Windows 7 and Windows 8 users can get Windows 10 for free, here’s how to upgrade and avoid any pitfalls.
Although Microsoft is letting every Windows 7 and 8 user upgrade to Windows 10 for free, provided they register within one year of Windows 10’s release on 29th July 2015, the upgrade system is, unfortunately, a little bit more complicated than you may have first thought. So, before we take you through how to claim your upgrade, it’s worth going through some of the restrictions first. If you want to perform a fresh installation of Windows 10, you still need to read these instructions, as you have to upgrade your existing computer first. We show you how to do this and how to deal with the new licence key that you’ll get from Microsoft. We’ve also got a more in-depth explanation about what happens after the year-long upgrade period is up: it could be bad new for people that bought a boxed copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.
What happens after one year?
One of the biggest questions we’ve had from readers is, what happens to their copy of Windows 10 after the year-long upgrade offer has expired? More specifically, people are wondering whether they can reinstall the software or transfer it to a new computer. We’ve asked Microsoft the questions and are waiting for a reply, but in the meantime this is what we understand the situation to be.
You got Windows 7 or Windows 8 with a new computer
If your computer shipped with Windows 7 or Windows 8, you have an OEM license that’s tied to the computer and can’t be transferred to a new one (see Upgrade restrictions for more details). Provided that you’ve claimed your free Windows 10 upgrade, after the year-long offer expires you will be able to clean install Windows 10 on your computer. If you restore your computer and it reverts to its original OS, you can upgrade it to Windows 10.
Confirmation from Microsoft: “If a customer has already taken the upgrade, they will be able to clean install back to Windows 10 because their device will have been provisioned with the new store-based licence.”
You bought Windows 7 or Windows 8 yourself
If you paid for Windows 7 or Windows 8 yourself, you’ve most likely got a retail license (see Upgrade restrictions below for more details). This lets you transfer the license from one computer to another, however you can only transfer Windows 10 within the year-long upgrade offer; after this period is up, you’ll have to buy a new copy of Windows 10. To transfer Windows 10 to a new PC, you first have to install your existing copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8 and then follow the upgrade instructions below.
With those points out of the way, here’s how the upgrade offer works for all versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 and the restrictions that are in place. After the full details we’ve got full instructions on how to claim your upgrade and how the Windows 10 license key system works.
The main restriction is that the free upgrade from Window 7 or 8 to Windows 10 is listed as being for the “supported lifetime of the device”. Unfortunately, we don’t know what this means and Microsoft hasn’t currently elaborated, although it has stated that the lifetime will vary by device type, with two to four years being quoted. This may mean that after Microsoft’s defined ‘lifetime’ you may have to pay for upgrades, but we don’t know for sure.
What we do know is that the type of licence you have for your current version of Windows remains after you upgrade to Windows 10. So, if your computer shipped with a copy of Windows, you’ll have an OEM licence, which means that you can’t transfer the operating system to a new computer. This restriction will stay in place when you upgrade to Windows 10. It also means that if your computer has major components changed, such as the motherboard, Windows 10 will need to be reactivated, which will most likely require you to buy a new licence; it has been possible in the past with OEM versions to talk to Microsoft and have the software reactivated for free, provided there’s a good reason for the hardware change, such as a fault requiring the replacement of a component.
If you bought a retail version of Windows 7 or 8 things are different, as this version is transferable to a new computer. This will stay true after you upgrade to Windows 10, so you’ll be able to install the new operating system on a new computer, although you will have to delete it from your existing computer. This is great news for anyone that’s looking to build a new PC for Windows 10, as it means that they can use their existing retail copy of Windows 7 or 8.
Before you can claim your upgrade, you also need to upgrade to the latest version of your current OS. This will be Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1, both of which are available through Windows Update. Finally, you need to check that your computer is capable of running Windows 10 (see Step 2 of our how to upgrade guide.)
Performing a clean install of Windows 10
Once you’ve upgraded a computer to Windows 10, you’ll be able to perform a clean installation of the operating system, as Microsoft has made an ISO of the operating system available for download. You’ll be able to use our how to install a clean version of Windows 10 instructions to turn this ISO into a bootable DVD or USB flash drive. Before you do that, you’ll need to get your brand new Windows 10 license key, which we show you how to get in Step 4 of the walkthrough below.
If you’re not eligible for the upgrade, or you want another copy of Windows 10, you’ll need to buy a copy of the software. Windows 10 will be available as boxed software and should be available to buy as a download, too. These versions of Windows 10 will work like traditional boxed copies of previous versions of Windows, where you’ll be able to install the OS on a computer of your choice, and reinstall it when you build a new model.
If you’re upgrading from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10, the table below shows you the version of Windows 10 that you’ll get. Note that it is possible to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro at a later date, should you want to (see below for more information).
|Current version of Windows||Free upgrade to|
|Windows 7 Starter||Windows 10 Home|
|Windows 7 Home Basic||Windows 10 Home|
|Windows 7 Home Premium||Windows 10 Home|
|Windows 7 Professional||Windows 10 Pro|
|Windows 7 Ultimate||Windows 10 Pro|
|Windows 8||Windows 10 Home|
|Windows 8 Pro||Windows 10 Pro|
|Windows 8.1||Windows 10 Home|
|Windows 8.1 Pro||Windows 10 Pro|
If you can’t get the upgrade and need to buy a copy of Windows 10, you’ll need to buy the retail version, which will be available as boxed software and as a download. You’ll also be able to buy a Windows 10 Pro pack, which will upgrade the Home edition of the operating system to the Pro version.
|Version of Windows 10||Retail price|
|Windows 10 Home||£100|
|Windows 10 Pro||£190|
|Windows 10 Pro Pack||£100|
With the complicated bits out of the way, we can get on with how you claim your free upgrade. As Windows 10 is now available and you can upgrade to the new operating system right now – presuming you’re running a valid version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 (see above), you can also upgrade from a pre-release version of Windows 10. If you booked an upgrade with the Get Windows 10 tool then this will be rolled out shortly, however you can force the upgrade using a manual tool.
These steps can be followed from now up until one year after Windows 10 is officially launched on the 29th July.
Step 1 – Make sure you’re running the latest version of your OS
First, run Windows Update from the Control Panel and make sure that your computer is up to date and running the latest service packs: you need Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 installed in order to upgrade to Windows 10.
Step 2 – Download the upgrade tool
Get the Windows 10 upgrade tool. You can download both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the tool, so make sure to get the one that matches your current operating system. You can find out which you have by simply typing ‘System’ into the Start Screen on Windows 8 and selecting that options, or by clicking the Start button in Windows 7, right-click Computer and select Properties. Download the correct tool and then run it from your browser or the downloads folder.
While you’re waiting for that to download we recommend that you use Belarc Advisor to find out your Windows product key/CD key. This way you’ve got the original key to hand should you ever need it later on. This bit of software gives you all kinds of information about your computer, including your product key. Once installed, launch Belarc Advisor. You can ignore the prompt about Administrator privileges, as they’re not needed. You’ll need to agree to the UAC prompt, and don’t worry about downloading the new Belarc security definitions. Belarc Advisor will now analyze your computer and produce a local web page with the information it finds. Your version of Windows and its product key will appear towards the bottom of the page. You should copy and paste this into Notepad and save it. It’s worth copying this text file to an external location, just in case something goes wrong with the upgrade and you need to reinstall your original Windows.
Step 3 – Install the upgrade
When it comes to installing the upgrade, you’ve got two options. The first option the easiest, as it lets Microsoft do everything for you; the second option isn’t quite as straightforward, but it gives you a bit more flexibility and gives you the installation media that you need.
Method 1 – Use the upgrade tool
The upgrade tool will ask you if you want to upgrade this PC or create an installation ISO for another PC. Choose the option to ‘Upgrade this PC now’ and the tool will start downloading Windows 10. This may take some time as demand is high for the new operating system. Once you’ve finished downloading the operating system simply follow the instructions to upgrade.
Method 2 – Create the installation media
The second option is to use the Microsoft upgrade tool to create the installation media. It’s straight forward to do so using the wizard, but our how to clean install Windows 10 guide has full instructions if you’d rather follow those. Once you’ve created the installation media on a USB drive, you can either run Setup straight from Explorer and upgrade your computer, or reboot from the USB drive and perform an installation from the regular Windows 10 installer. The benefit of this method is that you’ve then got the installation media, which you can use to upgrade other computers or to perform a clean installation with later.
Please note, if you create the USB drive directly from the upgrade tool (you don’t download the ISO file), you can only use the USB drive to upgrade PCs that are running the same version of Windows 7 or Windows 8. If you download the ISO file and create the installation media from that, you have the files to upgrade to Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. The only restriction is that your installation media is set for 32-bit or 64-bit Windows only.
Step 4 – Get your new license key
After your computer has upgraded to Windows 10 it will connect to Microsoft’s activation server and will upgrade your existing license to a Windows 10 version. For this to happen your computer needs to be connected to the internet. Activation happens quickly in the background without you having to do anything, although some people have reported that their computers have been unable to connect to the Microsoft server, which is most likely due to the high number of requests, as Windows 10 is still very new. To check if your computer has been activated click on the Start Menu, click Settings and choose Update & Security, Activation. If your computer is activated, it will clearly say so (see screenshot below).
If your computer has not been activated, then you can force it to do so. Get up a command prompt from the Start Menu and type,
/ato. This will force your computer to activate its new license with Microsoft. If the process fails, give it a few tries. At this point, you’re ready to perform a clean installation of Windows 10, although you may want to grab the new Windows 10 license key using Belarc Advisor – in the current version of Belarc (8.4), it is listed under ‘Windows 8.1’.
The key that you get from Belarc is a generic installation key. You can use this when the Windows installation asks you for your licence key, which saves the installation process from repeatedly bothering you about entering it. The reason that you get a generic key from the Registry is because of the way Windows 10 handles activation. Effectively, it takes a digital fingerprint of your computer and sends that and your existing licence to Microsoft. When you perform a clean install, the same fingerprint is sent to Microsoft and it checks to see if your computer has been activated for Windows 10; if it has, your computer is activated. This means that the licence key you get from the Registry is not as important as it used to be.