How to Get Windows 11 or Windows 10 for Free (or Less Than $20)

You’ve put together an impressive PC build, but without an operating system, it won’t get far. While Linux is an option, most individuals prefer Windows because it supports their favorite software, including the latest games. However, installing Windows 11 or 10 on a newly-built computer can be expensive if you follow Microsoft’s guidelines. The software giant charges a staggering $139 for a Windows 10 or 11 Home license and $199 for Windows 10 or 11 Pro. With a $500 budget for PC parts, this would add a hefty 28 percent Windows tax to your build.

This Windows tax places an undue burden on PC builders, as large OEMs like Dell and Lenovo pay significantly lower licensing fees for Windows on their prebuilt systems (though these costs are not publicly disclosed). Thankfully, there are several ways to obtain Windows 10 or 11 for free or at a minimal cost of around $20, depending on the Windows version, your existing setup, and any caveats you’re willing to accept.

How to Download Windows 10 or 11 For Free

Regardless of whether you choose to pay or not, you can download Windows 10 or Windows 11 for free from It’s crucial to download Windows only from Microsoft, as obtaining it from other sources or P2P networks could expose you to malware. Microsoft provides a free media creation tool that fetches the latest code from the Internet, allowing you to create a USB flash drive or an ISO file for Windows 10 or 11 that you can write to a drive.

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Afterward, you can boot from your installation media and begin the installation process. During this process, Microsoft will prompt you to enter a Windows 10 or 11 product key. If you don’t have a key, you can bypass this step by selecting “I don’t have a product key.” However, using an unactivated copy of Windows comes with certain limitations, which we’ll discuss below.

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In the following sections, we’ll explore different methods to save money on Windows and compare them. If you require a product key but don’t have one from a previous build or copy, you’ll want to pay attention to method 5, which involves using a low-cost key marketplace.

1. Upgrade from a Prior Windows Version: Free

Suppose you already have a previous version of Windows installed on your computer, and you simply want to upgrade to a newer version on the same hardware. In that case, you can likely perform the upgrade for free (please note that this method doesn’t apply to building a new PC). Windows 7 and 8 can be upgraded to 10, and Windows 10 can be upgraded to 11 if your computer meets Windows 11’s strict system requirements, including TPM 2.0 support, at least 4GB of RAM, and a minimum of 64GB of storage space (although bypassing Windows 11’s TPM and RAM requirements is not recommended).

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If you’re still using Windows 7 or 8, you can upgrade to Windows 10 at no cost. Whether you’re transitioning from 7/8 to 10 or from 10 to 11, you can upgrade either by using an installation disk created with the media creation tool or through Windows update.

2. Use an Unused Windows 7, 8, or 10 Key From Another PC: Free

If you possess an old retail (non-OEM) copy of Windows 7, 8, or 10 that you no longer use on another PC, you can likely reuse the product key when installing Windows on your new PC. However, it’s crucial to deactivate the key on the old PC before doing so. For step-by-step instructions, refer to our article on how to transfer a Windows 10 or 11 license to a new PC to retrieve and transfer your key.

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The process for transferring a Windows license differs depending on whether you have a digital or non-digital license. With a digital license, you’ll need to log into your Microsoft account to deactivate the key on the old PC. For a non-digital license, you’ll need to use a command line command to terminate the activation.

Please note that if the product key originates from a prebuilt computer that came with Windows pre-installed, it likely has an OEM key that may not function on a different new PC. Feel free to try, as successful activation would grant you Windows 10 or 11 at no cost.

3. Don’t Activate Windows 10 or 11: Free

If you don’t possess a valid product key, you can choose not to enter one during the installation process and use an unactivated version of Windows. The main drawback of using an unactivated copy of Windows 10 or 11 is that it comes with two disadvantages. Firstly, there’s a noticeable watermark in the lower right corner of the screen, which can be embarrassing if someone is looking over your shoulder. Secondly, unactivated Windows restricts personalization options such as changing the wallpaper, mouse pointer, or desktop theme. However, if you are using a Microsoft account that syncs with another computer where you have customized wallpaper, that wallpaper will appear on your unactivated Windows copy.

Microsoft also doesn’t provide technical support for unactivated copies of Windows. But let’s be honest, does anyone ever call Microsoft for help with Windows?

Apart from these inconveniences, unactivated Windows performs well and continues to receive automatic updates. Many individuals have used unactivated Windows for extended periods without any issues. However, it’s worth mentioning that Microsoft may make changes in the future to limit functionality further.

4. Microsoft Student or Teacher Discount: Free

If you’re a student, you might have the opportunity to obtain Windows 11 for free simply by being enrolled. Microsoft offers students from certain universities and high schools the ability to get Windows 11 Education at no cost (please note that it’s unclear whether this applies to Windows 10 as well). Windows 11 Education is feature-rich, comparable to Windows 11 Home and shares most features with Windows 11 Pro, including BitLocker encryption, Remote Desktop, and Hyper-V virtualization.

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Meanwhile, teachers may be eligible for a discounted price of $14.99 to acquire Windows 11 Education. Check if your school qualifies and download your free Windows 11 key on the provided link.

5. Purchase a Low-Cost Windows 10 or 11 Key from a Third-Party Seller: $20+

Suppose you have no means of obtaining a free Windows 10 or 11 product key and prefer not to use an unactivated copy of Windows due to its limitations. In that case, there are third-party sellers offering keys starting at around $20. At the time of writing, popular key marketplace Kinguin was selling Windows 10 Home for as low as $20.81 and Windows 11 Home for $26.76. Prices for Windows 10 Pro start at $24.28, while Windows 11 Pro is priced at $29.70. It’s possible to obtain these keys at an even lower cost with a Kinguin discount code. Please note that these keys are OEM and typically cannot be used on another computer after activation on the first one.

We recommend opting for a key labeled “online activation,” as it should activate automatically over the Internet. Keys without this label may require calling Microsoft, waiting on hold, and requesting assistance from a phone representative to activate. The representative may even ask for your Microsoft account, which raises privacy concerns.

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Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. While we cannot guarantee the legitimacy of every seller, websites offering cheap Windows 10 or 11 keys generally provide authentic codes. Kinguin has more than three dozen merchants worldwide selling Windows keys. According to Mark Jordan, Kinguin’s VP of communications, the merchants obtain the codes from wholesalers who have surplus Windows copies they don’t need.

Jordan stated, “It’s not a gray market. It would be like buying Adidas or Puma or Nike from a discounter, from TJ Maxx. There are no legal issues with buying it from us. It’s just another marketplace.”

After making a purchase, you’ll receive a product key via email. You can use this key during the Windows installation process or to activate an unactivated copy of the operating system you already have installed.

We’ve personally bought keys from Kinguin on several occasions. One time, we purchased a Windows 10 Home key to activate a copy of the OS on a newly-built PC. Since it wasn’t an “online activation” version, the product page warned that we might need to call Microsoft’s activation phone number to make the key work. True to the warning, Windows didn’t accept the key initially, so we dialed the support number and waited on hold for a couple of minutes.

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We expected the phone activation process to be automated, where we simply input the key and received an approval code. To our surprise, we were connected to a live representative who immediately requested our Microsoft account ID. Although these keys are meant to be legitimate, we felt uncomfortable providing personal information and hung up. Strangely enough, when we tried using the key again, it worked without any phone call.

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Another time, we paid a few dollars more for an online activation key. As expected, it activated immediately upon entering the code, bypassing the need for a phone call.

Is there a risk of being scammed? According to Jordan, Kinguin’s merchants have sold “several hundred thousand” keys and are not one-time sellers posting listings for unwanted codes. As part of their fraud protection, Kinguin employees occasionally purchase keys randomly to ensure their legitimacy. Jordan also mentioned that customers rarely receive resold keys, but if they do, the customer support team helps them obtain a new one free of charge while putting the merchant in trouble.

6. Purchase Discounted Windows 10 or 11 from Amazon: Not Recommended

If you don’t feel comfortable buying from a key marketplace like Kinguin, you might consider purchasing a slightly discounted boxed or downloadable copy of Windows from Amazon or Newegg. However, both platforms have third-party sellers whose product keys may or may not be genuine.

Upon a quick glance, it may appear that you can purchase Windows 10 Home for as low as $98 on a USB flash drive through Amazon. However, upon closer inspection of the seller’s name, you’ll notice that it’s not Microsoft or Amazon but a third-party named UNILOVO. The user reviews also contain complaints about the key not functioning. Windows 11 Home is available on a flash drive for $139 on Amazon, with Microsoft listed as the seller, indicating authenticity. However, the price is not lower than what charges.

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7. Purchase Windows from Microsoft: $139 – $199

The most straightforward but most expensive approach is to buy your Windows key directly from Windows 10 Home or Windows 11 Home costs $139, while Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro is priced at $199. These options are available for download or on USB drives.

What’s the Best Way to Get Windows 10 or 11?

The best option is to use an old Windows key from a previous build, as this effectively grants you free access to Windows 10 or Windows 11. If you don’t have a key available, you’ll need to decide whether you’re comfortable using an unactivated version of Windows 10 or 11. Keep in mind that this choice limits your customization options, results in an unsightly watermark, and renders you ineligible for Microsoft support.

Some argue that downloading Windows without paying for a product key or already owning one is ethically wrong. However, Microsoft has made this process easier over time, reducing limitations and nagging when using an unactivated version. The company likely isn’t trying to close this loophole, as it prioritizes user numbers. We’ve even witnessed well-known vendors and Microsoft partners presenting with watermarks still visible on their desktops.

If you must purchase a Windows 10 or Windows 11 key, choosing a low-cost seller like Kinguin can save you a significant amount. We recommend getting a key with online activation to avoid explaining yourself and providing personal information to a Microsoft operator.

Paying the full MSRP for Windows 10 or Windows 11 is difficult to justify, as Microsoft’s prices are astronomically high. By buying a key from a third-party site, you can save over $100, which can go towards purchasing one of the best graphics cards, a high-performance SSD, or a few AAA games for your new PC.

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