Yes, You Can Still Clean Install Windows 10 with a Windows 7/8.x Key

Posted on October 28, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 25 Comments

Yes, You Can Still Clean Install Windows 10 with a Windows 7/8.x Key

Readers routinely ask me whether it’s still possible to clean install Windows 10 with an unused Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 product key. Over two years after Microsoft first enabled this functionality, the answer is a resounding yes.

And I can think of a number of reasons why one might need to do so.

As noted, Microsoft first introduced this capability over two years ago, and in doing so it erased what had been one of the early install/activation issues with the then-new Windows 10.

Almost a year later, I reported that this capability—which was supposed to be temporary, by the way–still worked. Since then, I’ve tested this scenario on a very regular basis, probably roughly once a month. And as people have asked me about it, on Twitter or via email, I’ve told them that it still works.

But it’s been a while since I’ve written on this topic formally. So here goes.

It still works.

What this means is that you can download the Windows 10 Setup media—which is always the latest version, so you’ll get Windows 10 version 1709, or the Fall Creators Update, at the time of this writing—and perform a clean install of the OS on any PC. And then you can activate that install of Windows 10 using an unused retail Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 product key. And it will just work.

You may think that most people will never need to do this. If your PC was already running Windows 7, 8, 8.1, or any version of Windows 10, a clean install of Windows 10 today will probably activate automatically anyway.

And that’s fair. A better way to look at this is that most people simply won’t be able to do this anyway. I mean, who has a bunch of unused retail Windows product keys hanging around anyways?

Some might. And if you have or have had an MSDN or TechNet subscription, all those old product keys will work too.

So let’s think about the scenarios where this might be useful.

It’s rare, but you might have a newly-built or purchased PC that did not come with any version of Windows.

You might want to clean install Windows 10 in a virtual machine (VM).

You might want to clean install Windows 10 on a Mac, either in Boot Camp or virtually.

You might want to upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 10 Pro. Assuming you have the right kind of Windows 7, 8, 8.1 product key, this will work too. (See below.)

The unusual nature of most of these scenarios is what I think explains why this functionality is still working even though it was supposed to be temporary. It doesn’t hurt anyone. And if you really do need to do this, it’s nice to have.

That said, there are some important caveats.

That old Windows product key can only activate against an equivalent Windows 10 product edition. For example, a product key for Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium can be used to activate Windows 10. And Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate product keys can activate Windows 10 Pro. It has to be a retail key, not a key that came with a computer. And it has to be unused, though there is some anecdotal evidence that even used keys will work in some cases. (And you could always call Microsoft support, explain the situation, and try for a phone activation.)

And here’s a fun future use for this feature. If you purchase a Windows 10 S-based and do not upgrade to Windows 10 Pro before the free upgrade offer ends next year, you can use a valid Windows 7, 8, 8.1 to do so. Yes. I’ve tried that too.

Anyway, you can activate Windows 10 at any time by navigating to Settings > Update & security > Activation. If it’s not activated, or if you simply want to upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 10 Pro, you can do so from there.


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Comments (25)

25 responses to “Yes, You Can Still Clean Install Windows 10 with a Windows 7/8.x Key”

  1. agizmo

    I've tested this and here is the conclusions I've found.

    1. You have to do a fresh install of Windows 10 using a USB drive or DVD. Trying to upgrade straight from the Media Creation Tool application will say you don't have a license. So create a USB installer and boot from it.
    2. Windows 7 OEM keys printed on labels stuck to the side of computers do work. Boot from the USB key you created. At the start of the install process when you are asked to type in a key, choose to skip, activate later, and install the equivalent version of Windows 10 on the system. Once you've finished installing Windows 10 go to Settings > Updates > Activation. Enter the Windows 7 key on the side of the computer. It should activate.
    3. Computers with the Windows 8 or 8.1 key is stored in the BIOS is even easier. Boot from the USB key and just click through the install. The installer will auto-detect the BIOS key and pick the correct version of Windows 10. After the install is finished Windows should already be activated.

    I've tested this on a dozen older computers at work over the past year and have successfully installed and activated Windows 10 every time. These systems were a mix of older hardware that came with Windows 7 and 8 pre-installed and did not get automatically upgraded during the free period.

  2. nicholson93289

    I appreciate the reminder; I did this in the previous activation period, and it has slipped my mind since. But i haven't set up any new systems since then, either. But I do have a couple of candidate systems I could run Windows 10 on, and the users would appreciate it as well.

  3. haajirana

    Can we also install it with windows xp keys? because last night I tried but windows xp keys were not working at all.

    Regards Haaji Rana, Marketing Manager at: Parabens

  4. Oneshopexpress

    After countless hours i finally found a cheap Windows 10 from

    Thank me later

  5. iexco

    This has been talked about many times in the MS Licensing group. Someone always says it's okay, but Chris and those of us that care about licensing point out that it's not.

    Also, it will almost certainly stop working soon, when assistive tech stops allowing free ugprades


  6. georgeg

    WebDAV is a great way of accessing files over the Internet. It’s essentially FTP, but not so archaic and fragile. It works well through firewalls, can be encrypted, and is just generally a nice, modern, useful protocol, like shimeji.

  7. lisa.ela

    Great article, much obliged for assembling this! This is clearly one extraordinary post. A debt of gratitude is in order for the important data and bits of knowledge you have so given here

  8. Kattie

    I just got a product key from it worked perfectly. I'm so excited to share my experience here. their customer service is 1st class and I will definitely be recommending the site and I will be using the site again.

  9. longkey

    I had a genuine Windows 7 Professional on my old laptop which was bought on cheap when I was a College student. I tried to move the license to my new PC a few days ago, then to update to Windows 10 for free. Like the guide in your article, but the steps are tedious for me. Finally I found a simple alternative: buy a cheap Win10 key to easily start from scratch. A good website I found is Key1024, installation and activation works well...

  10. hupowat

    I installed Windows 10 successfully but I do not have Windows 7/8 key with me. So, I could not activate Windows 10. Then, I installed Kmspico windows activator and activated using it.

  11. EKUdacci

    What about one of those low end machines that had the "free" lightweight install of win 8.1? I had a winbook tablet from Microcenter that would not install windows 10 no matter how I tried to do it...

  12. SteveSi

    One use for this is if you have built a new system and need to buy a Win10 licence for it (or change from Home to Pro). Win7/8 keys are cheaper to buy than Win10 keys.

    Note: This scenario did not work for me. Microsoft took remote control of the system and they could not get it to work either...

    1. Win7 Home HP notebook
    2. Update to Win10 Home (activates without needing product key)
    3. Wipe HDD and install Win10 Pro using no key or generic install key
    4. Genuine unused Win8Pro key would not activate (I tried 3 different ones!) - I had to buy a Win10 Pro key in the end.

  13. Bart

    The less Win7/8.X keys are around, the happier MS will be. Simples

  14. agizmo

    @Adi_Khajuria You should be able to. It could work a couple of different ways. You could try installing Windows 10 clean. When asked for a key choose to skip and activate later. After the install is complete and your at the desktop, go to settings and try to enter your Win7 key and activate.

    Do you have your Windows 10 keys synced with a Microsoft account? If not, I would recommend looking up how to do it before you upgrade your hardware. I recently migrated a virtual machine from Parallels to VMWare Fusion. In the process the virtual hardware changed and my copy of Win10 became deactivated. When I tried to reactivate Windows I was given an option to say this "VMware computer" is actually the "Parallels computer" linked to my Microsoft account and use its activation. I did all this while logged into the computer using my Microsoft Account. Your mileage may vary if you log in using a local account.

    • Adi Khajuria

      In reply to agizmo:

      Thanks for your reply from earlier. Let's say in this upgrade that I decide to change both the motherboard, CPU and hard drive all in one hit. If I sync my Microsoft account to my Windows 10 product key will it still activate (given that I connect my MS account to my Windows 10 product key before changing the motherboard)?

      Update as of 3rd December 2017: I solved this problem myself. Whilst I still had the old motherboard, I connected my activation to my Microsoft account. I then swapped out to the new motherboard (and an SSD) and installed Windows 10 on there. I signed into my Microsoft account and it activated! Thanks for everyone's help on this one!

    • Adi Khajuria

      In reply to agizmo:

      I have a hotmail account(which is a Microsoft account) but I don't have my Windows 10 key tied to it though.

  15. Adi Khajuria

    I have a question. I have a gaming PC which was upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10. I will be changing the motherboard to something a bit more modern. If I do the clean install on the new motherboard, will be able to do so and keep my activation using the Windows 7 product key?

    I should state that the copy of Windows 7 I have is one that I actually bought (instead of one that came with a PC).

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Adi_Khajuria:

      The best thing to do is to use a Microsoft Account login on that PC before swapping out the board. When the activation fails (and it likely will), use the activation troubleshooter, and choose the option "I changed hardware in this PC" and it will let you reuse the activation tied to your Microsoft Account.

  16. RobertJasiek

    Still many, even expensive, devices are sold with Windows 10 Home. The cheapest upgrade to Pro is using an otherwise unused 7/8 Pro / Ultimate key.

  17. harmjr

    I wish Microsoft would advertise this. I work at a community college and wish their was a place to refer people besides tech blogs. I am forbidden from giving this kind of support due to libility issues.

  18. Win74ever

    But why people would do this when Windows 7 and 8 work better than 10? Stay away from it.

  19. canamrotax

    I clean install Win10 for customers all the time at my shop, and the used (already activated) Win7 key works just fine. Good to know the NOS (new old stock) keys will still be useful as well.

  20. tinyapps

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks so much for sharing this blog post.

    I was thoroughly trounced on Spiceworks for asking about the conflicting reports (even from Microsoft employees) on this issue:

    Microsoft's official stance on using Windows 7 & 8 keys to activate Windows 10?

    Can you get a definitive answer from any of your Microsoft contacts?


    Miles Wolbe