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. What’s that, you still are? We repeat: Now is the time. Upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10.
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
Note: Before walking through the steps below, consider your options. You can also 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.
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 didn’t actually 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
First, you’ll want to head to Microsoft’s website to download Windows 10 for free. This is accomplished with the
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
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
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. But there are other ways you can get
Upgrade from Windows 7: If you’re still holding onto Windows 7, you really need to upgrade your PC to Windows 10 now. Microsoft once had a free upgrade process to Windows 10, but, unfortunately, it has ended. There are still a few ways that you can upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 — read our guide to see how.
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
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. There are limitations, however. Microsoft will constantly bug you to activate
Buy a third-party key for Windows 10: There are a lot of third parties that sell
- How to download a Windows 10 ISO file legally, and install Windows 10 from it
- How to uninstall Windows 10
- The history of Windows: How the OS has changed over time
- Windows 7 vs. Windows 10
- How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10