tax filing software. The good news is that you can automatically get a six-month extension without any questions by applying for an extension right away. You can even do it online, using one of the providers listed on this IRS Free File page.
Note that this extension gives you additional time to prepare your return, but you must still pay taxes due by the April 18 deadline. If you pay too little, you will pay interest and possibly penalties. And don’t wait until October 1 to get started on this as there is no option for another extension.
If you miss the filing deadline and don’t apply for an extension, you’ll be fine as long as you don’t owe taxes. If you owe Uncle Sam money, you’ll pay a late filing penalty for each month you’re late. If you are more than 60 days late, your minimum fine could be $210 or 100% of the tax due, whichever is less. It adds up, so don’t delay!
Can I replace the system drive in my laptop with a bigger one?
When I bought my laptop last year, I thought 128 GB would be enough storage space. It wasn’t, and now I’m running out of disk space and have to struggle every time I save a file. Can I replace the SSD in my laptop with a bigger one?
I wish I had a better answer for you, but you’re probably stuck with the storage you specified when you originally bought the laptop. In general, laptops aren’t designed for expandability, meaning you’ll need expert help and the steady hands of a Swiss watchmaker to open the case. And then you will probably find that the system disk is soldered in place and cannot be swapped out.
There are some exceptions. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 and Surface Pro X, along with the Surface Pro 7 models sold through corporate channels, have a handy little pop-up door that lets you replace the system drive. Some business models from other OEMs have system drives that can be replaced if you’re willing to take the laptop apart to access the drive bay (some models even have a second drive bay so you can expand storage without your existing drive). You should look up the service manual for your laptop to see if that’s an option, but don’t expect high expectations.
So, what’s your alternative, other than replacing an otherwise fine laptop? The easiest quick fix is to move as many data files as possible to the cloud, using on-demand options like those available in OneDrive and Dropbox. If your laptop has an SD or MicroSD slot, you can add a significant amount of storage there; Keep in mind that it will be significantly slower than your SSD. And if you mainly use your laptop at a desk, you can always connect an external SSD, such as the Crucial X6 or Samsung T7. Those drives aren’t terribly expensive, and they’re fast enough to handle just about any task.
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