Microsoft’s much-hyped free upgrade offer for Windows 10 ended in four years ago, right? Not exactly. As 2020, you can still use Microsoft’s free upgrade tools to install Windows 10 on an old PC running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. No product key is required, and the digital license says you’re activated and ready to go.
How to upgrade to windows 10
If you have a PC running a “genuine” copy of Windows 7/8/8.1 (Windows 7 Home, Pro, or Ultimate edition, or Windows 8.x Home or Business, properly licensed and activated), you can follow the same steps I did to install Windows 10 as an upgrade.
Before getting started, I recommend a few preliminary tasks that can head off potential problems:
- Check for any recent driver updates, especially for network and storage hardware.
- Download and install any available BIOS updates for your hardware; this step is especially important for systems that were originally sold in 2015 or earlier, before the release of Windows 10.
- Back up your data files to an external hard drive or cloud storage (or both).
- Temporarily uninstall third-party security software and low-level system utilities that can interfere with the upgrade. You can reinstall those programs after the upgrade is complete.
- Finally, disconnect any unnecessary external devices, especially USB flash drives and external hard drives.
RIP Windows 7. If you haven’t upgraded yet to Windows 10, follow these simple steps. If you’ve downloaded the Media Creation Tool on the machine you plan to upgrade, and you plan to upgrade one and only one PC, you can choose the Upgrade This PC Now option. That option installs the most recent version of Windows 10. It typically takes an hour, more or less, depending on your hardware. (Having an SSD as your system drive is the best way to speed up the process.)
Here’s how to get Windows 10 for free, if you’re currently running a licensed and activated copy of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Home or Pro:
- Go to the Download Windows 10 from official website of Microsoft.
- Under Create Windows 10 installation media, click Download tool now and Run.
- Choose Upgrade this PC now, assuming this is the only PC you’re upgrading. (If you’re upgrading a different machine, choose Create installation media for another PC, and save the installation files.)
- Follow the prompts.
- When the upgrade is complete, go to Settings Update & Security > Activation, and you should see a digital license for Windows 10.
If you know you’ll want to upgrade to Windows 10 on more than one PC, or if you just want more flexibility in the event that the instant upgrade fails, choose the second option and save the installation files to a USB drive or as an ISO file. The download takes a little time but when it’s complete, you can run the Windows Setup program manually to install Windows 10 on any PC running any supported Windows 10 version. The exact steps depend on which download option you chose:
- USB flash drive Insert the USB flash drive you just created into a free USB slot on the PC you want to upgrade. Then open File Explorer (Windows Explorer in Windows 7) and double-click Setup to install Windows 10. Note that you cannot boot from the newly created USB drive or DVD to perform an upgrade to Windows 10. You must run the Windows 10 setup program from your currently installed and activated copy of Windows.
- ISO file After the download is complete, you’ll need to mount the ISO file and open it in a Windows Explorer/File Explorer window. On a PC running Windows 8.1 or Windows 10, you can double-click the ISO file to open it as a virtual drive. On a PC running Windows 7, you’ll need to install a third-party utility such as the free, open-source WinCDEmu. After mounting the ISO file, double-click Setup to start the install process.
Then just follow the prompts to complete the upgrade to Windows 10. You will not be asked for a product key, and when the upgrade is complete and you’ve connected to the Internet, you’ll have a digital license to the most recent Windows 10 version, which you can confirm by going to Settings > Update and Security > Activation. All your apps and data files will be available.
It should be noted that if you have a Windows 7 or 8 Home license, you can only update to Windows 10 Home, while Windows 7 or 8 Pro can only be updated to Windows 10 Pro. (The upgrade is not available for Windows Enterprise. Other users may experience blocks as well, depending on your machine.) This upgrade using the media creation tool isn’t meant for the general consumer, but it works for many nonetheless.