When Windows 10 was first released in 2015, a free upgrade was as simple as clicking on the “Get Windows 10” notification prompt. Things are a bit different now.
Windows 7 support has officially ended as of January 14, 2020, which means no more technical support and no more updates for software or security — in other words, using Windows 7 will soon become entirely unviable, making this an excellent time to switch to Windows 10 (Windows 8 will encounter the same fate in a few years). Trust us, you don’t want to keep using Windows 7.
However, the original free upgrade period from these older versions of Windows “officially” ended in mid-2016, and a “workaround” to get Windows 10 for free with Assistive Technologies ended in December 2017. No need to worry, though! There are still some ways that you can get the latest and greatest version of Windows 10 for free without having to pay for a license or break any rules.
Step 1: Download the Windows 10 Media Creation tool
While Microsoft’s date for ending the free upgrade to Windows 10 officially ended in mid-2016…it actually didn’t stop working. As of late 2019, this free upgrade method still works if you know where to go, so it’s by far the best option for those with the right computers. If you’re still running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 (most versions), you need to begin by downloading the Windows 10 installer. Going this route will mean you won’t need to pay $139 for an upgrade key, and also keep all your data possible.
First, you’ll want to head to Microsoft’s website to download Windows 10 for free. This is accomplished with the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. You can download the tool by clicking the blue Download Tool Now button on the webpage. It shouldn’t take longer than 2 minutes. While you are waiting, disconnect any unnecessary accessories to help reduce the chance of errors.
Step 2: Launch the installer
Once downloaded, you will want to launch the installer. You must then accept the terms and choose to Upgrade this PC now. Then, follow through the prompts. Windows 10 will download to your PC, and check if it is compatible. You might then be presented with a list of problematic programs or hardware that could be holding back upgrades. It’s up to you to uninstall these programs to address these concerns.
However, there’s a lot of software time, relatively speaking, between an OS like Windows 7 and Windows 10. If you’re ditching Windows 7 after using it for many years, you probably have a lot of data stored up in files and apps. Not all of these files and apps are guaranteed to be compatible with Windows 10: Some of them may simply not work anymore. It’s important to be aware of this and to back up or convert any important data before you continue. The installer will try to port over all the data it can, but it’s a good idea to be prepared.
Step 3: Finish installation
As the installer progresses, your Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 PC will restart a few times. As part of the process, it will pull your existing product key from your hardware during the setup. If your version of Windows is legally activated, it won’t ask for an activation key. Keep in mind, though, this won’t work for Windows XP or Windows Vista, as these versions of Windows never qualified for the free Windows 10 upgrade.
You’ll also receive the same flavor of Windows that originally shipped with your PC — Windows 10 Home, Pro, Enterprise, or Education. You can’t switch between them with this method, you’ll need to buy Windows all over again to move to a different version.
What about reusing an older product key?
As mentioned, the Windows 10 installer approach will usually search for your Windows 7 or 8.1 license as it upgrades to Windows 10. If it can’t find the proper authentication on the computer, you will need to enter your product key information directly. As an alternative before pursue this option, we have a separate guide on how you can download and clean-install Windows 10. Once such a clean, unactivated installation is made, you can search for Activation from the Windows menu and enter your 7/8.1 key to activate Windows 10 at any time.
Microsoft’s product keys typically only work once. Unless covered under volume licensing agreements, it is against Microsoft’s terms to use the same product key on multiple PCs. However, if you’ve properly purchased and are no longer using these older versions of Windows, Microsoft’s Windows 10 activation servers will accept Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 keys on your PC.
Usually, your Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 product key could be found on a sticker on your PC or laptop, or in the documentation that came with your PC. If you’ve previously purchased Windows from Microsoft or a retailer, it could be found in a box or in an email. With Windows 8,1, product keys can also be tied to your specific hardware or your Microsoft Account. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7, your product key may be pretty old by now, and keeping the documentation is even more important. If you can’t find the key, you can try signing on to your Microsoft account and checking past downloads to see if your product key is held there. Sites like Amazon also keep a record of purchased downloads, but these don’t usually include the product key itself (although it may be helpful in narrowing down where it could be).
Other methods for getting Windows 10
The above method is the best way to get Windows 10 for free, at least for now. However, there are other ways you can get Windows 10 if you really need it, including free and low-cost options that may be worth exploring.
Free school version: Microsoft offers a student discount for Windows 10. In fact, eligible students can usually get the download for free, and teachers who work for a qualifying school can download Windows 10 Education for a small fee. Check to see if your school qualifies and learn how to download on Microsoft’s education portal. If you recently graduated but still want Windows 10, see if you can sign in with your alumni or old school email. In some cases, you can still qualify as long as you can log in.
Download Windows 10 without activating it: Technically, you can download Windows 10 from Microsoft (not the app store version) and simply not activate it, which means you don’t actually pay for it. It turns out this is safer than it sounds because Microsoft is pretty lax about enforcing activation. Your copy of Windows shouldn’t be shut down, and you should still have access to your apps, etc. However, there are limitations. Microsoft will constantly bug you to activate Windows 10 every time you log in and show a big activation sign on your desktop. You won’t be able to do any personalization, color changes, or other types of modification to Windows until you activate, either. There’s also no chance of technical support. However, it’s a pretty great deal for getting a lot of Windows 10 functionality for free…although there’s no guarantee Microsoft won’t change this in the future.
Buy a third-party key for Windows 10: There are a lot of third parties that sell Windows 10 OEM keys for massive discounts so you can get them for only a fraction of the full Microsoft cost. This seems suspicious, doesn’t it? The trick is finding vendors that actually sell trustworthy keys for big discounts – sort of like the Costcos of operating systems. Kinguin sells Windows 10 keys for around $20. PCDestination has them for $45. Even Amazon has significant Windows 10 discounts compared to downloading directly from Microsoft. In other words, it’s worth it to shop around.
- How to download a Windows 10 ISO file legally, and install Windows 10 from it
- Windows 7 vs. Windows 10: Which is better?
- How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10
- On the day of its death, Windows 7 is the second-most popular operating system
- A fond farewell to Windows 7, the last time the Start menu was useful