Let's explore branches. Understanding Windows 10 branches is critical to efficiently managing Windows 10 updates. Branches are the new mechanism that provide a large set of new features and fixes to Windows 10. It would be unjust to simply say that Windows 10 branch upgrades are like service packs, but this is the closest comparison.

In reality, branch upgrades are somewhat between a service pack and operating system upgrade. They are similar to a service pack in that they are a combination of new features and fixes, but they differ in frequency, size, and upgrade impact to the end user.

Branches vs. service packs

To better understand how Windows 10 branches compare to older versions of Windows service packs, let’s look at a few key attributes:

Windows 10 Branches Older Windows Service Packs
Release Frequency Varies by branch type Every Few Years
Size Incremental to 4 GB* ½ to 1 GB
Upgrade Impact on User High Medium

*Depends on branch type

Branch types

Unlike service packs, there are multiple type of branches. Here is a summary of branch types and key attributes:

Branch Release Frequency Minimum Support Length
Insider Preview Continuously NA
Current Branch (CB) 2-3 times a year 4 months
Current Branch for Business (CBB) ~4 months after CB 8 months
Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) 2-3 years 10 years

I will dive into details on different branches in subsequent articles as the decision as to what branch to use is a complex one.

Size matters

If you thought service packs were big, get ready for branch upgrades. In reality, these are a complete install of the operation system from which you could create an initial image. These beasts are going to have a much bigger impact on your network and local storage than services packs of yesteryear. See the following table to understand Windows 10’s 1511 branch upgrades in comparison to older Windows’ service packs.

Windows Update Size x86 (MB) Size x64 (MB)
Windows Vista Service Pack 2 475 745
Window 7 Service Pack 1 542 912
Windows 10 1511 ISO 3,400 4,116

In a future article, I will discuss strategies to handling the size challenge of branch upgrades.

Key takeaways

As with the previous article, here are a few key takeaways to remember and share with your peers and boss:

  • Windows 10 branches are the new service pack, although much different.
  • Differences include being bigger, released more frequently, and having a higher impact for upgrading.
  • There are four branches to choose from: Insider Preview, Current Branch, Current Branch for business, and long-term servicing branch.

Steps to Windows 10 migration success