By Tim Fisher
There are many reasons you might want to download Windows 7. For example, if you need to install Windows 7 but you've lost your original setup disc, or it's damaged, downloading Windows 7 would get you out of that bind.
Computer makers also often don't include a Windows 7 DVD with new computers, complicating the process of a Windows 7 clean install and even some advanced troubleshooting that typically requires a Windows 7 disc.
You might also might want to download Windows 7 just to try out the operating system or to put it on a second computer at home. Windows can be expensive so finding a place to download Windows 7 for free is an enticing thought. Pretty much everything is available on the Internet for free, right?
Where Can I Download Windows 7?
There are several places to download Windows 7 online but most of them are somewhere between "maybe okay" and "completely illegal." Windows 7 has been legitimately distributed online in the past, but it was never free.
UPDATE: Windows 10 is now available and is a free upgrade for most Windows 7 users.
See Where Can I Download Windows 10? for help on what to do next if you're interested in updating.
It's important to realize that in many ways, what you actually pay for when you legally purchase a copy of Windows 7 is the product key, sometimes referred to as a CD key or key code, or incorrectly as the serial number. This unique number is required to be able to fully use Windows 7.
So even if you did download Windows 7 without paying for it, you would still need a valid Windows 7 product key.
Download Windows 7 the 100% Legal Way
Without question, the best way to download Windows 7 is via Microsoft's Download Windows 7 Disc Images (ISO Files) page. This is the official way to get your Windows 7 ISO image. Here's how to do it:
- Visit Download Windows 7 Disc Images (ISO Files) [Microsoft.com]
Important: This process will only work if you have a retail license of Windows 7. This will probably be the case if you bought Windows 7 yourself, or a smaller computer company installed it for you as part of your custom PC purchase. If Windows 7 came preinstalled with your major-brand PC, you probably have an OEM license and you'll need to try some of the ideas below this one.
- Enter your valid Windows 7 product key and verify it with Microsoft.
Tip: Don't have your product key anymore? So long as Windows 7 is still installed somewhere, you may be able to extract it. See How To Find Your Windows 7 Product Key for some help.
- Download the Windows 7 ISO image to your computer.
- What you do with that Windows 7 ISO file next depends on how you plan on installing Windows 7:
Install From Disc: Take that Windows 7 ISO and burn it to an empty DVD disc. See How to Burn an ISO Image File to a DVD for help.
Install From USB: "Burn" the ISO image to a flash drive. See How to Install Windows 7 From USB for a complete tutorial. See How to Burn an ISO File to a USB Drive for an alternative method.
- Install Windows 7 next, or use this flash drive or disc for diagnostics... whatever you were after the Windows 7 download for in the first place.
If this Microsoft resource doesn't work out for you, you may need to request a replacement in a different way. Keep reading for that and several more ideas.
No Windows 7 Key? Here's Your Other Option
There's one way to download Windows 7 legally, without ever having to have purchased a copy or have a valid product key, but it has a caveat that you're probably not going to like.
You can download Windows 7 for "free" as part of your paid MSDN Subscription. This professional subscription by Microsoft grants you access to Windows 7 downloads and product keys, as well as downloads and keys for most of the software Microsoft produces. Unless you're a software programmer or IT professional, this very expensive subscription program is almost certainly not worth the money.
Note: Prior to late 2012, Windows 7 was available for individuals to purchase and download directly from the Microsoft Store. While this is still an option for Windows 10, it is, unfortunately, no longer possible for Windows 7. A 90-day trial version of Windows 7 Enterprise used to be an option until 2015 but that's also no longer available, replaced with the Windows 10 equivalent.
Of course if downloading Windows 7 isn't necessary in your situation, your other option is to purchase a copy of Window 7 on DVD. Microsoft no longer sells Windows 7 directly, but you might still find copies of Windows 7 available at Amazon or from an electronic retailer like NewEgg, so shopping around for the best price is a good idea.
Note: If you have a Windows 7 disc, and are only trying to download Windows 7 because you need to install it on your computer which does not have an optical drive, there is a way to get the installation files from your DVD onto a flash drive. See How To Install Windows 7 From USB for instructions.
The [Now Defunct] "Digital River" Method
Back when Windows 7 was available for purchase and download through the Microsoft Store, Microsoft used a company by the name of Digital River to provide the Windows 7 ISO images.
For a very long time, those Windows 7 ISO files were on a public, unsecured server and could be downloaded without showing any proof of purchase. This might have been be a long-running mistake on the part of Digital River, or perhaps Microsoft simply didn't mind considering the fact that you need a valid product key to use Windows 7 for more than 30 days anyway.
Regardless of how or why they existed so long, they've all been removed as of February, 2015. If you have a valid Windows 7 product key, visit Microsoft Software Recovery. If you don't, you'll need to purchase an MSDN subscription, or, most likely, just purchase Windows 7 outright.
Beware of Other Windows 7 Downloads
Any other "free" Windows 7 download you come across online is most certainly illegal, including Windows 7 ISO files obtained via torrents or directly from other websites or servers. Aside from legal issues, these Windows 7 downloads, unlike the official replacement ISO image from Microsoft, run the risk of being something other than advertised.
For example, many Windows 7 images available on torrent sites and from other unofficial sources are "cracked" versions of Windows 7, meaning they've been modified for various reasons... and may also include built-in malware. Best to avoid a situation like that.
Don't Want to Download Windows 7? Replace the Disc
A final option for those of you with broken or lost Windows 7 discs that don't want to download an official ISO image is to try to get a replacement Windows 7 disc instead.
If Windows 7 came preinstalled on your computer (i.e. you have an OEM (not retail) license), and you did have a disc but it's now lost or damaged, contact your computer maker for a replacement. Depending on your computer maker's policy, the replacement Windows 7 media may be free or you may be charged a small fee.
If you're in a similar situation with a Windows 7 disc but you purchased a retail copy of Windows 7 on DVD, you can contact the Microsoft Supplemental Parts team and request a replacement. You can find their contact information here.
Finally, while not a replacement for Windows 7, you should know that it's possible to create a system repair disc for Windows 7 from any other Windows 7 computer, including a friend's, for just the cost of a blank CD. That disc can be used to perform all the diagnostic and repair functions that a full Windows 7 setup DVD can. See How To Create a Windows 7 System Repair Disc for instructions.
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