Windows 10 has quickly become the most successful operating system (OS) released by Microsoft, with over a billion users worldwide. It is a feature-packed OS with an intelligent and easy-to-use interface. In addition, Microsoft provides continuous patches and updates to ensure it remains as secure as possible from any vulnerabilities.
Windows 10 was initially available as a free upgrade for Windows 7/8.1, but the offer expired in 2016. Depending on the version, you can purchase a Windows 10 license from Microsoft for around $130-$200. Despite its popularity and robustness, Windows 10 is relatively expensive, and not everyone will afford it. Consequently, it has also become one of the most pirated operating systems.
If you want to get Windows 10 without spending a high amount, there are helpful and legal ways to do this without using piracy. In this article, we share easy methods you can use to get Windows 10 for free legally.
Before Upgrading to Windows 10
Before you install and activate Windows 10 on your system, you need to take a few necessary steps. These steps are required to ensure a smooth transition to the new OS and save you from potential issues.
- Make sure your PC meets the Minimum System Requirements for Windows 10.
- Processor: 1 GHz or faster compatible processor or system on a Chip(SoC)
- RAM: 1 GB for 32-bit or 2-GB for 64-bit systems
- Hard drive: 32 GB or larger hard disk
- Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
- Display: 800×600
- Internet connection: You need an internet connection to perform updates and take advantage of certain features.
- Download and install the latest BIOS updates for your PC. This step is especially crucial if you’re using a computer sold from 2015 or earlier.
- Update the device drivers for your PC.
- Back up important data to an external hard drive or cloud storage. This is to ensure that you don’t lose important files on your system if something goes wrong during your upgrade.
After you’ve made sure you can upgrade your PC to Windows 10, you can follow one of the following methods:
Students and Faculty
Microsoft introduced the Microsoft IMAGINE program to provide students and faculty members with free access to developer tools, software, and services. After rebranding, the same tools and resources are available as Azure for Education (or Azure for Students) and On the Hub.
If you are a student or faculty member at an institution that is part of the Azure for Students or On the Hub program, you might have access to Windows 10 Education through one of these portals. These portals allow you to create an account, verify your student/faculty status with a .edu email address, and access a range of free software, including a free license for Windows 10 Education.
Windows 10 Education
Windows 10 Education is a variant of Windows 10 Enterprise with education-specific default settings. Enterprise is the most robust version of Windows 10 with high-end security and manageability settings.
Windows 10 Education offers the following additional features:
- Ability to join a domain.
- Hyper-V for virtualization.
- Bit-Lock whole disk encryption.
- Remote Desktop.
- Enterprise Data Protection containers and assigned access.
- Direct Access for connecting without a VPN.
- Applocker for whitelisting apps.
- BranchCache for sharing downloads and updates with other PCs using a P2P connection.
- Credential Guard
- Device Guard.
Get Windows 10 for free using Azure for Education
You can get Windows 10 for free using Azure for Education by following this step-by-step guide:
- First, open the Azure for Education Dev Tools website in your web browser.
- Then, click on the Sign In button on the bottom left.
- Sign in to your Microsoft account if you already have one, or sign up for one. You do not need to use your institutional email address for this account.
- The Student Verification page will open up. Here, you need to Enter and verify your school email address.
- On the next page, check the first box (“I agree to the subscription agreement, Azure Dev Tools for Teaching agreement and privacy statement”) and select Accept academic status and accept terms at the bottom.
- A confirmation email will now be sent to your email address.
- Open your email and click on the verification link provided in the verification email.
- Sign in to your Microsoft account on this page.
- Microsoft Azure Education Hub home page will open up. Click on the Download software button at the bottom right.
- On the Education Software page, scroll down to the Windows 10 Education software and click on it.
- A new pop-up menu will appear on the right. Select from the Download or View Key options. You can use the View key option if you have already downloaded and installed Windows 10 Education.
While Azure for Education has a range of software and tools available to all students, Windows 10 Education is only available to STEM departments of universities.
On the Hub
On the Hub is a platform that allows both student and faculty members of subscribed institutions to get software for a fraction of the cost and even free. While different software vendors, including Adobe, IBM, and Symantec, offer a wide range of software on this platform, Microsoft currently only offers Windows 10 Education.
Although the OS is free of cost for students, faculty members have to pay $14.95, which is a much better price than the original cost. However, it is essential to remember that this offer is valid for only certain schools eligible for this offer. So, if you are not a STEM major, you can still get Windows 10 Education from On the Hub for free, but only if your school is eligible.
Follow these steps to get free Windows 10 On the Hub:
- Open the On the Hub Windows 10 Education page on your web browser.
- Select from the Student or Faculty based on your designation.
- Enter the Country and School you attend and click on the University/School Webstore text at the bottom.
- On the University/School Webstore page, click on the Start Shopping button.
- You will get a list of software offered by your school. Select Windows 10 from the list.
- Click on the Add to Cart button on the right.
- On the next page, you will be asked to Sign in. If you already have an account, you can log in using your credentials. Otherwise, Register for a new account.
- You can now access your free copy of Windows 10.
Azure for Education and On the Hub are valuable resources to access free software as a student or faculty member. But, it is only possible to use these resources if your institution is registered in one of these programs.
Upgrade from Windows 7 or 8
If you already have a genuine Windows 7 or Windows 8 license, you can easily upgrade to Windows 10 for free. This is one of the easiest and safest options for getting Windows 10 for free. Although Microsoft announced this free upgrade would no longer be available, it is still possible to get this upgrade on their website.
To upgrade from an older version to Windows 10, follow these steps:
- First, open the Windows 10 download page on Microsoft’s website.
- Next, scroll down to the Create windows 10 installation media section and click on the Download tool now button.
- Next, run the Media Creation Tool by double-clicking it once the download completes.
- Next, Accept the Applicable notices and license terms for the media creation tool.
- On the next screen, select Upgrade this PC now option.
- The setup will start Downloading Windows 10. As the download can take some time depending on your internet connection speed, you can use your PC in the meantime.
- Once the download completes, the setup will create installation media.
- Accept the Applicable notices and license terms for Windows Operating System.
- Windows 10 is ready to install. On this screen, click on the Change what to keep text.
- In this section, you can choose between Keep personal files and apps, Keep personal files only, or Nothing. Select one of these options and click next.
- The Windows 10 installation will start now. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.
- You are now ready to use Windows 10
We have tried and tested this on a PC with a valid Windows 7 Professional License. Many users also report that they are still able to access this free upgrade. However, some users report having experienced some licensing issues during the process.
Transfer your Windows 10 License from another device
If you have a valid Windows 10 license on a different device, it is possible to transfer it to a new system (although you sometimes have to remove it from the previous device for this to work). This section discusses the different types of Windows 10 Licenses and whether or not you can transfer it to a new system.
- Windows 7/8/8.1 Retail License: If you purchased a retail copy of Windows 7/8/8.1 and upgraded it to Windows 10, you are entitled to a free one-time transfer.
- Windows 10 OEM License: An OEM License comes pre-installed in a system from the manufacturer. An OEM License cannot be transferred to a new system as it is linked to the system hardware. An OEM license on Windows 7/8/8.1 also gets upgraded to an OEM Windows 10 License and cannot be transferred out of the device.
- Windows 10 Full Retail License: If you have a full retail copy of Windows 10, you are entitled to transfer it as many times as you want.
- Windows 10 Pro upgraded from Windows 10 Home License: If you upgraded your Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro, you could transfer it to any device. Windows 10 Pro is a retail license attached to the Microsoft Account used to purchase it.
To transfer your Windows 10 License, you must first uninstall it from the older system – the exception to this is if you have a Windows 10 Full Retail License. You can now enter the License key in the new system. If you face any issues in the process, you can contact support.
Use Windows 10 without activation
If you are looking for a short-term fix to not having a Windows 10 license, you can use Windows 10 without activation. Microsoft offers users a grace period of 30 days after they download and install Windows 10 on their PCs. Windows 10 will work normally during this period, and you will have access to all its features.
Once the 30-day period is over, you will face the following restrictions:
- An Activate Windows watermark will appear in the lower right-hand corner of your screen.
- You will receive constant alerts from Microsoft asking you to activate Windows.
- A “Windows isn’t activated, activate Windows now” message will appear in settings.
- You won’t be able to customize the wallpaper, accent colors, themes, lock screen, and other device features. Personalization-related options will be greyed out or unavailable.
- Although you can still receive updates, Microsoft can change this policy in the future.
We highly recommend using this option only as a short-term solution while looking for other ways to activate your Windows. While the lack of custom aesthetics is a minor inconvenience, Microsoft also doesn’t offer any technical support for an inactivated version of the OS. Additionally, the watermark looks unprofessional and can be irritating for many users.
Get Windows 10 from third-party retailers (not free, but cheaper!)
If none of the options mentioned in this article work for you, purchasing a Windows 10 license from a third-party retailer should be your last resort. Third-party sellers typically provide Windows licenses for a fraction of the original cost. However, you should only select trustworthy third-party retailers (you can look for other user reviews) to ensure that they offer legitimate licenses.
Compared to the other options described in this article, this option is somewhat risky as some fraudulent retailers sell used license keys, albeit at a very low cost. Despite the risk, some of these retailers have legitimate keys bought from wholesalers. By finding trustworthy retailers in your country and seasonal offers, you can get a really good bargain on a Windows 10 license purchase.
You can also purchase a Windows 7/8.1 license from a third-party website and later upgrade it to Windows 10 following the steps given above to get an even better price.
Some third-party retailers also offer free Windows 10 license keys as a package when you buy certain hardware or software from them, so this can be considered as an easy and legitimate way to get Windows 10 for free.
With Windows 11 just around the corner, now is an excellent time to get Windows 10 for your system, as it will allow you to upgrade to Windows 11 for free. While it might seem difficult to get Windows 10 on your PC for free, these simple hacks let you do so without breaking any rules. We would advise staying away from “pirated” versions of Windows 10, as these can make you more vulnerable to security breaches. Regardless of the method you choose, you should always download Windows 10 only from Microsoft’s official website. Downloading Windows 10 from auction sites or P2P file sharing sites can put your system at a higher risk of malware, fraud, and exposure of your personal information. There is also a higher risk for poor performance or feature malfunctions.