Note: This article was initially published in January 2017 and has been regularly updated to provide the most current information. The latest update was on August 7, 2023.
Microsoft officially ended its free upgrade offer for Windows 10 almost seven years ago, but it seems that the Windows activation servers weren’t notified. As a result, you can still upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 and obtain a free digital license for the latest version, without any hassle.
This upgrade has become even more critical since support for older Windows versions ended in January 2023. During the past few years, many people have resurrected their old PCs and quickly caught up, thanks to these free upgrades. This was especially valuable during the pandemic, when working from home or attending remote classes became the norm.
If you’re using Windows 10 Home, you can also upgrade to Windows 10 Pro by using a product key from a previous business edition of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 (Pro/Ultimate). This upgrade can save you up to $100 in OEM charges if you purchase a new PC with Windows 10 Home preinstalled.
It’s important to note that the techniques discussed in this article also apply to Windows 11, although older PCs might not meet the stringent hardware compatibility requirements of the new operating system. In such cases, Windows 10 remains a viable option until at least October 2025.
Now, let’s dive into the basics of how to upgrade your old PC to Windows 10 and address any licensing concerns that may arise.
How to Upgrade an Old PC 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 these steps to upgrade to Windows 10:
- Confirm that your copy of Windows is activated, especially if you recently reinstalled the original version in preparation for the upgrade.
- Check for any driver updates, particularly for network and storage hardware.
- Download and install any available BIOS updates for your hardware, especially if it was designed in 2017 or earlier.
- Back up your data files to an external hard drive or cloud storage. Consider creating a full system backup using the Windows 7 backup program or a similar tool.
- Temporarily uninstall any third-party security software or low-level system utilities that could interfere with the upgrade.
- Disconnect unnecessary external devices, such as USB flash drives and external hard drives.
Once you’ve completed these preliminary tasks, go to the Download Windows 10 webpage and click on the “Download now” button. After the download finishes, run the Media Creation Tool by double-clicking on the executable file.
If you’re upgrading only one PC and have downloaded the Media Creation Tool on that machine, select the “Upgrade This PC Now” option. This will install the latest version of Windows 10. The process generally takes about an hour, although having an SSD as your system drive can speed it up.
If you plan to upgrade multiple PCs or want more flexibility in case the instant upgrade fails, choose the second option. This will save the installation files to a USB drive or as an ISO file. After the download completes, you can manually run the Windows Setup program to install Windows 10 on any PC running a supported Windows version (except for Windows Vista or Windows XP).
To proceed with the installation, follow these steps based on your chosen download option:
- USB flash drive: Insert the USB drive into the target PC and double-click on Setup in File Explorer (Windows Explorer in Windows 7).
- ISO file: Mount the ISO file and open it using Windows Explorer/File Explorer. On Windows 8.1 or Windows 10, simply double-click on the ISO file. For Windows 7, use a third-party utility like WinCDEmu to open the ISO file.
Continue with the prompts to complete the upgrade to Windows 10. You won’t be asked for a product key, and after connecting to the internet, you’ll have a valid digital license for the latest Windows 10 version. You can verify this by going to Settings > Update & Security > Activation. Your apps and data files will remain accessible.
The digital license is tied to the specific device, so you can reformat the disk and perform a clean installation of the same edition of Windows 10 at any time. If you plan to upgrade your old system drive to an SSD, follow these steps: upgrade to Windows 10 on the old hardware, confirm proper activation, install the SSD, and then restore from a backup image or perform a clean install using a USB flash drive. No product key is required, and activation is automatic.
Validity of Your License
The “free upgrade” offer always came with ambiguous language, and the specifics surrounding its conclusion weren’t crystal clear either. However, the activation screens for a Windows 10 upgrade explicitly mention a “digital license,” unlike the old “Genuine Windows” label found in previous upgrades.
Although the initial free upgrade offer was extended briefly for users of assistive technologies and ended in January 2018, the code on Microsoft’s activation servers is still providing digital licenses after upgrades from previous Windows versions. While I can’t offer legal advice, I personally have confidence in the activation status of PCs upgraded using the officially available tools during the eligible period.
As we look towards the future, the question remains: What will happen when Windows 10 reaches its end of support deadline in 2025? Only time will tell.
If you try this upgrade technique on your PC, I’d love to hear about your experience. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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