When Windows 10 2015 first became available, a free upgrade was as easy as clicking the Get Windows 10 notification prompt. Things are a little different now.
Windows 7 support officially ended on January 14, 2020. This means that technical support, security updates, and bug squashing are no longer required. In other words, Windows 7 is no longer safe to use, which makes it an excellent time to switch to Windows 10. Windows 8 will suffer the same fate in a few years.
Unfortunately, the original free upgrade period of these two older versions officially ended in mid-2016. The workaround to get Windows 10 for free with Assistive Technologies ended in December 2017. However, you don't have to worry because there are still ways to get Windows Get 10 for free without paying for a new license or breaking any rules.
Product keys and digital licenses
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You need a valid product key or digital license to receive the free upgrade. What is the difference? A product key is included when you purchase an operating system from Microsoft or a retailer. It is either printed and included in the package, emailed to you, or stored in the cloud. This is usually the case with system builders.
A digital license binds a pre-installed Windows platform to a key that is embedded in pre-built systems from Acer, Dell, HP, etc. For a long time, these OEMs printed product keys on labels stuck on PCs, or printed them out and put them in the product packaging. Microsoft's product keys typically only work once, but hackers have found workarounds so the same key can be used on multiple PCs.
This prompted Microsoft and OEMs to introduce digital licenses in Windows 8 as a measure against piracy so that end users would not install the platform on additional computers. Microsoft has also switched to Windows 7 using this method. This "license" is linked to your Microsoft account.
If you purchased these older versions properly and are no longer using them, the Windows 10 activation servers will accept Microsoft Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 keys on your PC.
However, if you're upgrading Windows 7 and can't find the key, you can try logging into your Microsoft account and checking previous downloads to see if your product key is stored there. Websites like Amazon also keep records of purchased downloads, but typically don't include the product key itself, although this can help narrow down where it might be.
Finally, you can download Windows 10 and do a clean install. The valid Windows 8 / 8.1 license key is then retrieved from the motherboard of your pre-made system and continued. In all other cases, you must provide a valid original key during the setup process or later under Settings> Update & Security> Activation.
If you don't have a valid Windows 7 license key, you'll need to follow our other guide on upgrading Windows 7 to Windows 10.
Step 1: Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool
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Although Microsoft “officially” ends the free update campaign in mid-2016, Microsoft tacitly maintains this option so that all Windows PC owners run the latest version. Again, you must have a valid digital license or product key to get a free upgrade. Otherwise, you'll have to pay at least $ 105 for a new Windows 10 Home product key.
The first step to getting a free Windows 10 upgrade is to visit the Microsoft Download 10 website. Scroll down to the Create Windows 10 installation media section and click the blue Download Now button. Downloading MediaCreationTool2004.exe to your PC will take no longer than two minutes.
Unplug unnecessary accessories while waiting to reduce the risk of errors.
Step 2: Start the Media Creation Tool
Open the downloaded Media Creation Tool and accept the terms from Microsoft.
As shown above, you have two options: Update the current PC or create media to update another PC, or perform a new installation on the current PC. In both cases, however, the tool temporarily downloads an image from Windows 10. Therefore, make sure that there is enough space for the file, at least 4 GB.
Next, select the Update this PC now option and follow the instructions. The tool scans your computer to determine if it is compatible and may display a list of problematic programs or hardware that could stall the upgrade. If necessary, uninstall programs to address the concerns of the installer.
When all problems are resolved, the installer tries to port all the data it can. However, keep in mind the huge gap between Windows 7 and Windows 10 in terms of the software you use. If you stop using Windows 7 after many years, a lot of data is likely stored in files and apps. It is not guaranteed that all of these files and apps are compatible with Windows 10. Some of them may just not work anymore.
It is important to be aware of this and be prepared before upgrading. Back up or convert important data before proceeding.
Step 3: finish the installation
Your PC will restart a few times during the installation program. As part of the process, your existing digital license will be retrieved from your hardware during setup – you don't need to activate it. If you are asked to enter a valid product key, enter it now or later via Settings> Update & Security> Activation.
However, please note that this will not work on Windows XP or Windows Vista as these versions of Windows have never qualified for the free Windows 10 upgrade.
You also get the same version of Windows that originally came with your PC – Home, Pro, Enterprise, or Education. If you'd rather use Windows 10 Pro instead of Windows 10 Home Update, you'll need to purchase a new product key.
Other methods of getting Windows 10
Arif Bacchus / Digital Trends
The method described above is the best way to get Windows 10 for free – at least for now. But there are other ways to get Windows 10 when you really need it, including free and inexpensive options that may be worth exploring.
Upgrade from Windows 7
Buy a copy of Windows 10 from Microsoft. Read our guide to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10.
Download Windows 10 without activating it
Technically, you can download Windows 10 from Microsoft and just don't activate it, which means you don't pay for it. It turns out to be safer than it sounds since Microsoft is fairly casual in enforcing activation. Your copy of Windows should not be shut down, but there are limitations that occur after your 30-day "evaluation". Here you are:
- A "Activate Windows" watermark is displayed in the lower right corner.
- In the settings, the notification "Windows is not activated, activate Windows now" is displayed.
- Personalization features such as changing the background image and accent colors are disabled.
- Updates may be discontinued in the future.
- Various apps and functions no longer work.
- You will receive activation notifications daily.
- No technical support.
Note that the non-enabled use of Windows 10 is not approved by Microsoft. This may look like a lot, but the law violates Microsoft's license agreement. So far there are no signs that the company is legally taking action against customers with non-activated PCs, but that does not mean that this will no longer be the case in the future. Currently Microsoft could easily prevent users from using non-activated copies, but it does not.
Buy a third-party Windows 10 key
There are many third-party vendors that sell Windows 10 OEM keys for massive discounts, so you can only get them for a fraction of the total Microsoft cost. That seems suspicious, doesn't it? The trick is to find suppliers who actually sell trusted keys for big discounts.
PCDestination has it for $ 45. Even Amazon has significant Windows 10 discounts compared to downloading it directly from Microsoft. In other words, it is worth looking around.