Editor’s note, October 2023: Microsoft originally announced that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade from Windows 7 for the first year only. That was back in 2015, yet the company wound up accepting Windows 7 keys for free Windows 10 and even Windows 11 upgrades for over eight years. But you can no longer do this — Microsoft finally closed the loophole this week.
This has been one of the most popular How To guides we’ve ever written, so we’re leaving it below for posterity.
Original story continues:
Microsoft’s free upgrade offer for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users ended a few years ago, but you can still technically upgrade to Windows 10 free of charge. While Microsoft has removed the special upgrade offer sites, the company continues to activate Windows 10 licenses for people who upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. That may even mean you’ll be able to upgrade to Windows 11 for free as well — here’s how the free Windows 11 upgrade works.
ZDNet’s Ed Bott has been testing the Windows 10 method for years, and the free upgrade still works. It’s also really simple for anyone to upgrade from Windows 7, especially as support ends for the operating system today. Assuming your PC supports the minimum requirements for Windows 10, you’ll be able to upgrade from Microsoft’s site.
The most important thing to remember is that the Windows 7 to Windows 10 upgrade could wipe your settings and apps. There’s an option to keep your files and personal data, but because of differences between Windows 10 and Windows 7, it’s not always possible to keep all of your existing apps. Make sure you’ve noted what apps you use regularly so you can easily obtain them by downloading the installers again. Windows 8.1 can also be upgraded the same way, but without needing to wipe your apps and settings.
Here’s how to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10:
- Back up all of your important documents, apps, and data
- Head over to Microsoft’s Windows 10 download site
- In the Create Windows 10 installation media section, select “Download tool now,” and run the app
- When prompted, choose “Upgrade this PC now.”
- You’ll then be asked whether you want to keep your personal files or start fresh. Remember: starting fresh or keeping your files still means that all apps and settings will be deleted for the Windows 10 upgrade.
- Once the upgrade is complete, you should receive a digital license for Windows 10, which can be found under Settings > Update & Security > Activation.
Update October 7th, 2021: Added links to the free upgrade path from Windows 10 to Windows 11.
Update October 11th, 2023: Added new editor’s note confirming the loophole has closed.