How to get Windows 10 for free

Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

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

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Although Microsoft has officially ended the free upgrades to Windows 10, you can technically still install the operating system for free. If you’re still running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you just need to download the Windows 10 installer. Going this route will mean you won’t need to pay $200 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.

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.

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

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The above method is the best way to get Windows 10 for free. However, there are other ways you can get Windows 10 as well. For example, if your school or employer is eligible or already uses Microsoft 365, you should be able to install Windows 10 for free.

You can always pay full price and obtain a Windows 10 license from the Microsoft Store. As an alternative, you can buy Windows 10 from Amazon. Or, you can simply download Windows 10 and run it without activating. Your computer will shut down after 30 days, and you’ll be locked out of certain customization and other features, but the operating system will continue to work. Of course, we recommend using a fully activated version of Windows, as this is the safest way to go.

Once set up with either of these methods, your device will tie the new Windows 10 license as a “digital license” or entitlement. This is attached to your Microsoft account our your device when you sign in. Again, these specific methods will only work if you’re doing an in-place or clean install upgrades to Windows 10. If you use the Windows 10 Installer tool to create an ISO or installation media, and then clean-install Windows 10 on another PC with Vista or Windows XP activation might fail.

What about reusing an older product key?

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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 which 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.