How to get Windows 10? How to Get a Windows 10 License? Windows licenses are expensive—almost painfully so. Shelling out $139 for Windows 11 Home or $200 for Windows 11 Pro feels rough when Linux is free, since that much cash is easily a third of a budget PC build. But with less developer support for Linux, Windows is an inescapable necessity for most of us. What’s not a given is paying full retail.
Yes, it’s possible to snag a discount on Windows 11. The amount you’ll save depends on how much hassle you can tolerate—as well as your circumstances. If you’re lucky, you could technically get it for free. Legitimately for free, since installing Windows without ever activating it doesn’t count as getting a full, sanctioned copy of Windows.
Here’s how, in several different ways. Better yet, these often apply for Windows 10 licenses too, although that operating system will stop receiving updates in 2025.
How to get Windows 10?
You can spend thousands on components and make one of the best PC builds, but it won’t boot without an operating system. Linux is a viable option, but most prefer Windows because it runs all their favorite software, including the latest games. Installing a copy of Windows 11 or 10 for a built-from-scratch computer can be costly – if you do what Microsoft wants. The Redmond software giant charges consumers a whopping $139 for a Windows 10 or 11 Home license and $199 for Windows 10 or 11 Pro. If you spent $500 on PC parts, that would add at least a 28 percent Windows tax to your build.
This Windows tax is profoundly unfair to PC builders, because large OEMs such as Dell and Lenovo pay much lower licensing fees to put Windows on prebuilt systems (though these costs are not made public). Fortunately, there are many ways to get Windows 10 or 11 for free or for as little as $20, depending on what flavor of Windows you want, what you already have and what caveats you’re willing to accept.
How to Get a Windows 10 License
There are a variety of ways you can get a Windows 10 license for your PC, and many of them are still free.
- Upgrade from Windows 7 or 8: Microsoft still offers a free Windows 10 upgrade to PC users who use accessibility tools. You can also still install Windows 10 and enter a Windows 7 or 8 key in the installer to receive a free Windows 10 upgrade license. Once you’ve performed the upgrade once, your PC has a Windows 10 license forever. So, if you upgraded when Windows 10 was released and downgraded shortly after, you’re still eligible to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. A license associated with your PC is stored on Microsoft’s servers.
- Buy a new PC with Windows 10: If your PC came with Windows 10 installed, it likely has a license key embedded into its UEFI firmware. The manufacturer paid for a license and you can reinstall Windows 10 on the PC without entering the key. Windows 10’s installer will pull the key from a chip on the motherboard.
- Purchase a Windows 10 license: If you’re building your own PC and don’t yet have an operating system, you can purchase a Windows 10 license from Microsoft, just as you could with previous versions of Windows.
- Don’t get a license: You can also install Windows 10 without entering a product key. You’ll see messages telling you your Windows 10 system isn’t licensed and needs to be activated, but it will be completely usable. You can even purchase a Windows 10 license from the Store within Windows 10 to turn it into a properly licensed Windows 10 PC. This is a convenient solution for testing Windows 10 on a PC without purchasing it first.
Once you know which method is going to work for you, proceed to one of the sections below to install Windows 10.
How to Upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8
You can use Microsoft’s upgrade tool to install Windows 10 on your PC if you already have Windows 7 or 8.1 installed. This will also make it possible to downgrade and go back to Windows 7 or 8.1 after you perform the upgrade, if you don’t like it.
If you’re taking advantage of the the Assistive Technologies offer, just download the tool from the Assistive Technologies website and click through the wizard. It will give your PC a free Windows 10 license and install Windows 10.
The Assistive Technologies offer will expire on December 31, 2017. However, if you take advantage of the offer before then, your PC will permanently have a genuine Windows 10 license.
If you’re upgrading to Windows 10 for another reason—perhaps you’ve previously upgraded to Windows 10 on the current PC and it already has a valid license—you can use the Download Windows 10 tool. Click “Download Tool Now”, run it, and select “Upgrade this PC”. Follow the instructions on your screen to complete the upgrade process.
How to Get Installation Media and Do a Clean Install of Windows 10
If you don’t want to upgrade from an existing Windows installation, you can download the official Windows 10 installation media for free from Microsoft and perform a clean install. To do this, visit Microsoft’s Download Windows 10 page, click “Download Tool Now”, and run the downloaded file. Select “Create installation media for another PC”.
Be sure to select the language, edition, and architecture you want to install of Windows 10. If you’re installing it on a PC with a 64-bit CPU, you probably want the 64-bit version. If you’re installing it on a PC with a 32-bit CPU, you’ll need the 32-bit version. You can check what type of CPU your PC has if you don’t know off the top of your head.
If you’re installing Windows 10 on the current PC, just keep the “Use the recommended options for this PC” box checked and the tool will automatically download the correct version for your current PC.
The tool will allow you to copy the Windows 10 installation files to a USB drive or burn them to a DVD. If you’re using a USB drive, it must be 4 GB or larger in size. All files on the USB drive will be erased as part of this process.
If you want to install Windows 10 in a virtual machine, select the “ISO file” option here. The tool will download an ISO file, and you can then boot the downloaded ISO in a virtual machine to install Windows 10 inside it
Once you’ve created installation media, you’ll need to insert it into the PC you want to install Windows 10 on. You then boot from the installation media. This may require modifying the boot order in your PC’s BIOS or UEFI firmware.
On the Windows Setup screen, select your language, time and currency format, and keyboard layout. Click “Next” to continue.
When you reach the installer screen, select “Install Now” and follow the instructions to install Windows 10 on your PC.
When you see the Activate Windows screen, you’ll need to either enter a key or skip it. You may not see this screen if Windows 10 automatically detects a key associated with your PC’s hardware.
- If you’ve never installed and activated Windows 10 on this computer before, enter your Windows 10 key here. If you don’t have one, but you have a valid Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key, enter it here instead.
- If you’ve previously taken advantage of the free Windows 10 upgrade offer on this PC, click “I don’t have a product key”. Windows will automatically activate with a “digital license” associated with your PC’s hardware on Microsoft’s servers once it’s installed.
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