The ultimate Windows 8 upgrade FAQ

The ultimate Windows 8 upgrade FAQ

Summary: You've got questions about the Windows 8 upgrade. Can you burn the upgrade files to DVD or a USB flash drive? Is it possible to go from a 32-bit Windows PC to 64-bit? Who qualifies for cheap upgrades? I've got the answers you're looking for.

TOPICS: Windows 8, Windows

Yesterday I pointed out some of Microsoft's pricing oddities for Windows 8 Pro upgrades, and I asked you to send me your upgrade questions. You did not let me down.

I have answered many questions in two earlier posts. If you haven't yet checked them out, I encourage you to do so now:

I got a lot of great questions, too many to answer in a single post, in fact. So here's part 1 of my upgrade FAQ. I deal with the mechanics of upgrading in Everything you need to know about Windows 8 upgrades (FAQ part 2).

Product keys, DVDs, and USB flash drives

Where’s my product key?

When you purchase a downloadable copy of Windows 8 from Microsoft, you are issued a product key immediately, in the Upgrade Assistant. It looks like this:


In addition, you get a confirmation email that contains your receipt, the product key, and a link to allow you to download the setup files later.

What format do the setup files come in?

After you finish downloading the setup file, you are presented with this dialog box:


If you don’t want to run the upgrade immediately, you can keep the product key and the downloaded setup files in a safe place and install them later. You can also use the product key and downloaded files on a different PC than the one on which you downloaded it.

Can I burn the download file to a DVD or a USB flash drive so I can use it as a bootable disk for formatting my PC in future and also guide me on how the serial key works in this case.

Yes. Choose the Install by creating media option (shown in the screen above). above Here’s what your options look like:


Choose the first option if you want to immediately create a bootable USB flash drive. Choose the second option to save the download as a standard ISO file, which you can use later to create a bootable DVD or USB flash drive.

If you're purchasing the upgrade from a machine running Windows XP, I recommend that you save the file in ISO format and use the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tools to create bootable media. (Full instructions here.) Don't be fooled by the name. This utility runs on Windows XP, Vista, and 7, and it works with Windows 8 ISO files.

Money, money, money, money!

Does the purchase of an upgrade from Windows 7 to 8 apply allow me to upgrade multiple PCs, or do I have to pay for each one?

One purchased upgrade is good for one license, which can be used on one qualifying PC (that is, a PC that currently has a valid license for Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7). If you have five PCs you want to upgrade, you have to pay for each upgrade. As a time-saving measure, you can go through the purchase process multiple times, one for each PC you want to upgrade. You’ll get a unique product key for each transaction. Save each of those keys so that you can note which one is used with which PC.

But note that you only have to download the Windows 8 setup file once. You can reuse that single download (approximately 2.1 GB or x86, 2.8 GB for x64) for multiple PCs, using a unique key with each installation.

My business has six PCs. Can I buy a $40 upgrade for each one?

No. The fine print on the upgrade offer limits you to a total of five upgrades. Here’s the relevant part:

Offer valid from October 26, 2012 until January 31, 2013 and is limited to five upgrade licenses per customer. To install Windows 8 Pro, customers must be running Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, or Windows 7. Get the full details on our special offer. [emphasis added]

Reader A: I have a laptop I bought in late June 2012 with Windows 7 Home Premium. Is it possible to get the upgrade for the $14.99?

Reader B: I have an HP that I bought several years ago with Vista, which I then upgraded to Windows 7 Home Premium when it was released.  Will this qualify for the $15 upgrade to Win 8?

The answers are yes and no, respectively. The $14.99 upgrade offer is valid for new PCs purchased between June 2, 2012 and January 31, 2013, with Windows 7 preinstalled. So, Reader A, your June 2012 purchase qualifies, while Reader B’s PC bought years ago doesn’t qualify. The fine print is here.

As others have pointed out, however, the Windows Upgrade Offer site where you register for an upgrade offer doesn’t require proof of purchase. You enter the date of purchase and the brand of PC you bought, and then you enter your Windows 7 product key. I have read some reports about people cheating and entering details from older PC purchases; however, in one test I found that entering a Windows 7 product key from a Dell PC purchased last fall triggerad a "Sorry, you don't qualify" message from the upgrade verification page. [Note: This paragraph has been updated since originally published.]

You don’t have to use that upgrade on the PC you purchased. The terms clearly state that you can use it on any qualifying PC:

While the offer will be limited to eligible customers who purchase a qualified PC, the upgrade may be installed on any compatible Windows-based PC with a qualifying operating system.

Dual boot options

I just bought a Windows 7 machine and purchased the $14.95 Windows 8 upgrade. Can I keep my Windows 7 running and install Windows 8 on a second partition or in a virtual machine. The "Upgrade Assistant" looks for an existing OS so I could not figure out a way to do that easy.

Technically, no, that is a violation of the license agreement. The upgrade replaces the old license completely. The terms are written in very clear language:

The software covered by this agreement is an upgrade to your existing operating system software, so the upgrade replaces the original software that you are upgrading. You do not retain any rights to the original software after you have upgraded and you may not continue to use it or transfer it in any way.

Backup strategies

A couple of months ago I bought a new Ultrabook and was surprised to find that the 128 GB SSD and 4 GB of RAM were soldered to the motherboard ... hardly user-serviceable.  Normally, I would pop in a fresh SSD and put Windows 8 Professional on this machine so I can test it and restore the original configuration if I run into a glitch. But that’s not an option here, so what backup plan do you recommend?

Use the Windows 7 Backup program to create a system image on an external (USB) hard drive before you perform your upgrade. Be sure to create recovery media as part of the process. If anything goes wrong with your upgrade, you can restore your old Windows 7 installation from the backup copy.

32-bit versus 64-bit

I have a PC running 32-bit Windows XP Pro. It has a 64-bit processor, but after upgrading, I found the 32-bit version installed.

As you discovered, the Windows download from Microsoft matches the system from which you initiate the download. So if you purchase the download on a system running 32-bit Windows, your downloaded setup file will also be 32-bit.

But there’s an easy (and legal) way to get a 64-bit downloader, as long as you have access to a PC running any 64-bit version of Windows (including Windows 8).

After you complete the purchase, you will receive an email confirmation that includes a product key and a download link. From a 64-bit PC, click that download link and enter the product key you received. The download will commence, and when it finishes, you will have a 64-bit Windows installer that you can save as an ISO or burn to bootable media.

How do I get to 64 bit from 32 bit Windows?

There is no way to upgrade from a 32-bit copy of Windows to 64-bit, or vice versa. You must backup your data, create bootable media, and do a clean install. After you’re done, you’ll need to reinstall your programs and restore your data.

See also:

Topics: Windows 8, Windows

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  • Great post

    Thanks Ed, nice to have all this in one place. Just a heads up, you are now required to enter a product key when registering for the Windows Upgrade Offer for $14.99. This screen appears after you've filled in all the other detail. One question I have is how do you prevent the upgrade to uninstall programs that it deems incompatible? I've seen Office 2007 removed from a recent upgrade and had to reinstall. This could be quite a bother if the client has lost their product key, even though the product is legal. Fortunately I note the key down before the upgrade.
    • Yes you have to enter a product key

      However, that product key isn't matched up against any sort of purchase database. And you should be able to get the key from the sticker on the side of the PC (or in the battery compartment or on the power adapter of a notebook).
      Ed Bott
      • Tried it, didn't work

        I tried doing that this several times this week using a PC I bought last December with Windows 7 and was rejected from getting the discount each time with a message you are not eligible. I used purchase dates of June and July, it just didn't work for me.
        • I just rechecked

          Can confirm your experience. Updated post.
          Ed Bott
    • $1500 upgrade?

      I ran the upgrade assistant and while my Office Pro 2010 is compatible, my Visio 2003 and Project 2007 are not. Do I really have to buy $1500 worth of new software to upgrade to W8?
      • No you don't (probably)

        I haven't tried Visio, but I have installed and run Office 2003 apps (for a week now) on Windows 8.

        Interesting I looked at the compatibility site.

        The site says the Project 2007 IS compatible.

        It does say that 2003 is not compatible, but Visio 2000 and 2002 are listed as compatible. I'd give it a try before writing it off.

        An alternate approach is to MAKE SURE you get Windows 8 Pro, then you can run the older apps in a virtual machine, "Hyper-V" (or VMWare, or any one of several others).

        This article goes into it a bit more:
      • Ms 2010

        If you run into any trouble I can sell you a Key for 3 installations for $125 or 1 for $75 for MS '10 Pro Plus.
        • MSman26

          If MS 10 Pro Plus 3 key is legitimate and available I would be interested.
      • Upgrade 8 Advisor versus real world results vary much

        I've been investigating whether to deploy Win8 since August. Went to PC World when I first learned what Win8 even was, posted a lot, asked questions; went to MS Answers forum and was told much of what you say here.

        BUT BUT BUT users in PC World report using even MS Office97 on Win8 (presumably 32-bit). So maybe it's a case of the installation removing the programs or bombing because they are on the machine AT installation, but you can install them afterwards. In short, the installer incompatibilities, bugs and assumptions aren't the same as for the OS itself.

        So if you've already installed Win8, maybe try reinstalling those older programs and see if they work.
    • XP to win8

      I tried to upgrade to win 8 from xp pro x64 and I got an SOL notice. I guess Microsoft doesn't remember this OS.
      • Installation Bombs are usually related to third party programs

        From all the reading of user horror stories, I've learned that most of the bombs occur due to installed backup/anti-virus software, graphics cards, and especially incompatible processors. Win8 is not compatible with Pentium 4, but the Upgrade Advisor won't tell you that (at least, it didn't admit the problem when I ran it on my P4 machine).

        So it's not likely to be the fact you use x64 XP, but something else on that machine, like Norton, Kapersky, McAfee, etc. Google to find out if any disk management/monitoring programs you have, are incompatible with Win8, first. Also Google on your CPU type. See what happens.

        I'm no fan of Win8, just trying to report what I've found expressed online, since August.
  • Real world solid article

    That's exactly the kind of info people can use, thanks. Was wondering about USB save option if I do it. Might just take the plunge and then install Start 8 by Stardock to de-metrocize it.
    D.J. 43
  • Windows 8

    I got 2 Windows 8 licenses for $15!!I admit, I was deviant because I got my Emachines in 2010 and my dell desktop a little earlier. I strongly believe MS purposely made the upgrade offer registration like this (easy to be deceptive) to have more people get and use Windows 8. When I used the Windows upgrade offer a few months ago, it did not ask for anything specific, like a scanned in receipt etc. However now it is asking for a product key, so no more $15 Windows 8 copies/product keys. Anyways, I got Window 8 Professional at an excellent $15. Windows 8 is really fantastic and amazing, Metro is a lot better than the start menu in being organized, but is a little less convenient. The desktop is the best part of Windows 8. I love the new GUI, and non-transparent window borders are much better on the eyes and it looks better too. I also love the new features like the ribbons, task manager, and the detailed graph when you are transferring the data. I don't use metro for any apps, I did download Netflix, but that was it. Metro is very responsive. I personally prefer to use the desktop though!
    Pollo Pazzo
  • Indeed! Great post.

    It is soooo welcome :-)
    Nice to have someone go through all this before me trying and searching for answers. I do know the enterprise part, but I have not tried anything on a home part yet. Thanks.
  • Windows 8

    I bought a new CQ45-804TU Laptop (DOS Only) for my Daughter and tried to install my Win 7 Ultimate but it was made for Windows 8 only, so I gave her mine a CQ43 and I have the Windows 8 on the new one but still have my Win 7 Ultimate on my 1Tb hard drive as a back up.
    I've Learned a lot of good info from You Ed and many Thanks
  • One question

    Can I upgrade from Windows XP OEM to Windows 8 Pro BOX? In my country I can't find any Windows 8 Pro OEM Upgrade :(
  • Upgrade questions

    1. I have 2 copies of XP pro not in use... Can I upgrade those from my Windows 7 PC without upgrading my Win7 PC?

    2. Do I have to install Windows XP on a brand new hard drive update to SP3 then use my win8 install media to get up to Windows 8? As in the computer cant have one single blank hard drive to go directly to Windows 8.
    • Yes, because it is key based,

      and you can get up to 5 keys per purchaser. You don't have to install XP to install Windows 8, just need the Windows 8 product key. So you can start with a single blank hard drive.
      • But it won't activate

        I started with the upgrade DVD and wiped the hard drive to do a proper clean install but now it won't activate and the dialogue explains that's because it was installed on a machine that didn't have a previous OS on it. The $40/£25 upgrade is exactly that and must be installed as an upgrade if you want to activate it. I tried a registry hack but it complained that Windows had been interfered with and wanted to restart.
  • XP 64 (SP2)

    I have XP 64 which only goes up to a SP 2. Is it OK for a 64 bit Win 8 upgrade?