Windows 7 is dead. Figuring out how to best get on Windows 10 is more important than ever. A new Windows 10 license can cost a pretty dime unless you know how to get a good deal. If you still have an old Windows 7 license or can find a used one, you could try to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. But let us show you all your legal options to get Windows 10 for free or cheap.
You can spend thousands of dollars on components when building a PC, but it won’t boot without an operating system (OS). Linux is a viable option, but most people prefer Windows because it runs all of their favorite software, including the latest games. And for those who were still holding on, Windows 7 has officially reached its end of life, meaning it won’t get any more support or security updates. Fortunately, you can get Windows 10 for free or cheap, if you know where to look.
Getting hold of the Windows installer is as easy as visiting support.microsoft.com. Whether you’ve paid for Windows 10 already or not, Microsoft lets anyone download a Windows 10 ISO file and burn it to a DVD, or create installation media on a USB drive for free. Once that’s done, you can boot from your installation media and load Windows 10 onto your PC. During the installation process, Microsoft asks for an activation key. You can skip it, but eventually, Windows will start alerting you that your install isn’t activated.
There are many ways to get a Windows 10 activation / product key, and they range in price from completely free to $309 (£339, $340 AU), depending on which flavor of Windows 10 you want. You can of course buy a key from Microsoft online, but there are other websites selling Windows 10 keys for less. There’s also the option of downloading Windows 10 without a key and never activating the OS. But what, if anything, are you missing out if you don’t activate Windows 10? And does your carefully crafted rig face any risks?
Below we outline the top ways you can get Windows 10 — from the cheapest to most expensive — and the downsides of each option.
1. Get a Discount From Microsoft
If you are a student, parent of a student, a faculty member, or a US military member, Microsoft will give you a 10% discount on select Microsoft Store products. Unfortunately, you can’t get the discount on Windows 10 license keys anymore, but the devices included in the offer come with Windows preinstalled.
Note that your school must be listed in Microsoft’s database or you need to call Microsoft to verify your eligibility.
If you’re a student or faculty member, you might want to hold off on this offer, because our next option might be a much better deal for you.
2. Get Windows 10 Free or Cheap Through OnTheHub
OnTheHub largely replaces Microsoft Azure for Education (formerly known as Imagine Premium and DreamSpark Premium). This new service provides students with free software, including Windows 10 Education. Faculty members have to pay a small fee.
Visit OnTheHub, choose whether you’re a student or faculty member, then enter your country, state/province, and school to find out which software you have access to. If your school has its own web store, you might need to obtain separate login credentials.
Not all schools are part of this program, nor do they all offer a free Windows 10 Education license. If you’re out of luck, try one of the other options below.
3. Download Windows 10 From a Genuine Windows 7/8/8.1 PC
When the free Windows 10 upgrade expired, we reported that Microsoft had left a backdoor. Windows 7 and 8.1 users using assistive technologies, like the magnifier, narrator, or closed captions found in the Ease of Access menu, could still upgrade to Windows 10 for free. Meanwhile, Microsoft has removed this option.
But there’s another loophole that’s still working: Use a PC with a genuinely licensed and activated copy of Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 to download Windows 10.
When you run the Windows 10 Media Creation tool, you can either create installation media for another PC or—if you’re running it on the machine you want to upgrade already—select upgrade this PC now.
4. Find Deep Discount Deals for Windows 10 Product Keys
Microsoft will charge you an arm and a leg for a Windows 10 license. But many retailers can offer cheaper Windows 10 product keys. Amazon and Newegg frequently sell the full edition of Windows 10—albeit the Original Equipment Manufacturer version—for as little as $85.
That’s not bad, but you can get even better deals. On Kinguin, you can currently get a Windows 10 Professional OEM key for as little as $31.66.
Note that in many cases, you’ll only pay for the key and you won’t receive the actual installation files on a storage drive. When that’s the case, you can either purchase a repair/recovery drive or download the respective Windows version from Microsoft and create Windows 10 installation media yourself.
5. Negotiate Windows 10 Volume Licensing
Microsoft doesn’t sell Windows to large organizations the same way it sells to individuals. Instead, it uses “volume licensing” which involves bulk distribution of Enterprise Edition keys for a set price that’s often much lower than a normal installation. You can buy copies under a volume deal for organizations as small as 5 computers, but you have to call into Microsoft’s volume licensing center to get the deal. Use the Microsoft License Advisor tool to generate a quote without calling the hotline.
Microsoft’s low minimum organization size means most small businesses qualify. Microsoft also offers deals for governments, charities, and non-profits. It’s entirely possible, in fact, that your employer already has a volume license deal. Check with the IT department to see if they offer discounts on Windows and other Microsoft programs to employees.
6. Download Windows 10 Enterprise Evaluation
Microsoft offers free evaluation copies of Windows Enterprise for businesses seeking to switch to Windows or upgrade older machines. All you need to get is a free evaluation license for Windows 10 Enterprise and a Microsoft account.
The catch? Each license is only valid for 90 days. When the evaluation period expires, your computer will begin to shut down automatically every hour. This isn’t a long-term solution, but it’s a good option if you’re saving money to buy the full version or only need Windows for a few months.
7. Buy Used Windows Keys or Computers
You can find deals on used keys in the usual places like Craigslist or eBay but proceed with caution. Many cut-rate keys are actually from volume licensing deals and re-sold illegally. People with access to these free or low-cost sources for Windows keys flip them for profit.
That’s against the license agreement. Microsoft does not aggressively patrol its licenses, but buying a key from an illegal reseller means you run the risk of having your Windows installation deactivated without notice.
If you do buy from an individual, and you want to stay legit, carefully evaluate your purchase. A sealed, boxed copy is your best bet because it guarantees the key hasn’t already been used. Product key cards are also legitimate, but there’s no way to verify the key hasn’t already been used. Only buy those from a business or person you trust.