How to download Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 ISO installation media for free and legally

Windows 8 floppy install

The time will come when you’ll need to do a clean install of Windows in your system, and even though this process is supported by Microsoft, in most cases, it’ll be up to you to find and download the ISO installation media — when a recovery partition isn’t an option and you have lost the operating system DVD.

Keep in mind that everything will always work as long you have a valid Windows product key, that being a OEM, retail, or upgrade. Then if you ever have a problem activating, you can call Microsoft to resolve the issue.

Download Windows 7 ISO

The Windows 7 installation files can be downloaded from Digital River, an online company that officially distributes Microsoft software. The Windows 7 ISO file you download from this company is the same you’ll get buying a new copy of the operating system.

You’re not getting the Windows installation files from Microsoft with the process, but it works and you don’t have to resource to pirating the software, which isn’t recommended as it is not right to do it and you can also get malware doing so.

Below you’ll find the direct download links to the English version of Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 and various other updates for x86 and x64 PCs:

Once you download the ISO, you can easily right-click it and select Burn to Disc, or you can install the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool to create a bootable DVD or USB drive.

In case you’re looking for Windows 7 Enterprise edition, Microsoft offers a 90-day trial that you can download from this web page. Additionally you can use the trial up to 270 days by using this supported method.

Download Windows 8/8.1 ISO

Sure you can reset or refresh your Windows 8/8.1 PC and start “clean”, but you’re more than likely to be using a OEM (HP, Acer, Lenovo, DELL, etc.) machine, which means that you have a custom image to recover from, you’ll get your system back if there was a problem, but you’ll get back all those bloatware too. To get a real clean installation of Windows, you need the original installation files from Microsoft.

Downloading the ISO file for Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 can be a bit tricky, they both can be obtained from Microsoft, but you have to understand that even though Windows 8.1 is a free update, your Windows 8 product key won’t work here. What Microsoft wants is for you to install Windows 8 first and then upgrade to Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store. However there is a workaround that requires the creation of a simple ie.cfg file inside the Sources folder in the installation media, which will allow you to avoid the “invalid product key” message.

Now, getting the Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 bits is really easy, simply head over the Upgrade Windows with only a product key Microsoft web page. Then click the Install Windows 8.1 or Install Windows 8 accordingly to your product key.

Double-click the .EXE file you just downloaded, type your Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 product key to download the correct files. It’s very important to download the installation files on the PC you’re about to install the operating system as the tool will create a 32-bit version of media if the PC is running a 32-bit version of the OS or a 64-bit version if you’re on a 64-bit computer.

After the download completes, choose if you want to create a USB flash drive or ISO file to burn later to a DVD.

The trick

It’s more than likely that you want to be running the latest and greatest, in this case Windows 8.1, but if you only have the a Windows 8 product key you won’t be able to download the Windows 8.1 ISO from Microsoft. But don’t sweat it, try this… How to download Windows 8.1 using your Windows 8 product key.

In case you’re looking for Windows 8.1 Enterprise edition, Microsoft offers a 90-day trial that you can download from this web page. Additionally you can use the trial up to 270 days by using this supported method.

Update: Microsoft now allows users to download and create an ISO or USB drive with the Windows 8.1 installation files without resourcing to workaround — you don’t even need a product key. (More info here)

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me.