Most Windows PCs ship without installation disc or any other form of physical product that you can use to re-install the system. While you do get options to create recovery discs, it is not the same thing.
The same is true when you purchase upgrades online from Microsoft. You don't get a disc anymore unless you purchase it directly, and even if you do, you will notice that some versions of the operating system are not available as physical media.
It is unclear why Microsoft made it difficult in the past to download installation media directly from the company.
This guide offers direct links to programs or disc images that you can download legally to your system. You still need a valid Windows product key to use them though.
They can be useful to many Windows users. Those who want to transfer the operating system to a new PC or new hard drive, and those who want a backup in place to make sure they can reinstall the system when it stops working.
Note: All downloads below are from official sources only. It is not recommended to download Windows from unofficial sources. You can use the tools described below to burn or copy the installation files to disc or USB, or use a third-party disc burning program like ImgBurn or the operating system's burning option if supported to burn it directly to DVD.
You do need a valid product key for the operating system and version that you plan to install. Most can be used a certain amount of time, 30 days usually, without registration.
Windows Vista is not provided as an ISO image but as three files, one exe file and two wim files.
You can run those on a system to upgrade to Windows Vista, or use third-party software like A Bootable USB from Ask VG to create an ISO image that you can burn to disc.
Microsoft Windows Vista with SP1 32-bit:
Microsoft Windows Vista with SP2 64-bit:
The Windows 7 files are provided as ISO images right away which you can burn to disc or copy to a USB drive. They are provided by Digital River, the company that hosts downloads for Microsoft officially. If you purchase a copy of Windows 7 from Microsoft Store, it is also downloaded from Digital River.
Microsoft's Windows USB/DVD Download Tool can be used to copy the installation files to USB if you want to install using a USB device. The name feels strange as you don't download Windows using the tool but use a local ISO image instead to burn it to DVD or copy to USB.
The best option to create installation media for Windows 8.1 is to download Microsoft's create media tool. It is a small program that you run on your system to create the necessary files to install Windows 8.1 on a PC.
All you need to do is select the desired language, edition of Windows 8.1 and architecture and you are good to go. You can select directly if you want to copy the files to a USB flash drive or create a ISO file instead.
Windows 10 is only available as a technical preview at the time of writing. It can be downloaded from Microsoft directly as an ISO file that you can burn to DVD or copy to USB devices.
The excepted release date of the operating system is Fall 2015.
Minimum system requirements have not changed by a lot as you can see below.
|Vista||Windows 7||Windows 8.1||Windows 10|
|Processor||1 GHz or faster||1 GHz or faster||1 GHz or faster||1 GHz or faster|
|RAM||1GB||1GB (32-bit), 2GB (64-bit)||1GB (32-bit), 2GB (64-bit)||1GB (32-bit), 2GB (64-bit)|
|Hard Disk Space||15GB||16GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)||16GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)||16GB|
|Other||Home Basic has lower requirements||Currently only available as a preview|
You find links to all system requirement pages below:
Have something to add? Downloads not working? Let us know in the comments.
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