Can you upgrade an old Dell to Windows 10 if some of the drivers are incompatible? Getty Images

Can you upgrade an old Dell to Windows 10 if some of the drivers are incompatible?

Q. I recently tried to upgrade a five-year-old Dell PC to Windows 10. I ran the install but canceled it when the upgrading process reported, 'Broadcom virtual wireless adapter is not compatible.' What can I do to correct that issue? 

​A. Based on the level of traffic appearing on various message boards, it appears that many Win10 upgraders are getting this error message. Apparently, some system vendors have been slow to provide the latest, Win10-compatible Broadcom drivers.

The vagueness of the error message doesn’t help. For most PCs, a “wireless adapter” could refer to either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

It might even refer to both: On some systems, a single Broadcom chipset can provide combined Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services. Software — a “virtual transport driver” — makes the chipset appear to the operating system as separate devices. This could explain why the error message referred to a software-based “virtual” adapter.

Although there might be no way to know exactly what the problem is, there’s almost surely a way to get the target system upgraded to Win10.

1. Start with the obvious: Visit the Dell site and download/install the latest Win10-specific Broadcom drivers for the PC model being upgraded. If Broadcom drivers aren’t specifically listed, install the latest Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, and chipset/mainboard/system drivers.

2. Next, make a full system backup.

3. When that’s done, run the Win10 upgrade. Even if the Broadcom drivers aren’t ideal, the upgrade will likely run to completion — having communication drivers that aren’t fully Win10 compatible should not be a show-stopper.

Once Win10 is running, you might find that both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work acceptably, as they are.

This is analogous to installing, say, a new printer, without the official, vendor-provided compatible drivers. Windows’ generic drivers usually enable the printer’s basic functions — you can print just fine, but nonessential extras such as status notifications (low paper, low ink, and so on) on your desktop screen are missing. (The printer’s built-in display or status indicators still work normally, of course.)

So too might basic Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functions work fine after the upgrade but perhaps without whatever extras the vendor built in. Bottom line: Try the upgrade and see whether Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are functional — despite any warnings.

If they fail, there are two more options you can try:

  • It’s a long shot, but locate the Broadcom DLLs; they’re usually somewhere in the Windows folders (for example, C:\Windows\System32\drivers and C:\Windows\SysWOW64).

    Right-click the DLLs Can you uand set them to operate in a compatibility mode for an earlier version of Windows. (More on that here.)

  • As a last-ditch effort, try downloading the latest Broadcom Wi-Fi and Bluetooth drivers from any available source — including other vendors. OEMs rarely make significant changes to Broadcom drivers, so it’s entirely possible that drivers from one vendor will work on systems from another.

    You might, for example, try Lenovo’s latest Broadcom Bluetooth drivers, available on the vendor’s downloadsite. If the replacement OEM drivers don’t solve the problem (or it gets worse) just uninstall them.

If nothing works, it’s time for a chat with the PC’s owner to see whether the Broadcom problems will truly affect the use of the system. For example, the subject PC is five years old; it predates the common use of Bluetooth on PCs. If the owner isn’t using Bluetooth on the system, trying to fix the problem isn’t worth the time and effort.

Likewise, if the PC connects to the Net solely via hard-wired Ethernet, then Wi-Fi is irrelevant.

In short: Don’t get hung up worrying about hardware subsystems that are never used or needed — especially on a machine that’s nearing the end of its service life! And if Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth are needed, you might look for add-on adapters that do come with Win10 support.

That said, with just a little luck, you won’t have to go that far. The odds are good that the Win10 upgrade will go fine, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will function afterwards. Give it a try!

(Originally published on Windows Secrets on Thursday, November 26, 2015.)


Editor's note: We feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter,. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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