Everything you need to know about Windows 8 upgrades (FAQ part 2)

Everything you need to know about Windows 8 upgrades (FAQ part 2)

Summary: Upgrading to Windows 8 is a straightforward process, but the details vary depending on your starting point. This second installment of my Windows 8 upgrade FAQ covers the ins and outs of different upgrade paths.


In the first installment of this FAQ, I addressed the questions I hear most often about purchasing a Windows 8 Pro upgrade directly from Microsoft.

Here's a recap of what you'll find in that post:

  • Where's the product key?
  • If you choose the download option, what format do the installer files come in?
  • How much does the upgrade cost?
  • How many upgrades can you purchase?
  • Is there an upgrade path from an earlier 32-bit Windows version to 64-bit Windows 8?
  • And more... So go read it if you haven't already.

See also:

In this post I want to walk you through the ins and outs of each upgrade path. There are quirks, limitations, and restrictions, depending on your starting point.

Getting Started

You can purchase the Windows 8 Pro installation media in a retail package from online resellers like Amazon and Newegg, from the Microsoft Store, or from any local brick-and-mortar outlet. The biggest advantage of that package is that it includes both 32-bit and 64-bit media that can be used on any PC. (You get to choose one version. The retail package includes a single license only.)

If you purchase the upgrade online, directly from Microsoft, you get the best price, but you might have to jump through some hoops to download the installer files. You can purchase the downloadable copy for $40 and pay $15 extra for a backup DVD to be delivered via email. That total price is less than the retail package price, although you might be able to find discounted copies in retail outlets.

For this FAQ, I'll emphasize the download options.

When you purchase a Windows 8 Pro upgrade, you get a product key good for installation and activation on one PC, which must be licensed for an earlier version of Windows (the exact details are in the license agreement).

You also get the option to download the files and begin the upgrade immediately, but you're not required to do that. The e-mail receipt you receive from Microsoft for your Windows 8 upgrade order (which you should save for future reference) contains your product key and a download link that you can use later. That link downloads a very small (5 MB) stub that prompts you to enter the product key and then begins the download process.


You don't get to choose which version of Windows 8 Pro you download. If you run the Windows 8 downloader from a machine running 64-bit Windows, you get a 64-bit installer. Run it from a 32-bit machine and you get a 32-bit installer. If you want the option to download an ISO file or create a bootable USB flash drive from the downloaded files, you must use Windows 7 or Windows Vista.


At no point during the upgrade process will you be asked for any proof that you're eligible to upgrade. You won't need to enter a product key or supply a DVD from a previous version. You can use the upgrade media to perform a completely clean installation on a brand new hard drive, or you can format the system drive during install. None of those scenarios have been blocked in my testing.

Assuming you've got the installer files (on DVD, USB flash drive, or downloaded directly), you're ready to begin setup. Choose your starting point to see what's involved with each upgrade path. Let's begin with Windows XP, the oldest currently supported Windows version.

Upgrading from Windows XP

The first thing you need to understand is that Windows XP is old. More than a decade old, in fact, which makes it downright ancient by tech standards. The support clock is winding down rapidly for XP, which will be officially retired in April 2014.

XP is so old that the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant does not allow you to migrate any settings or programs. You can keep the data files from your personal profile, but that's it.


The device driver model has changed radically in Windows versions after XP. Any current drivers you have will probably be useless. You'll want to check compatibility carefully for devices like printers and scanners and anything old or offbeat (most video cards and network adapters will work just fine).

If you're running Windows XP, it is almost certainly the 32-bit version. (Yes, there's a 64-bit Windows XP, but it's an odd beast rarely found in the wild, and it's highly unlikely you're running it.)

When you download the Windows 8 Pro upgrade using Windows XP, you get setup files only. Those files are copied to a hidden C:\ESD folder, and you get the option to run the Setup program immediately after the download concludes or create a desktop shortcut to run it later. The options to download an ISO file or create a bootable USB flash drive are not available.

And those installer files will be 32-bit files. If the XP machine you're upgrading has 4 GB or less of RAM, that's not a problem. If you're planning to use the upgrade on a system with more than 4 GB of RAM, though, you'll need to download the installer files from a computer running a 64-bit version of Windows Vista or Windows 7, create bootable installation media, and then use that media (DVD or USB flash drive) to do a clean install.

Regardless of which method you choose, you'll need to reinstall any programs that you were previously using.

Upgrading from Windows Vista

An upgrade to Windows 8 Pro from Windows Vista allows you to keep files and settings, but not installed programs.

As with all Windows versions, the upgrade option is only available if you're upgrading to the same version that's installed: 32-bit to 32-bit, 64-bit to 64-bit. If you're running 32-bit Windows Vista, you'll need to boot from 64-bit installation media. In this scenario, your old program and data files will be copied to a Windows.old folder, where you can recover them after Setup finishes.

Upgrading from Windows 7

This is the simplest upgrade path of all. You can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro from any version of Windows 7, and you can choose whether you want to migrate files, settings, and programs, just files, or nothing. Be sure to pay close attention to the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant, which will alert you to any programs or drivers that must be uninstalled before the upgrade or updated afterwards.


Next page:  Upgrades and downgrades from Windows 8

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Windows

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  • Very Helpfull Info

    I really appreciate FAQ replies like this article.
    • nztjbv116....hedge your bet on Windows 8

      Set up Windows 8 in a dual boot situtation with Windows 7. Windows 8 is a whole different world and I'm glad I set it up in a dual boot. For me their was to may reasons not totally abandon Windows 7. And old saying ....walk before you leep.........................
      Over and Out
      • Windows 8 and Windows Windows 7 daul boot

        Windows 7 is a great OS, but Windows 8 has everything that Windows 7 has and much more. The only two things Windows 8 doesn't include are aero and the start button. We have 5 computers running Windows 8 on our home network and we haven't found any reason to go back to Windows 7. Stardock provides several add ons that allow customizing of Windows 8. We find Windows 8 to be free of problems and we haven't had any BSODs on any of our computers.
  • Nice work...

    Although there is still a lot to remember, it is much much better and simpler that what used to be for previous versions...
    But I think they could have made a bigger smile with just one SKU for the consumers...
  • I'll mention this again as I wrote in Part 1.

    If you qualify for the $15 upgrade, pay the addition $15 for the backup disc. I just received my order today and you get both 32 and 64bit discs. Each disc includes Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. I'll be sticking with Windows 7 on the laptop I just bought. Everything just works so I have no need to switch to Windows 8. Also, I should also mention I live in Canada so YMMV.
    Arm A. Geddon
    • One slight correction

      There is no separate media for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. The product key determines which version is installed.
      Ed Bott
      • I believe that is what Arm said

        "Each disc includes Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro."

        His reference to two discs was one for 32 bit and one for 64 bit.
        • Missing the point

          The download ALSO contains Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. The version installed is determined by the product key you use.
          Ed Bott
          • I didn't see that in your articles about both versions included.

            Thought I might mention what one gets when they order the backup disc. I didn't know my download also contained both Win 8 and Win Pro. Anyway, I now have both the 32bit and 64bit discs in case either is needed. Thanks for clarifying things!!
            Arm A. Geddon
          • Well...

            Microsoft isn't currently selling Windows 8 (Core) upgrades, so it's an academic point for most people. The only people who will get Windows 8 (Core) product keys at this point are those buying a System Builder copy or those testing from MSDN or TechNet.
            Ed Bott
      • Confirmed

        Clicking on the "Get more features..." link in a new Win8 (standard edition) laptop opens a window with choices to buy a product key or use an existing key.

        When I entered the key obtained through the $40 Win8 Pro upgrade site, the OS went through a reconfiguration, then rebooted to Win8 Pro.

        No hassle, and no need for the ISO file.
    • Longer Battery Life

      We have laptops upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8 and the batteries last longer and boot time is also greatly reduced.
  • Multi-boot

    Users with multiple valid licenses installed multi-boot on a single PC may be encouraged to know that the media upgrade route allows you to select the partition to be upgraded. So one could go from XP, Vista, W7 ... to (say) ... W8,Vista,W7.

    There is a small penalty in that the booting then assumes W8 and loads most of that OS, so should you choose an earlier version the boot process is repeated before the automatic switch to the earlier OS.
  • Obtaining the free Windows 8 Media Centre feature ...

    ... is proving a nightmare from my Hotmail account.
    I requested 5 keys weeks ago. I've had one key ... and the same key again ... but no sign of a 3rd, 4th or 5th (which I expect will be more useless repeats).
    I've complained to MSFT UK Support but they are totally incompetent.
    • I have heard that you are limited

      to 1 key per email address. So you will be waiting a long time . . .
    • Use alternate email addresses

      I have ordered multiple copies, using alternate addresses.
      Ed Bott
    • Win 8

      I can help. Just Email me at phishtix a t yahoo dot com
  • Thanks but, for the first time since Windows 2.1

    I'm not upgrading. Windows 8 does not provide the type of experience that I want to spend 8 ~ 10 hours a day in front of.
    • Have you used Win8?

      Or just read about it?
      • I'm a Windows developer

        so, yes, I'm very familiar with Windows 8.