The ultimate Windows 8 upgrade FAQ

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.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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