When Windows 10 was first released in 2015, a free upgrade was as simple as clicking on the “Get Windows 10” notification prompt.
Support for Windows 7 ends in January of 2020, followed by the end of support of Windows 8.1 in January of 2023. Unfortunately, the 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 of 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 from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.
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 then 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 might be holding back upgrades. It’s up to you to uninstall these programs to address these concerns.
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.
Though that’s the easiest method to get Windows 10 for free, there are a few others that you should consider as well.
Other methods for getting Windows 10
The above method is the best way to get Windows 10 for free, at least for now–things could change as support ends for Windows 7 and 8.. 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 key 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.
What about reusing an older product key?
If you’ve abandoned Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, and have decided to install to Windows 10, you can use your old product key to clean-install and activate Windows 10 on your PC. As a prerequisite before heading down this option, we have a separate guide on how you can download and clean-install Windows 10. But first, heed a warning.
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.
This loophole allows you to avoid paying up to $ 200 for a new Windows 10 license. It could be patched by Microsoft at any time. Be warned that you will be violating licensing agreements, and you will be proceeding here at your own risk.
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. This means that if you are clean-installing Windows 10 on a PC that runs Windows 8.1, the installer will pick up on it. You might not need to enter the key at all to activate.
Once you’ve clean installed Windows, you can now activate it, if it wasn’t done automatically during setup. You can do this by heading to the Start menu and searching for Activation. You can then choose the Activation Settings option in the list of results. That will then take you to a settings page, where you can choose the Change Product Key option, and input or use your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 key for activation.