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You can spend thousands on components for building a PC, but it won’t boot without an operating system (OS). Linux is a viable option, but most prefer Windows because it runs all their favorite software, including the latest games. Obtaining a copy of Windows 11 or 10 for a built-from-scratch computer can be costly – if you don’t know what you’re doing. Microsoft charges consumers a whopping $139 for a Windows 10 (opens in new tab) or 11 home license (opens in new tab) and $199 for Windows 10 (opens in new tab) or 11 Pro (opens in new tab).

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This is profoundly unfair to PC builders, because large OEMs such as Dell & Lenovo likely pay a tiny fraction of that lớn put Windows on prebuilt systems (though these costs are not made public).Fortunately, there are many ways khổng lồ get Windows 10 or 11 for không tính tiền or for as little as $18 (opens in new tab), depending on what flavor of Windows you want, what you already have và what caveats you’re willing lớn accept.

How to download Windows 10 or 11 For Free

No matter how or whether you pay for it, you can download Windows 10 (opens in new tab) or download Windows 11 (opens in new tab) for miễn phí from Microsoft.com. And, in fact, you should only download it from Microsoft, as grabbing it from any other site or from a P2P network could give you malware. Microsoft offers a free media creation tool, which grabs the latest code from the Internet và then burns itself lớn a USB Flash drive or outputs a Windows 10 or Windows 11 ISO file you can write khổng lồ a drive yourself.



(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

Once that"s done, you can boot from your installation media and start the process. During installation, Microsoft asks you to enter a Windows 10 or 11 product key. If you don’t have a key, you can skip past this step by clicking "I don"t have a product key," but there are drawbacks to using an unactivated copy of Windows, which we’ll talk about below.



(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

Below, we’ll also show you the different methods for saving money on Windows & compare them. If you need a product key và don’t have one available already from an existing build or copy, you’ll want to check out method 5, which involves using a low-cost key marketplace.


1. Tăng cấp from a Prior Windows Version: Free

If you already have a prior version of Windows installed on the computer, you can likely tăng cấp it for miễn phí (obviously this method doesn’t help if you are building a new PC). Windows 7 & 8 will upgrade lớn 10 & Windows 10 will upgrade khổng lồ 11, if your computer meets Windows 11’s stringent system requirements, which include TPM 2.0 support, at least 4GB of RAM và at least 64GB of storage space (you can bypass Windows 11’s TPM & RAM requirements but we don"t recommend it).

If you are still on Windows 7 or 8, you can upgrade to lớn Windows 10 for free. Whether you’re going from 7 / 8 to lớn 10 or 10 lớn 11, you can tăng cấp either by using an install disk (created with the truyền thông creation tool) or with Windows update.

2. Use an Old Windows 7, 8 or 10 Key From Another PC: Free

If you have an old, retail (non-OEM) copy of Windows 7, 8 or 10 you are no longer using on another PC, you can likely use the sản phẩm key when you bởi vì a fresh install of Windows on your new PC. If you need help finding the hàng hóa key on your old computer, there are several ways khổng lồ find it, but using Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder, a miễn phí download, is probably the easiest.



(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

Note that if the sản phẩm key comes from a prebuilt computer that came from the factory with Windows on it, it has an OEM key that may not work on a different new PC. Feel không tính tiền to try it, though, because if it works you have Windows 10 or 11 for free.

If you are massively upgrading your own old PC build, replacing the motherboard và other internal components, try following Microsoft’s instructions for reactivating Windows 10 or 11 after changing hardware (opens in new tab). Just make sure that you don’t use Windows on the old computer afterwards, because that key will already be in use.

3. Don’t Activate Windows 10 or 11: Free

If you don’t have a valid sản phẩm key, you can opt not enter one during the install process và live with an unactivated version. The good news is that you only have two serious disadvantages from not activating Windows 10 or 11. The first is that there’s an embarrassing (if someone is looking over your shoulder) watermark on the lower right corner of the screen, which says that you’re using a non-activated copy of Windows.



(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

The second drawback of using unactivated Windows 10 or 11 is that you can’t use personalization options such as changing the wallpaper, mouse pointer or desktop theme. However, if you are using a Microsoft trương mục that syncs with another computer on which you have custom wallpaper, that wallpaper will appear on your unactivated Windows.


Microsoft blocks out your personalization options if you get Windows 10 for không tính phí and don"t activate it.

You also can’t get tech support from Microsoft should you gọi for help with Windows. But come on; does anyone actually vày that?

Other than those inconveniences, unactivated Windows should work just fine and receive automatic updates too. We’ve known folks who used unactivated Windows for months or years without a problem, but we can’t guarantee that Microsoft won’t crack down & limit functionality further in the future.

4. Microsoft Student or Teacher Discount: Free

If you’re in college, you may be able khổng lồ get Windows 11 for free, just by being enrolled. Microsoft offers students attending certain universities and high schools the ability khổng lồ get Windows 11 Education at no cost (it’s unclear if you can get Windows 10 this way anymore). Windows 11 Education is actually more full-featured than Windows 11 trang chủ and has most of the same features as Windows 11 Pro, including BitLocker encryption, Remote Desktop và Hyper-V virtualization.


(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

Meanwhile, teachers may be able lớn get Windows 11 Education for $14.99. You can see if your school is eligible and download your miễn phí Windows 11 key here.

5. Buy a Cheap Windows 10 or 11 Key From a Third-Party Seller: $20+


(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

If you don’t have any way lớn get a Windows 10 or 11 sản phẩm key for miễn phí and you don’t want to live with the drawbacks of an unactivated copy of Windows, there are some third-party sellers that offer keys starting at less than $20. At the time of writing, Kinguin, a popular key marketplace, was selling Windows 10 trang chủ for as little as $18.22 (opens in new tab) or Windows 11 trang chủ for $31.62 (opens in new tab). Windows 10 Pro started at $20.90 (opens in new tab)and Windows 11 Pro was $34.30 (opens in new tab). These are all OEM keys & likely can"t be used on another computer after you activate them on the first one.

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Windows 10 / 11 hàng hóa Key Prices (Kinguin) at Press TimeVersionPrice (USD)
Windows 10 Home$18.22 (opens in new tab)
Windows 10 home (Online Activation)$32.16 (opens in new tab)
Windows 11 Home $31.62 (opens in new tab)
Windows 10 Pro$20.90 (opens in new tab)
Windows 10 Pro (Online Activation)$35.37 (opens in new tab)
Windows 11 Pro$34.30 (opens in new tab)

Now, let"s address the elephant in the room. While we can"t vouch for all of them, websites selling cheap Windows 10 or 11 keys are likely offering legitimate codes. Kinguin has more than three dozen merchants worldwide selling Windows keys. Mark Jordan, Kinguin’s VP of communications, told Tom"s Hardware in 2019 that Kinguin"s merchants acquire the codes from wholesalers who have surplus copies of Windows they don"t need.

"It"s not a gray market. It would be lượt thích buying Adidas or Puma or Nike from a discounter, from TJ Maxx," Jordan said. "There are no legal issues with buying it from us. It"s just another marketplace."

Once you complete a purchase, you’ll be emailed a hàng hóa key that you can use either during the Windows install process or to activate an unactivated copy of the operating system you already have installed. However, in some cases, these keys can only be activated by using Microsoft’s phone activation service so we recommend that you pay extra for keys that are specifically labeled as “online activation” keys, because the phone process is not anonymous.

Recently, we bought a Windows 10 home key from Kinguin to activate a copy of Windows on a newly-built PC. The instructions on the hàng hóa page warned that we might need to gọi Microsoft’s activation phone number to lớn make the key work and, indeed, the first time we tried using the key, Windows wouldn’t accept it. So we tried calling the number and waited on hold for a few minutes.


(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

We thought activating via phone would be an automated process where we just punched in the key và got an approval code, but instead we got a live representative who immediately asked for our Microsoft account ID. Though these are supposed to be legitimate keys & we shouldn’t get in trouble for using one, we were uncomfortable giving out personal information so we hung up và tried the key again & strangely it now worked.

According lớn Jordan, Kinguin"s merchants have sold “several hundred thousand” keys và are not one-time sellers posting listings for codes they don’t want. As part of its fraud protection, a Kinguin employee randomly buys a key “every now & then” to lớn make sure they’re legitimate, he said. Jordan added that it’s rare for a customer khổng lồ get a key that’s been resold, but if they did, customer tư vấn would help them get a new one for free.

“If there"s ever a problem with a key being already activated or something like that, our customer support team helps you get a new key… & that merchant would be in deep trouble, so they are very careful with it,” Jordan said.

6. Buy Discounted Windows 10 or 11 From Amazon: Not Recommended

If you’re not comfortable with buying from a key marketplace like Kinguin, you might think you’d be better off buying a slightly-discounted boxed or downloadable copy of Windows from Amazon or Newegg. However, both sites play host to lớn a number of third-party sellers whose hàng hóa keys may or may not be legit.

At first glance, it looks lượt thích you can get Windows 10 trang chủ for as little as $98 on a USB Flash drive from Amazon. However, if you look at the seller’s name, you might notice that it’s not Microsoft or Amazon but a third-party named UNILOVO & there are several complaints in the user review about the key not working. You can find Windows 11 trang chủ on a Flash drive for $139 on Amazon & Microsoft is listed as the seller so that’s probably legit, but no cheaper than what Microsoft.com charges.


(Image credit: Tom"s Hardware)

7. Buy Windows from Microsoft: $139 - $199

The easiest but most expensive way to get Windows is to buy your key directly from Microsoft.com. You can get Windows 10 home (opens in new tab) or Windows 11 trang chủ for $139 (opens in new tab). & you can get Windows 10 Pro (opens in new tab) or Windows 11 Pro for $199 (opens in new tab). You can get these either as downloads or on USB drives.

What"s the Best Way to lớn Get Windows 10 or 11?


Upgrade From Windows 7, 8 or 10Don"t Activate WindowsStudent DiscountBuy a Cheap Key From a Third PartyBuy a Key From Microsoft
PriceFreeFreeFree (Windows 10 Education)$18+Home: $139, Pro: $199
ProsAccess lớn all personalization options; Microsoft support access; FreeFreeAccess khổng lồ all personalization options; Microsoft tư vấn access; Equivalent to lớn Windows 10 Enterprise; FreeAccess to lớn all personalization options; Microsoft tư vấn accessAccess khổng lồ all personalization options; Microsoft support access; Refunds
ConsNoneDesktop watermark;Personalization options restricted; Can"t use Microsoft supportYou have to lớn be enrolled in an eligible schoolThere"s a chance your key won"t work, & you"ll need lớn get customer serviceExpensive

If you have an old Windows key you can carry over from a previous build, that"s your best option và effectively gives you Windows 10 or Windows 11 for free. If you don"t have a key on hand, you need khổng lồ decide whether you"re comfortable using an unactivated version of Windows 10 or 11, which limits your customization options, has an ugly watermark and leaves you ineligible for Microsoft support.

Many would argue that downloading Windows without paying for or already owning a hàng hóa key is ethically wrong. That said, Microsoft has made this process easier over various Windows iterations and lessened the limitations and nagging that happens when you don"t activate. The company isn"t trying lớn close this loophole, probably because it’s more interested in driving user numbers. We"ve even seen well-known vendors và Microsoft partners vì press presentations with watermarks on their desktop.

If you need to lớn buy a Windows 10 or Windows 11 key, you can save a lot with a low-cost seller such as Kinguin (opens in new tab), although there’s always a chance your key won’t work & you’ll have to rely on customer service. We strongly recommend that you buy a key with online activation so you don’t have lớn explain yourself và give out personal info to lớn a Microsoft operator.

It’s hard to recommend paying MSRP for Windows 10 or 11, because Microsoft"s price is astronomically high. You can save $100 or more by buying a key from one of these third-party sites, which is money you can spend on one of the best graphics cards, one of the fastest SSDs or a few AAA games for your new PC.


Avram Piltch is Tom"s Hardware"s editor-in-chief. When he"s not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you"ll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
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