Windows 7 is dead, but you don’t have to pay to upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft has quietly continued the free upgrade offer for the last few years. You can still upgrade any PC with a genuine Windows 7 or Windows 8 license to Windows 10.
How the Free Upgrade Works
Assuming you’re using a Windows PC with a genuine and activated Windows 7 (or Windows 8) key, you can upgrade to Windows 10 in just a few clicks. Your PC will get a genuine, activated Windows 10 key—just like it worked during Windows 10’s first year when the free upgrade offer was officially being advertised.
You can also upgrade a PC by doing a fresh install of Windows 10, even if it doesn’t have any operating system installed. You just have to provide a valid Windows 7 (or Windows 8) key.
There’s no guarantee this will work forever, but it still worked on January 14, 2020. Microsoft may one day pull the plug and cut off new upgrades. But, for now, you can still upgrade. And, after you do upgrade, your PC gets a valid Windows 10 key that will keep working—even if Microsoft stops allowing new upgrades in the future.
Update: Note that we can’t speak to the business licensing side of things here. If you have Windows 7 PCs in your business, Microsoft may not consider you compliant with the terms of its licensing agreement after using this method to upgrade your business PCs. We wouldn’t worry about it for home PCs, but organizations should likely contact their Microsoft licensing partner for more details.
Back Up Before Upgrading
Before you get started, we recommend you back up your files. The upgrade process shouldn’t erase your files unless you choose to erase them, but it’s always a good idea to have a current backup—especially when you’re performing a major operating system upgrade.
We also encourage you to find your Windows 7 (or Windows 8) key, just in case you need it. This key may be printed on a sticker on your PC’s case or on your laptop. If you installed Windows 7 or Windows 8 yourself, you’ll want to find the license key you purchased.
If your PC doesn’t have a sticker, you can always use a tool like NirSoft’s ProduKey to find the license key currently in use on your PC.
How to Upgrade to Windows 10 for Free
To get your free upgrade, head to Microsoft’s Download Windows 10 website. Click the “Download tool now” button and download the .exe file. Run it, click through the tool, and select “Upgrade this PC now” when prompted.
Yes, it’s that simple. We’re not doing anything sneaky here—Microsoft is choosing to let people upgrade via the tool.
If you prefer a clean install, you can select “Create installation media” and then provide a valid Windows 7 or 8 key while installing Windows 10.
After the Upgrade
During the upgrade process, you can choose whether you want to keep all the files on your system or start fresh.
Once it’s installed, you can head to the Settings > Update & Security > Activation screen. You’ll see that your system is “activated with a digital license.”
If you sign in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account, that license will be linked to your Microsoft account, making it even easier to reactivate Windows 10 on your PC if you ever need to install it.
And yes, you should be able to perform a clean install of Windows 10 in the future. Windows 10 activation will then “phone home,” notice that your hardware configuration has a valid license on file, and automatically activate itself.
If you have a Windows 7 system, it really is a good idea to upgrade. If you don’t want to use Windows 10, consider installing Linux, getting a Chromebook, or switching to Mac. You don’t have to use Windows 10, but we think you should move on from Windows 7.
READ NEXTChris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor in Chief of How-To Geek. He’s written about technology for nearly a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami’s NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than 500 million times—and that’s just here at How-To Geek.
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