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Saving Your Free Windows 10 Upgrade For Later

While the Windows 10 free upgrade offer expires July 29, it turns out there are a couple of approaches that, while they are a little bit of work, can save the free upgrade so you can use it after the deadline has passed.

There are the normal number of caveats and possible issues, but if you’re not ready to make the switch just yet, we have a way to save that free update.

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The basic approach

The approach we’ll start with is very, very simple: back up, upgrade, back up again, restore.

1. Back up

In my opinion, this step is mandatory any time you upgrade your operating system for any reason.

And by “back up”, I mean a system image backup: a backup of everything on your hard disk. That includes the currently installed operating system, your programs, your data, the boot information … everything.

I recommend using a third party application such as Macrium Reflect, or EaseUS Todo. Both have free editions that handle this job nicely.

The result will be a single file that contains the image backup. Save this file somewhere safe. In fact, consider making a duplicate copy somewhere else, as a backup of the backup.

2. Upgrade

Let Windows 10 Upgrade do its thing.

One approach is to let the nagging Windows 10 upgrade notification run and perform the upgrade for you. If you’ve been using GWX Control Panel or Never10 to stave off the upgrade, you’ll need to reverse those effects.

Another approach is to download the Windows 10 ISO, burn it to a DVD or place it on a USB device, and then boot from that DVD or USB device to perform the upgrade.

Regardless of which approach you use, perform the upgrade. Let Windows 10 install and update itself completely.

3. Back up again

Windows 10 in a ContainerPerform another system image backup.

Once again, that’s a backup of everything on your hard disk: the operating system (now Windows 10), programs, and data.

Save this backup somewhere safe. In fact, definitely make a second copy – a backup of this backup – and save that somewhere else.

This is your “free Windows 10” you’ll use later, when you’re ready.

4. Restore

Now, using the same backup program you used to create your original backup image, restore that image to your hard drive.

Typically that means creating and then booting from “rescue media” to run the backup program that can copy the backup image to your machine.

When you’re done, it’ll be like none of this ever happened …

… except you’ll also have a backup image of your ready-to-go Windows 10 installation.

Caveat

As a couple of readers have pointed out all of this is, quite honestly, speculation. It’s based on techniques that work today, and should work tomorrow.

However…

It’s very true that there may be a catch that only appears after the deadline.

It’s also very true that even if there is not, Microsoft could easily disable the various “save until later” techniques at any time in the future.

Sadly, there are no guarantees.

When the time comes to upgrade

When you finally decide to upgrade to Windows 10 “for real”, past the offer’s expiration date, here’s what you’ll do:

A. Back up your existing system again.

B. Restore the Windows 10 image backup you took above.

C. Let it take any updates that have been made available since you took that image.

D. Update any software on the machine that was updated since the image was created.

E. From the backup image taken in step A, restore any data added or updated since you originally created that Windows 10 image.

That’s basically it. You should now be running Windows 10, for free, while having run your previous version of Windows well past the offer expiration date.

Variation #1: Let Windows 10 revert

Instead of performing the restore operation outlined in our original step 4, Windows 10 will allow you to revert to your prior version of Windows for a period of 30 days after the upgrade. You can elect to do so.

Personally, I feel safer with the image-restore approach, as I can’t imagine that the process of installing and then reverting Windows 10 using its own processes wouldn’t leave assorted detritus behind. Restoring an image ensures you get exactly what you had when the image was taken.

I’ve also heard reports of the reversion process failing. That’s one reason for taking the image backup to start with, as at that point, restoring it is your only option.

Variation #2: Upgrade again when the time comes

I have heard, but cannot confirm, that rather than restoring the Windows 10 image you created, you may be able to simply perform the upgrade again and have it work.

The concept here is that your initial upgrade to Windows 10 creates what’s called a “digital entitlement” for the specific machine on which you it’s done. That digital entitlement is preserved, so you’re able to upgrade the same machine at any time later.

If this works, it could have one significant benefit: any changes you’ve made to your installed applications and/or data will be preserved. As you may have noticed, the previous restore to Windows 10 involved also updating not only Windows 10 itself, but also updating all your applications and data that may have changed since your original Windows 10 image was created. That could be a fair amount of work.

Needless to say, while I consider this to be worth a try, I wouldn’t bet on it completely. Be prepared to restore your Windows 10 image and move forward from there if this doesn’t work for you.

Caveats and “gotcha’s”

The “free” upgrade applies only to machines running Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1. If the compatibility checker indicates that your machine is not compatible, you may be able to “force” the upgrade using the downloaded ISO, but I’d recommend you be prepared for failure.

Digital entitlement, mentioned before, is key to any approach that allows you to install or upgrade later. Unfortunately, it’s apparently highly dependent on your hardware configuration. What that means is that if your computer changes in almost any way (RAM, motherboard, hard disk, network, and perhaps more), the “entitlement” may fail, and you’ll lose your free upgrade. If that happens, you’ll be forced to purchase a Windows 10 license if you want to complete the upgrade.

Finally, this is not a way to get both Windows 10 and your previous version of Windows running at the same time, or even installed at the same time. The free upgrade is a single-machine upgrade: you had a previous version of Windows, and you upgrade to Windows 10, which replaces it.

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41 comments on “Saving Your Free Windows 10 Upgrade For Later”

  1. Does installing Windows10 change the computers BIOS? I have an ASUS P5S800 motherboard/Vista that had worked flawlessly until Microsoft SLAMMED me with their FREE Windows 10 upgrade when I wasn’t looking. It would not go away and I was ready to junk the computer. The computer boots up to a “GRUB:REPAIR error. The only thing I can figure out is the BIOS has been altered, maybe to UEFI? And how can I get it back.
    Van W. Cottom

    b

    Reply
    • Hi Van — i have the same concern — the BIOS.

      Hi Leo — thanks for doing this awesome step-by-step! Leo — it might be prudent to also back up BIOS? I understand I’d likely have to get the tools for this from the MB manufacturer…
      … seems I heard this somewhere else on the Web too — Win 10 touched somebody’s BIOS.

      What you say?

      Thanks,
      -g

      Reply
  2. I have paid version of MR.
    I have my image from current OS.
    How do you backup the Windows 10 installation (Step 3 in your article)?
    Do you have to download MR to Windows 10?
    Can you use the rescue media from previous version?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • If you do an upgrade install keeping all of your programs and data, Macrium Reflect will be on your Windows 10 machine. Otherwise, you’d have to install it manually. The same rescue disc should work, but you can try it booting from it to see if it works.

      Reply
    • You can either install MR in WIndows 10 (the free version will do), OR, indeed, you can boot from the rescue media and use that to make an image as well.

      Reply
      • I made the upgrade from Windows 8.1using MS web site.
        Macrium did come through from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 OK so I just used it as usual to make the Win 10 image.
        Thanks all.

        Reply
  3. “What that means is that if your computer changes in almost any way (RAM, motherboard, hard disk, network, and perhaps more), the “entitlement” may fail, and you’ll lose your free upgrade. If that happens, you’ll be forced to purchase a Windows 10 license if you want to complete the upgrade.” – You’ll likely NOT lose the free upgrade. Microsoft’s customer service team will usually complete the activation in such circumstances.

    Reply
    • I had a similar situation. I wanted to install windows on an SSD which was smaller than my HD, so instead of messing with the partitions, I decided to install Windows from an iso file. It wouldn’t register because it was an upgrade only license. I had to call two different times till I got a tech who believed me and validated it for me.

      Reply
  4. i tried to back up win 10 to disk but it turns out i need at least 22 gigs to burn a disk. the only disks i could find in my town were 700 mb. so i bought a 32 gig flash drive. i tried to back up again. but i had to convert the port to NTFS. i asked Leo how to do that and did. now the computer tells me a flash drive is not suitable for this purpose. am i gonna have to use 20 disks in order to back up win 10?

    Reply
  5. Seems to me that there could be an even simpler solution here . . . could be wrong, but the only drawback is spending a bit of money for a second new hard drive (hard drives are actually pretty cheap these days — just make sure that you get one that has the same or greater capacity as the original drive). Clone the original hard drive (in my case, Windows 7) to include an exact bootable copy of your current hard drive. Remove the original hard drive from the computer and put it on the shelf. Insert the cloned hard drive in the computer and make sure that it runs exactly as the original did. Test your applications and data access (if you store data on the C drive — in my case, all data is stored on a D drive, and the C drive is only for operating system and applications. Then, use the cloned hard drive to upgrade to the free Windows 10. You can then experiment with all the Windows 10 features and make the decision whether or not to keep it. If you do not like Windows 10, then remove that hard drive and replace it with the original Windows 7 hard drive. Of course you can completely remove the Windows 10 installation from the cloned drive, or you can re-clone the original Windows 7 hard drive and then put the cloned drive on the shelf as a complete backup. I have not done this yet, but am seriously considering doing it. If anyone knows any problems with this approach, please comment. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Seems to me that your cloning technique will work. BUT, when you say “you can re-clone the original Windows 7 hard drive and then put the cloned drive on the shelf as a complete backup”, you are implying to me that you do not have an “image backup” right now. I hope that you really do.

      I took a slightly more complicated approach. I have had the GWX Control Panel installed for quite a while and plan to stay with Win 7. But, to hedge my bets, I made a “clone” (using Macrium Reflect) of my Win 7 hard drive. I then made an “Image” of the drive (thus doing something similar to Leo’s suggestion to make a duplicate of the “image”. I then opened the GWX Control Panel and reversed it’s block on Win 10. I had previously downloaded MediaCreationTool.exe from Microsoft and made a Win 10 ISO DVD. This time I let it do an update to Win 10. After it completed, I made a “clone” the the drive in its new state (and yes, that is the second of 2 hard drives I have in my fireproof safe) and then also made an “image”. So, at this point I have both a “clone” and “image” of Win 7 and a “clone” and “image” of Win 10. Then, I went to the Start menu, selected Settings, clicked “Update & security” icon and then selected “Recovery”. Win 10 tried to convince me to stay but I persisted and soon had my Win 7 installation back again.

      Reply
      • I have two image backups of my complete system using two separate backup software applications. These image backups include my C drive (operating system and applications) and my D drive (data) — both drives are separate physical drives — and the backup images are housed on a separate 3 TB NAS – USB drive. I perform complete image backups each Sunday evening (automatic schedule) and the backup software retains the last three images, deleting the oldest one when making a new image. My thinking about recloning the Windows 10 drive, if not wanted, is simply to have a ready Windows 7 hard drive (of course it will be ready to the point in time that the clone was made) on the shelf should the main C drive fail. The recloned Windows 7 drive could be inserted into the computer and used as before, plus it can be then updated using the stored image on the NAS backup drive. Having some years back lost all my valuable data due to a crash and my carelessness of not backing up, I have been an ardent and persistent backup person since that time. And yes, you brought to light another point — I also use the GWX control panel, and that panel settings would definitely have to be reversed, or the GWX panel uninstalled before the clone is made. Thanks for your input.

        Reply
  6. Leo says,
    “Another approach is to download the Windows 10 ISO, burn it to a DVD or place it on a USB device, and then boot from that DVD or USB device to perform the upgrade.”
    Questions. (I have W7 on my PC)
    1. I presume the W10 ISO will fit ok on a standard DVD?
    2. If I download the free W10 to a DVD, can I then use it at ANYTIME LATER to install per your instructions?

    Reply
  7. Dual Booting W10 and Win7

    Extending from John’s comment on 19 July, I was wondering how feasible it would be to:
    1. clone my existing Windows 7 OS partition/drive and all associated software to another partition/drive
    2. boot from the new location
    3. let Windows 10 update on the cloned drive leaving the original drive/partition as Windows 7

    How does this affect the license keys for the original Windows 7 installation? Will it still be able to receive updates? Or will I get some sort of message saying the copy of Windows 7 is invalid?

    Reply
    • “Or will I get some sort of message saying the copy of Windows 7 is invalid?” – I cannot say for sure, but suspect that you would.

      Reply
  8. Dear Leo, I read somewhere that after you upgrade to windows 10, the windows 7 license that you had previously been using, expires 31 days later.
    So my concern is whether the 2nd last line of your step 4 is correct “When you’re done, it’ll be like none of this ever happened …”
    (I hope it is, because I want to follow your instructions).

    But would you mind clarifying please, if undertaking the free upgrade does or does not affect the windows 7 license being used by the computer before the upgrade.

    Thanks for the awesome articles and help!

    Reply
    • I’ve not read that, and I should probably add a disclaimer to the article: ALL of this is subject to Microsoft’s whim, and could change at any time.

      Reply
    • I’ve heard nothing about licenses expiring. What does happen, however, is that the Windows 7/8 backup files that are created during an upgrade – which enable the system to be rolled back – are automatically deleted after 30 days. Consequently, the only to revert to the previous OS after that time is to do a factory reset or restore your own backup.

      That said, it’s important to note that the method outlined by Leo – and by numerous other websites – to “save your free upgrade” seems to be entirely speculative. As far as I know, Microsoft has not confirmed that this method will work and it’s possible that the company already has a mechanism in place – or will put a mechanism in place – to stop it from working. And, obviously, it cannot actually be tested until after July 29th.

      Reply
  9. Hi Leo
    Somewhere along the line the Win 10 icon disappeared from my task bar and so I could not run the install. I have run a script I downloaded from the net and although this has put the Win 10 icon (Get Windows 10) back on the task bar nothing happens when I click on it. I do recall that a compatibility test way back when the icon first appeared told me that there was some problem with my Graphics card (NVIDIA GeForce 6150LE) but I can’t even run this test again to see if my PC can run the upgrade now. How do I get the GWT to run properly or should I download the Win 10 ISO from your link and will this enable me to run the compatibility test?

    Thanks

    Reply
  10. I have not read anything about a windows 10 upgrade. Is it an auto upgrade that I don’t need to concern myself with. Where is a good place to see what the upgrade does.

    Reply
  11. Leo, there’s an interesting variation on these ‘upgrade to Win10’ techniques, which is not often mentioned. I’ve tried it on a laptop that was running Linux and it works. I’m not sure how the July ‘end of free update’ date will stop it working. All you need is a valid Win7/8 key that is the same type as the version of Win 10 you wish to upgrade to.

    I had read recently that the ISO/USB ‘install from scratch by booting from downloaded media’ technique was updated earlier this year to accept Win7 and Win8 install keys. I had an unused Win7 OEM DVD and Key that I had purchased and not used and tried it out. I booted from USB, deleted all the partitions, selected the empty disk to install WIn10 and the install process asked if I had a key. I entered the Win7 key, waited 20 seconds and the install continued. [As an aside, I entered the key incorrectly the first time and got an “invalid key” message]. This key validation occurs ‘offline’ as it’s very early in the install and I couldn’t possibly have been connected to the Internet to validate against a Microsoft server.

    Once it was booted, I checked the Activation settings and it was marked as ‘active with digital entitlement’. The usual tools showed me the new key, which I noted for future use.

    Presumably this will work if you find / note your current key and can’t time out unless the July date is built into the install code.

    P.S. Just thinking out loud; I’ll think I’ll try again and set the laptop date to Jan 2017 and see what happens!

    Reply
    • “All you need is a valid Win7/8 key that is the same type as the version of Win 10 you wish to upgrade to.” – A Windows 7/8 key will not enable a no-cost upgrade after July 29th (at least, I don’t think it will).

      “I’ll try again and set the laptop date to Jan 2017 and see what happens!” – The date on the laptop is almost certainly irrelevant – if it wasn’t, you could do the upgrade after July simply by changing the date.

      Reply
  12. Hi Team. You’ll have guessed by now how reluctant I am to change, but you ALMOST convinced me to backup, upgrade then restore W7 image if not satisfied. I say ALMOST – you HAD, but now the waters have been muddied with that reference to the ‘anniversary update’ coming in August. To receive that for free, do you have to install it immediately or will that update too remain ‘on the shelf’ provided the W10 image is registered?? And – is that (anniversary) update sufficiently different for me to want to change my mind about keeping W10 – in other words what’s in the update? I still need convincing……..
    Thanks again team for all your patience!

    Reply
  13. I’ve installed Windows 10 on four computers. Two of the installations were successful. Two were not in that I wasn’t able to install my HP Laserjet printers (4050 & 4100). Rather than recognize the printers Win 10 only recognized the Radio Shack USB printer cable. A microsoft technician attempted to resolve the issue but wasn’t able to do so. I suppose the only alternative is to keep those computers on Windows 7 which, as I understand, will be supported until 2020.

    Reply
  14. I use Macruim Reflect

    As it is unclear to me, could you please clarify WHICH Macruim Rescue Media I would
    use to restore back from Win 10 to Win 8.1, the one I created on DVD for 8.1, or the Macruim
    Rescue Media created for Win 10

    thank you again for all your help

    Reply
    • The rescue media is independent. I’d use whatever rescue media / emergency disk you created with the most recent version of Reflect. You would use that to restore the backup image of Windows 8.1 that you presumably placed on an external hard drive.

      Reply
      • Leo and Mark, my sincere thanks for clearing this up. FYI – I have multiple Seagate External Hard Drives, make sure each one has the image BU’s in case one fails. Your expertise on this and everything else is always much appreciated.

        Reply

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