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Introduction – The Free Upgrade to Windows 10 Version 1803
Windows 8.1 Reached End of Mainstream Support in January 2018. Extended Support lasts until January 2023. For more details see End of Support.
Microsoft are keen for you to Upgrade to Windows 10. The Upgrade is Free and you may directly Clean Install Windows 10 Version 1803 (March/April 2018) or perform an Upgrade Install of Windows 10 Version 1803 (March/April 2018).
Windows 10 Version 1803 (March/April 2018) is a polished and a very stable build and I would recommend installing it in all cases instead of Windows 8.1:
Since Windows 10 Version 1511 (November 2015) was released Microsoft have a proper Digital Distribution and activation mechanism for Windows 10 supporting all Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 OEM licenses including Windows 8.1 with Bing and Windows 8.1 Single Language with Bing.
See Windows OEM FAQs and Downloads for instructions in Downloading a Windows 10 .iso, Creating a Bootable USB and Clean Installing Windows 10 or performing an Upgrade Install to Windows 10.
Download Windows 8.1 with Update 2 Retail and OEM .iso
- Determining your Edition and whether your License is OEM or Retail
- Determining your Edition when Windows cannot Boot
- Downloading a Windows 8.1 .iso
- English File Sizes
- Creating a Bootable USB
- The Media Center Edition and “Get Features with a New Edition of Windows”
- The with Bing Editions (Use Windows 10 Version 1803)
- Evaluation & Generic Product Keys
- Determining the OEM UEFI BIOS Embedded SLP Key
This guide has a complimentary video tutorial.
Part 1: Introduction, Editions and Product Keys
The Windows 8.1 with Update 2 Media Creation Tool will work with both Windows 8.1 “Edition” and Windows 8 “Edition” product keys. Unlike earlier installation media this tool treats Windows 8 “Edition” and Windows 8.1 “Edition” as equivalent.
Mainstream OEM and Retail Editions
This guide covers the following mainstream OEM and Retail Editions of Windows 8.1:
- Windows 8.1 (Home) = Windows 8 (Home)
- Windows 8.1 (Home) Single Language = Windows 8 (Home) Single Language
- Windows 8.1 Pro = Windows 8 Pro
“Free” OEM Only Editions
This guide doesn’t cover the “Free” OEM only with Bing Editions which Microsoft failed to provide installation media for:
- Windows 8.1 (Home) with Bing
- Windows 8.1 (Home) Single Language with Bing
You will have to use the Windows 10 .iso for these.
European Commission N Editions
This guide also covers the European Commission Editions of Windows 8.1:
- Windows 8.1 HomeN = Windows 8 HomeN
- Windows 8.1 ProN = Windows 8 ProN
You may be thinking what is a European Commission N Edition?
These are slightly less functional Editions of Windows 8.1 created because the European Commission didn’t approve of Microsoft bundling Windows Media Player and Windows Media Centre in Windows 8.1. However like the European Commission they are extremely unpopular especially in the Anglosphere.
- These are Duplicate Editions which have restricted Media Features due to a lawsuit made from the European Commission.
- These Editions are rarely used (even in European countries).
The European Commission is now wasting time with Article 13 trying to break the Internet a bit like Windows Vista and extreme User Account Control:
Media Center Editions
The last Edition is a retail upgrade and requires the base Windows to be reinstalled and then use of “Get Features with a New Edition of Windows“:
- Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center
For the OEM license(s) you don’t need to worry about your product key as its a UEFI BIOS Embedded System Locked Preinstallation (SLP) Key and will get input automatically during installation with the updated installation media mentioned in this guide.
For the retail license Berlarc Advisor can be used to determine your product key. In the case of the Media Center Edition record the Internet Explorer Key (it’ll be the original Edition) and the Media Center Key. Its more advisable to obtain the keys from the order confirmation emails or retail packaging.
Part 2: Determining your Edition and whether your License is OEM/Retail from System
The easiest way of determining what edition your product key when the previous installation can boot is by System. If you cannot boot into your OEM installation see Determining your Windows Edition when your System Cannot Boot.
To get to system right clicking the start button (or pressing [Windows] and [x]) and then select system:
If you have Windows 8.0 there is no Start Button so you may press the [Windows] and [Pause|Break] key to launch system or access it from Computer in Windows Explorer.
Look at the product ID at the bottom and see if the product ID mentions the words OEM. If the license is OEM then your product key will reside within the system UEFI/BIOS known as a System Locked Preinstallation (SLP) key. If you have a supported OEM Edition proceed to Downloading a Windows 8.1 with Update 2 .iso.
If on the other hand your license does not mention OEM, you should have a Retail product key in a confirmation email or in retail packaging. If you have your key proceed to Downloading a Windows 8.1 with Update 2 .iso.
Part 3: Determining your Windows Edition when you Cannot Boot into your OEM Installation
As retail product keys are sold directly by Microsoft the Edition and key are usually clearly printed in the confirmation email or retail packaging.
This part mainly concerns OEM product keys as there are more Editions and the product key (SLP key) resides in the UEFI BIOS. Many that will advise you on Windows installation on Microsoft Answers will say the choice is very easy and that there are only two “Editions” to choose from in accordance to your sticker and are wrong…
If you have this sticker which says “Windows 8” you likely have one of the following three editions:
- Windows 8.1 Most Common
- Windows 8.1 Single Language Common
- Windows 8.1 N Rare
In the vast majority of cases the “Home Edition” is “Windows 8.1” or “Windows 8.1 Single Language”. If your system has this sticker try downloading these two .isos and if one of the .isos takes you to the license agreement during installation you have the correct “Edition”.
The “N” Editions are rare pointless Editions enforced by the European Commission to exclude media player so try these only if the regular .isos don’t work. N Edition keys are not interchangeable with normal Editions.
Home with Bing Editions
I had a look at a few shops BestBuy, PC World, Staples in the US, CA and in the UK. I checked the sticker at the base of the system and compared this with the Edition in system properties. I was looking in particular for a difference in the with Bing systems. Although all the systems have a sticker which just says “Windows 8” similar to the other 3 Editions which the Media Creation Tool Supports it was a different sticker.
If you have this sticker which looks like the following you likely have one of the with Bing Editions which are unfortunately not supported by the Microsoft Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool but are supported by the Windows 10 .iso:
- Windows 8.1 with Bing Most Common
- Windows 8.1 Single Language with Bing Common
If you have this sticker you likely have one of the following 2 editions:
- Windows 8.1 Pro Most Common
- Windows 8.1 ProN Rare
In the vast majority of cases the “Professional Edition” is “Windows 8.1 Pro”. If your system has this sticker try downloading this .iso and if the .iso takes you to the license agreement during installation you have the correct “Edition”.
The “N” Editions are rare pointless Editions enforced by the European Commission to exclude media player so try these only if the regular .isos don’t work. N Edition keys are not interchangeable with normal Editions. The UK has now thankfully left the EU so hopefully EC enforced annoyances will be a thing of the past.
If you have this stickers you have Windows RT:
A Windows RT device has hardware in particular a processor that is non-Intel/AMD using instead Arm processors. These devices were made to compete with Chrome Books as budget devices and prolonged battery life.
However in reality Arm processors do not scratch the potential of Intel/AMD processors because of the magnitude of third party applications written using either the Intel x86 or AMD x64 architectures (Intel and AMD have an agreement – Intel use AMD x64 and AMD use Intel x86).
These means the overwhelming majority of third party applications will run fine on Windows 8 but not on Windows RT. This gives Windows RT essentially the capabilities of Windows Phone…
This Edition was terribly marketed and sold often by shops as Windows 8. As a consequence of being sold and marketed as a broken variant of Windows 8 with the end user seeing it as a device with Windows 8 but with nothing working, Windows RT was highly unpopular. In turn as it was unpopular, developers never felt the urge to write programs which would run on Windows RT therefore making it redundant.
Windows RT is unfortunately unsupported by the Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool and you have to procure installation media from Dell. Needless to say I don’t recommend Windows RT and don’t classify it as an Edition of Windows 8.
Don’t have a Windows 8 Sticker?
If you don’t have one of these stickers affixed to your system you likely got a system shipped with Linux or an earlier Edition of Windows and hence won’t have a UEFI BIOS Embedded SLP key. Its possible the Windows 8 sticker peeled off however you can check to see if you have a UEFI BIOS Embedded SLP Key using RWEverything see Determining your UEFI BIOS Embedded SLP Key.
Checking Edition from Dell Original System Configuration
You might also be able to get a hint of the preinstalled Windows Edition from Dells original system configuration, its worth quickly checking this out before committing to download a 4 GB .iso.
For Dell systems you may want to go to www.dell.com
Select support and then support by product:
Enter your service tag found at the base of your system or within the Dell UEFI BIOS Setup:
See if System Configuration mentions anything about the original installed Windows Edition. In some cases Dell fill in the Original System configuration very well in other cases they do not.
Editions are not Equivalent
The important take home note regarding the Windows 8.1 “Editions” are they are not equivalent as far as installation is concerned:
Windows 8.1 (Core/Home) ≠ Windows 8.1 N (Core/Home) ≠ Windows 8.1 SL (Core/Home) ≠ Windows 8.1 with Bing ≠ Windows 8.1 SL with Bing ≠ Windows 8.1 Pro ≠ Windows 8.1 ProN
If the correct Edition of .iso is used, your OEM key will automatically be input and you will be taken straight to the License Agreement Screen:
If the incorrect Edition of .iso is used then your OEM key will simply be ignored you will get stuck on the Enter Your Product Key Screen:
Unfortunately the wrong Edition of installation media doesn’t even mention you have an OEM key of another Edition. This is fixed in Windows 10 Installation Media which is multiple Edition and should input the UEFI BIOS SLP key if present in all cases.
In my opinion the installation media should give you an error message like:
“You are attempting to install Windows 8.1 on a Device with Windows 8.1 Single Language Installed. To continue installation either input a Windows 8.1 key or quit installation and begin installation with Windows 8.1 Single Installation Media.”
If you do not know what Edition you have you may need to use a bit of trial and error to get the correct Edition to install. For instance try Windows 8.1, then Windows 8.1 Single Language and then Windows 8.1 Pro in turn.
For the retail license, its easy to determine your edition from your physical media or confirmation email. If however during installation you enter a Retail key for the wrong Edition you will get the error message:
“The product key entered does not match any of the Windows Images Available for Installation. Enter a Different Product Key.”
Then installation will then abort.
Part 4. Downloading a Windows 8.1 “Edition” .iso with “The Windows Media Creation Tool”
While this tool seems simplistic to use there are some common issues:
- Do not use a DVD it will be rejected by a UEFI BIOS with SecureBoot and you won’t be able to boot. For a legacy MBR BIOS there may also be burning issues. I don’t recommend DVD media at all.
- If you use the Media Creation tool on a 8 GB or superior USB flash drive directly and it has been formatted as NTFS and not FAT32 the USB will be created with a NTFS format and it will be rejected by a UEFI BIOS with SecureBoot and you won’t be able to boot.
I therefore recommend following the exact procedure I document.
This tool is a .exe and can only be ran on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10.
Microsoft have locked out its use even on Windows Vista and Windows XP which have both reached End of Life.
The Media Creation Tool cannot be ran on Linux or Apple OS unless a Windows VM is used (with Windows installed). For this digital distribution you hence had to install a modern Windows OS in order to download a modern Windows OS… which was a bit of a catch 22 for those stuck on Windows XP (with compatible hardware), Windows Vista, Linux or Apple OS.
The unofficial workaround was to use the Windows 8.1 Enterprise .iso (offered as a direct download link), install Windows 8.1 Enterprise and then run the Media Creation Tool. This flawed digital distribution was fixed with Windows 10 which offers Windows 10 installation .isos as direct Download links.
The Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool can be downloaded from here and allows for selection of language, 5 Editions and also architecture:
Direct Download Link:
This tool gives a Windows 8.1 “Edition” with Update 2 .iso.
These new Windows 8.1 with Update 2 “Edition” .isos will accept both Retail Windows 8 “Edition” and Windows 8.1 “Edition” product keys during installation. Product activation will occur automatically upon first connection to the internet.
This new set of installation media does not discriminate between Windows 8 product keys which were sold as Upgrade Only and Windows 8.1 Product Keys which were sold as Full. My clean installation with a Windows 8.1 Professional with Update 2 on a system with an upgraded processor and the hard drive replaced with a securely wiped SSD using a Windows 8.0 Professional key from the initial 30 day promotion, automatically activated online without any issues.
The tool itself does not require entry of a product key to download the installation media. The Windows 8.1 with Update 2 “Edition” .iso will automatically input OEM UEFI/BIOS Embedded System Locked Preinstallation Windows 8.0 “Edition” and Windows 8.1 “Edition” keys. Product activation will occur automatically upon first connection to the internet. There is thus no longer any need to use a third party utility to obtain your product key.
Double click the mediacreationtool
The downloader will load displaying the Windows logo:
You will asked for Language, Edition and Architecture:
Microsoft offer a large assortment on languages as shown, pick your desired language.
I’m going to select “proper English”.
i.e. “English – en-gb”:
You will then be prompted for your Windows Edition – in this case I am going to select Windows 8.1:
Then you will be prompted for your architecture. I’m going to select the 64 Bit version, in most cases the 64 Bit version should be selected.
The 32 Bit version should only be used for legacy applications or weaker hardware such as tablets.
When you have selected your 3 desired options select next:
Saving the .iso gives you an easy means of creating a Bootable USB later on. Should something go wrong with the USB creation or you format the USB by mistake accidentally you will need to download the media again. Taking the additional step to save the .iso is therefore recommended in this guide.
Then select to save the .iso file and select next:
Select the location to save and name of your .iso and select next:
The .iso will download:
Once you .iso is saved select Finish.
If you want to download another Edition or Architecture simply launch the media creation tool again.
Part 5: English File Sizes
The English 64 Bit UK .isos I downloaded were the following size:
The English 32 Bit UK .isos I downloaded were the following size:
The English 64 Bit US .isos I downloaded were the following size:
The English 32 Bit US .isos I downloaded were the following size:
As you can see the size appears to be different for Languages and Editions.
Part 6: Creating a Bootable USB
To make a Bootable USB see Creating a Windows 10 Bootable USB (instructions are identical for Windows 8.1)
If you had no problems determining your Edition, making the .iso and are ready to clean install see Windows 8.1 Installation.
Part 7: Special Notes Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center Edition and “Get Features with a New Edition of Windows”
Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center is a 2 stage installation. It requires installation of the base Windows 8.1 “Edition” (non-N, the N Editions are Windows with Native Windows Media Player Capabilities Removed) which needs activated and then “Get Features with a New Edition of Windows”.
When Media Center is installed the base Windows installation cannot be determined using System you will be in a similar case to users who cannot boot see Determining your Edition when Windows cannot Boot.
After installing your original Edition. The easiest way of adding the product key is via system by right clicking the start button (or pressing [Windows] and [x]) and then selecting system:
In system you should first check at the bottom that your old version of Windows is activated otherwise you may run into an issue upgrading to media center.
In system select “Get more features with a new edition of Windows”.
Select “I already have a product key” or select “I wish to buy a key online” if you want to purchase a new upgrade key. At this stage I do not recommend paying for media centre as you will lose it when you take the free upgrade to Windows 10 therefore the cost is not worthwhile:
Enter in your Media Center key:
Select Add Features
Then select close. You may want to recheck that Windows is activated under system.
Theoretically the following pathways to Media Center are possible with the ones crossed out being a complete waste of money and time:
Windows 8.1 SL Core → Windows 8.1 Core →Windows 8.1 Professional → Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center. Windows 8.1 SL Core → Windows 8.1 Professional → Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center.
- Windows 8.1 SL Core → Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center (Pro Pack).
Windows 8.1 Core → Windows 8.1 Professional → Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center.
- Windows 8.1 Core → Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center (Pro Pack).
- Windows 8.1 Professional → Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center.
The N versions are versions without Media Player or Internet Explorer. These editions cannot be upgraded to Media Center via “getting features with a new edition of Windows”.
- Core N → Professional N → No further Upgrade
- Professional N → No Further Upgrade
After upgrading you will be unable to determine your original version using System. You can also obtain your product keys using Berlarc Advisor. I don’t fully recommend this as this utility looks to the registry and sometimes can give bogus keys especially for systems upgraded from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 via the Microsoft Store or from systems that have used “Get More Features with a New Edition of Windows”. Its better to get the keys from the original confirmation email and/or retail packaging. For a Windows Media Center Edition install take note of the product key for Internet Explorer which will be your original Windows 8.1 Product Key*.
* The test of Windows 8.1 SL Core → Windows 8.1 Core →Windows 8.1 Professional → Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center using generic keys gave only the Windows 8.1 SL Core (Internet Explorer Key) and Windows 8.1 with Media Center (as Key: None Activated).
Part 8: The with Bing Editions
Windows 8.1 with Bing can only be preinstalled with low end budget devices. It was a freebie with the supposed only limitation that OEMs cannot change the default search results from Bing to another vendor. The second limitation is never marketed and that is there is no official .iso and its not supported by the Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool.
This problem is solved with Windows 10, use Windows 10 Installation Media.
Part 9: Evaluation & Generic Product Keys
To be honest there is zero point in evaluating Windows 8.1 and paying for a Windows 8.1 license at present given it is made obsolete by Windows 10.
The Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool will not run on Windows XP or Windows Vista so the user will need to run the tool on a Windows 7, Windows 8.0, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 installation in order to download the retail .iso.
Assuming you can download the .iso on a Windows 7, 8.0, 8.1 or 10 computer to evaluate Windows 8.1 Retail editions you may bypass the enter your product key screen, using a generic key to install Windows 8.1 of your desired Edition and architecture. These keys allow for installation but not product activation:
- Windows 8.1=334NH-RXG76-64THK-C7CKG-D3VPT
- Windows 8.1N=6NPQ8-PK64X-W4WMM-MF84V-RGB89
- Windows 8.1 Single Language=Y9NXP-XT8MV-PT9TG-97CT3-9D6TC
- Windows 8.1 Professional=XHQ8N-C3MCJ-RQXB6-WCHYG-C9WKB
- Windows 8.1 Professional N=JRBBN-4Q997-H4RM2-H3B7W-Q68KC
- Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center=GBFNG-2X3TC-8R27F-RMKYB-JK7QT
The generic product key can simply be typed in or added as PID.txt file. For details on the PID file, see here:
The generic key may also be used to evaluate Windows 8.1; if you like it and your system performs well; you can simply go out and buy a retail product key and select change product key.
The easiest way of adding the product key is via system by right clicking the start button (or pressing [Windows] and [x]) and then selecting system:
In system select Activate Windows:
Either enter the key which you bought from a retail purchase or select buy key.
Microsoft also allow the Windows 8.1 Enterprise Edition as a trial:
However the Enterprise edition cannot be converted into a retail install and hence if the customer gets their system up and running nicely they will need to clean install Windows 8.1 again after purchasing a product key. Therefore I recommend evaluation of the Retail License via the use of generic product keys.
Part 10: Determining the UEFI BIOS OEM Embedded System Locked Preinstallation Key
The OEM product key (SLP key) is hidden within the UEFI BIOS. Although you shouldn’t need your UEFI BIOS Embedded OEM SLP key as it should be automatically input during installation. You may also use the Windows Product Key Tool or RWEverything to obtain your UEFI BIOS Embedded SLP Key from your MSDM tab:
These utilities give the findings from the MSDM table if you have a UEFI BIOS embedded SLP key. The Windows Product Key Tool directly gives you your key from the MSDM table whereas RWEverything requires you to launch ACPI tables and then open the MSDM tab.
No MSDM table = No UEFI BIOS Embedded OEM SLP Key:
For RWEverything select ACPI Tables and the MSDM tab, copy down your product key.
Note no MSDM tab = No Windows 8.0/8.1 UEFI BIOS Embedded SLP key.
If you are supposed to have a MSDM table and don’t note the following…
- This key is classified as hardware (part of the motherboard) and so Microsoft will not be able to help you if this tab is missing.
- Systems which shipped with Windows XP, Vista or 7 have no MSDM tab as these versions of Windows used a generic key for OEM SLP; you need to purchase a retail product key for these systems. Note if you have purchased a retail license for such systems there will be no MSDM tab.
- If you have a systems which came with Windows 8.0/8.1 and no MSDM tab then you need to contact your OEM for a motherboard replacement or purchase a retail license. Its extremely rare for an OEM motherboard to lose its Windows 8.0/8.1 key but I have seen a few examples.
While this utility gives your product key. It should be noted that it does not give you the Edition of Windows 8.1 this product key is for however at least you can confirm you have an OEM product key. If you have tried the 5 “Editions” and they all reject your product key then it is likely you have a Bing Edition which Microsoft chose not to support with this tool.