When to use Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 System Builder to upgrade? That is the question

With Windows 8 already in the market, lately I’ve been getting a lot of the same questions from many readers such as: Should I buy Windows 8 Pro Upgrade or Windows 8 System Builder? Can I use the upgrade media of Windows to perform a clean install of the operating system? Do I have to purchase the System Builder edition just to install Win 8 from scratch? How does the upgrade work if I wanted to reinstall everything? And do I have to reinstall Windows 7 and then install 8 over it?

Realizing that many users are having the same problem, I decided to clear things up to these users and for anyone who is a bit stuck on how the new Microsoft’s licensing model works.

Basically all the questions, in some way, are related, so hopefully this should help to answer them all. Let’s start by saying that Microsoft licensing has changed a little from previous versions. Starting with Windows 8, for example, users can use the “upgrade” media (DVD, ISO and USB) to do either an in place upgrade or do a clean — a.k.a from scratch — installation of the latest OS. But … — of course there is a but –, there is a catch. Users can only use the Windows 8 (core) or 8 Pro upgrade media as long as there is a valid previous version of Windows (Win 8, 7, Vista or XP) running in the computer.

Here is why: There are various editions of the operating system and each one has a different price. With the upgrade edition I can safely say that it is the cheapest way to move to Win 8, which also means that this edition will be the most widely consume and as the name implies, this is to upgrade (or improve what it was previously installed). Therefore, a previous version of Windows has to be present in the system before performing the installation.

It is worth noting that the Microsoft’s mechanism to make sure if a PC is “upgradeable”, is only to check; users will not be installing Windows 8 on top of Win 7. The wizard will reformat the hard drive before proceeding with the installation. Which means that there is no need for anyone to buy a Windows 8 System Builder license just to do a clean install, if there is a supported upgrade path.

Info: Another way that Microsoft changed its licensing is in the Windows 8 System Builder, the company has changed it to allow normal users to buy and install the version of Windows that is normally set apart for OEMs (manufactures) under the Windows 8 license named “Personal Use License for System Builder.

On the other hand, if the system does not have any operating system installed, the Windows 8 System Builder edition is the way to go. This edition allows the end-user to perform a clean install of the OS with an empty hard drive. Just remember as I mentioned before, each version of the OS has a different price and the System Builder is more expensive than the upgrade. The x86 edition is about $100 and the x64 edition shopping around can be found for about $120 or less.


This brings me to actually answering the question, which it is the version of Windows for you? I believe that the question is already answered. If you already own a computer with Windows 8, 7, Vista or XP, just buy the upgrade version of the operating system. It will allow you to upgrade and to perform an installation from scratch.

Now if are building your own PC or you just simply do not have an OS to upgrade, you’ll need to buy the Windows 8 System Builder edition.

Finally, note that it does not matter which version of Windows 8 you get, you can only install the operating system once. And because you upgraded to Windows 8 does not mean that you can reuse the Windows 7 product key in a new machine.

Need more information migrating to Windows 8? This previous article will answer all of your questions.

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 15 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 21 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. Email him at [email protected].