When Windows 10 first arrived, getting a free update was as simple as clicking the “Get Windows 10” notification message. However, now things are a bit different. Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7, which means there is no more technical support, security updates, or bug fixes. In other words, Windows 7 now insecure to use, making it a great time to switch to Windows 10.
Unfortunately, the original free update period for the previous two versions officially ended several years ago, and the solution to get Windows 10 for free with Assistive Technologies ended shortly after. Don’t worry though – there are still ways to get the latest operating system from Microsoft without paying for a new license or breaking any rules.
Product keys and digital licenses
It would be better to have a valid product key or digital license to get a free update. What is the difference? When you buy an operating system from Microsoft or any retailer, it comes with a product key to unlock it. It is printed and packaged, emailed to you, or stored in the cloud, which is often the case for system developers.
A digital license connects your installed Windows platform to a key built into pre-built systems from Acer, Dell, HP, etc. For a long time, these manufacturers printed product keys on labels pasted on PC or printed and inserted them into the product packaging. Microsoft product keys generally only work once, but hackers sometimes find solutions to use the same key on multiple PCs.
That led Microsoft and manufacturers to introduce digital licenses in Windows 8 as an anti-piracy measure, so that end users do not install the platform on additional machines. However, Microsoft also changed Windows 7 to this method. This license is locked in your Microsoft account.
If you purchased legitimately and are no longer using these older versions, Microsoft’s Windows 10 activation servers will accept Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 keys on your PC.
However, if you are upgrading from 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 there. Sites like Amazon also keep track of purchased downloads, but they rarely include the product key itself, although it can help narrow down where it might be.
Finally, you can download Windows 10 and do a clean install. It will then extract the valid Windows 8 / 8.1 license key from the motherboard of your pre-built system and proceed. In all other cases, you must provide a genuine and authentic product key during the setup process, or you can do so later by visiting Settings> Update & security> Activation.
If you don’t have a valid Windows 7 license key, you should follow our other guide on how to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10.
Step 1: Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool
Despite officially ending the free upgrade promotion in mid-2016, Microsoft is quietly keeping this option available so that all Windows PC owners can run the latest version. Again, unless you have a valid digital license or product key to get a free update, you will be asked to pay for a new Windows 10 Home product key.
Your first step in purchasing a free Windows 10 update is to visit Microsoft’s Windows 10 download website.
You will see the MediaCreationTool2004.exe download on your PC, which should take no more than two minutes. While you wait, unplug any unnecessary accessories to help reduce the possibility of errors.
Step 2: Launch the Media Creation Tool
With the Media Creation Tool downloaded, open it and accept Microsoft’s terms.
As shown above, you have two options: Upgrade current PC or create media that will upgrade another PC or perform a clean install on current PC. However, in both cases, the tool will temporarily download a Windows 10 disk image, so make sure you have enough space for the file, around 4GB at least.
Then select the Update this PC now option and follow the instructions. The tool will scan your computer for compatibility and may present a list of problematic software or hardware that could stop the update. If necessary, uninstall the programs to address the installer concerns.
With all the issues resolved, the installer will try to transfer as much data as it can. However, keep in mind the huge gap between Windows 7 and Windows 10 in terms of the software you use. If you are leaving Windows 7 after using it for many years, you probably have a lot of data stored in files and applications. We cannot guarantee that all files and applications are compatible with Windows 10, and some may stop working.
It is critical to be aware of this and prepare before upgrading. Back up or convert crucial data before proceeding.
Step 3: finish the installation
As the installer progresses, your PC will restart several times. As part of the process, you will extract your existing digital license from your hardware during setup; you will not need to activate it. If you are prompted for a valid product key, enter it now or do so later by visiting Settings> Update & security> Activation.
Please note that this will not work for Windows XP or Windows Vista as these versions of Windows never qualified for the free Windows 10 upgrade.
You will also receive the same version of Windows that was first shipped with your PC: Home, Pro, Enterprise, or Education. If you prefer to use Windows 10 Pro instead of the Windows 10 Home update, you must purchase a new product key.
Other methods to get Windows 10
The above method is the best way to get Windows 10 for free, at least for now. There are other ways to get Windows 10 if you need it, including free and low-cost options that may be worth exploring.
Upgrade from Windows 7
Buy a copy of Windows 10 from Microsoft. Read our guide on how to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10.
Download Windows 10 without activating
Technically, you can download Windows 10 from Microsoft and not activate it, which means you don’t pay for it. Turns out this is more secure than it sounds because Microsoft is pretty lax when it comes to enforcing activation. Your copy of Windows shouldn’t close, but some limitations kick in after your 30-day evaluation:
- An Activate Windows watermark appears in the lower right corner.
- A “Windows is not activated, activate Windows now” notification appears in the settings.
- Customization features, such as changing wallpaper and accent colors, are disabled.
- Updates may be discontinued in the future.
- Various applications and functions stop working.
- You will receive daily notifications to activate.
- No technical support.
Please note that the use of Windows 10 without activation is not authorized by Microsoft. While this may sound like a big deal, the law violates Microsoft’s license agreement. So far, there are no signs that the company is cracking down on customers with PCs running Windows 10 without activation, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. Right now, Microsoft could easily prevent people from using unactivated copies of their operating system if they wanted to.
Buy a third-party Windows 10 key
Many third parties sell Windows 10 manufacturer keys for deep discounts, so you can get them for just a fraction of the total cost from Microsoft. Looks suspicious, doesn’t it? The trick is to find vendors who sell reliable keys at deep discounts.
PCDestination has them for $ 45. Even Amazon has significant discounts on Windows 10 compared to Microsoft’s direct download. In essence, it is worth shopping around.