This guide contains instructions for Downloading Windows 8.1 (OEM and Retail) Installation Media, Creating a Bootable USB, Clean Installing Windows 8.1 (with and without a Microsoft Account) on Dell Hardware with a UEFI BIOS and Secure Boot and installing the Dell System Drivers.
Table of contents
- Windows 10 Free Upgrade
- Introduction, Editions and Product Keys
- Downloading a Windows 8.1 ISO
- Checking ISO Checksums and Making a Bootable USB
- Generic Product Keys
- Determining the UEFI BIOS OEM Embedded System Locked Preinstallation Key
- Clean Installation
- Booting From Windows 8.1 Installation Media
- Your Windows Product Key
- Windows 8.1 License Agreement
- Drive Options
- The Windows Setup
- Personalisation and Setting Up Accounts
- End of Install
- Booting From Windows 8.1 Installation Media
- Monthly Security Rollup
- System Drivers
- Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center Edition and "Get Features with a New Edition of Windows"
Windows 10 Free Upgrade
Windows 8.1 Reached End of Mainstream Support in January 2018.
Extended Support lasts until January 2023. For more details see End of Support.
All Windows 10 activation mechanisms regarding Windows 8.x OEM Products continue to work. You do not need to reinstall Windows 8.1 to get Windows 10. Windows 10 installation media will automatically input your Windows 8.x OEM Product Key during installation and activate using your Windows 8.x OEM Product Key when online.
Windows 10 Version 2004 has substantial under the hood improvements when it comes to system performance particularly on weaker hardware. If you reverted back to Windows 8.1 due to previous poor performance of Windows 10, you should consider giving this new version a try.
Introduction, Editions and Product Keys
Embedded Product Keys
Due to Windows 7 OEM and earlier Product Keys readily fading or peeling away from the systems, Microsoft worked with OEMs to embed Windows 8 OEM and Windows 8.1 OEM Product Keys in the systems firmware (UEFI BIOS).
If the correct Windows Edition and Windows Version is selected for the OEM License, the Product Key will automatically be input during installation taking you straight to the license agreement screen as designed:
However if the incorrect Edition or Version or not Product Key is embedded is selected, then you will be stuck on the enter your Product Key screen.
Version and Edition Specific Installation Media
Earlier Windows 8.0, Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 with Update 1 installation media did not treat Windows 8.0 and Windows 8.1 keys as equivalent despite one being an update to the other and the stickers for the licenses being identical. i.e. the installation media was both Edition and Version specific. Microsoft partially addressed the feedback left on these guides and made Windows 8.1 with Update 2 that accepts Windows 8.0 and Windows 8.1 Product Keys however this installation media is still Edition specific. Microsoft fully addressed installation feedback making Windows 10 Installation Version 1511 (and all later Versions) media multi-edition designed to work with all Windows 8 OEM, Windows 8.1 OEM and Windows 10 OEM licenses. If you are unsure about your Edition then you should install Windows 10 instead.
Check your Edition
To check your Edition if Windows can boot, 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 your Windows 8.1 system cannot boot it is recommended to install Windows 10 as the installation media is multi-edition and you do not need to worry about your Edition. Otherwise OEMs did ship systems with OEM stickers however the "Home" (just called Windows 8.1) and "Home Single Language" (just called Windows 8.1 Single Language) Editions have the same sticker which resulted in great confusion.
- Windows 8.1 (Home) Most Common
- Windows 8.1 (Home) Single Language Common
- Windows 8.1 (Home) N Rare
In essence if you have this sticker attempt to install Windows 8.1 and if you are asked for a Product Key retry with Windows 8.1 Single Language.
Home with Bing Editions
- Windows 8.1 with Bing Common
- Windows 8.1 Single Language with Bing Common
Windows 8.x Installation Media is not downloadable for these Editions. Your only option is to use Windows 10 Installation Media.
- Windows 8.1 Pro Most Common
- Windows 8.1 ProN Rare
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
If you have this sticker 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 but are extremely low end. Installation Media is not available for Download.
Downloading a Windows 8.1 ISO
Microsoft offer direct Download Links for Windows 8.1:
Select your Edition:
Next select your Language:
Note "English International"="English (UK)" and "English"="English (US)".
Once you have selected your language, select confirm:
Select your Download:
Checking ISO Checksums and Making a Bootable USB
These ISOs are downloaded as single files and the checksums should match the source. It is best to check these ISO Checksums using Rufus:
Launch Rufus and select the select button:
Accept the User Account Control Prompt:
You should have a 8-16 GB USB Flash Drive Attached, it will display under Device:
Select your ISO and select Open:
The ISO name will show at the bottom:
Select the checksum button:
The MD5 values for the English (UK) and English (US) ISOs are as follows.
If using a non-English language the MD5 should show up on a Google Search:
If your MD5 yields no results on a Google Search, your ISO is likely corrupt so retry downloading it.
It is advisable to change the Volume Label as this is the Windows 8.1 (Pro and Home) ISO:
I will use the name Win81ProHome:
If your computer has a UEFI BIOS (all computers manufactured post 2012), select:
- GPT partition scheme
- BIOS or UEFI
Then select Start.
If your computer is older and has a Legacy BIOS change the selections in Blue to:
Then select Start.
You will get a warning stating you will format all the data on your USB Flash Drive. Select OK:
When done it will say Ready, you can now close Rufus:
Generic Product Keys
To either bypass the embedded OEM product key to install another Edition or to install Windows 8.1 as a 30 day trial you can create a text file within the sources folder of the Bootable USB called pid.txt containing a generic product key. To install Windows 8.1 30 day trial on a system without an OEM Product key you can also input the same generic product key during installation.
Do not use these if your system has an embedded Windows 8.x OEM Key as it may cause Product Activation Issues:
Copy and paste the following into the text file. Note you can either use your retail key or the generic product keys below. Product Activation will only take place if your system has been activated before usually with a Retail Key.
Windows 8.1 (Home):
Windows 8.1 (Home) Single Language:
Windows 8.1 Pro:
Windows 8.1 (Home) N:
Windows 8.1 Professional N
Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center
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. If in doubt try Windows 10 Installation Media Instead.
Booting From Windows 8.1 Installation Media
Insert your Bootable USB into your Computer and Remove any other USB Storage Devices such as USB Sticks and External Hard Drives.
Power off your computer.
Power it up and press the key combination for your OEM to get to the Boot Menu.
- For a Dell or Lenovo System this is [F12].
- For a HP and other OEMs it is often [Esc] or one of the Function Keys [F1-F12].
Preparing Boot Menu should Flash Up. If not and you are taken straight into Windows, you will need to power down and try again:
If your system was built in 2012 or newer the next screen you should have should mention Boot Mode and Secure Boot. For optimal Security and Performance you should have these set to UEFI and ON respectively.
Use the [↓] key to get to your Bootable USB and once it is highlighted press [Enter]
You should see your OEM Logo:
You should now see the following Windows screen.
The Language to Install is for informational purposes only and lists only a single option. To change it you need to Download the Windows 8.1 ISO of the Desired Language and begin the install with your new Windows 8.1 Bootable USB.
The Time and Currency Format and Keyboard or Input method can be changed to Australian or Canadian settings for example.
Once you have made the correct options select Next:
Your Windows Product Key
Select Install Now.
The next screen will say Setup is Starting and you will see an Hour Glass Appear.
Windows 8.1 will look for a PID.txt or an embedded OEM Product Key. If found you will be taken straight to a license agreement screen.
If you are instead asked for a Product Key it means that you either do not have an OEM Embedded Product Key or have the wrong Edition of Installation Media.
- For Retail Licenses you can input a Retail Product key and select Next.
- Alternatively if trying to reinstall an OEM License, it is not recommended to input a generic Product Key as you will have Product Activation issues. Try the Windows 8.1 Home Single Language ISO instead of the Windows 8.1 Home and Pro ISO or use the Windows 10 ISO instead.
Windows 8.1 License Agreement
Select Next. Read and accept the license and then select next
Select custom install (advanced) and then select next
Note select Custom (advanced) even/especially if you are “upgrading” from 7 to 8.1. There are always some bugs when selecting “Upgrade” on this screen and this seriously hinders your systems performance.
THE NEXT STEP WILL RESULT IN DATA LOSS. DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE IMPORTANT DATA ON YOUR DRIVE.
Delete all Partitions and Format your Drive
You can use the Windows Setup to remove all previously existing partitions on tour drive. Highlight each partition and select Delete. Do this until all you have is Drive 0 Unallocated Space. Do not worry about any of the partitions being recovery partitions, they correspond to old versions of Windows and in any case won't work when a manual installation is performed. The Windows 10 will create all the additional partitions it needs during the Windows setup. Once you have deleted all the partitions select next to proceed with the install.
Multiple Drives: SSD Cache Drive
If you have multiple drives like shown then it is likely there is a low capacity Solid State Drive (SSD) and larger capacity Hard Drive (HDD) in your computer.
If the SSD is above 250 GB it is large enough to comfortably fit a Windows Installation and you should install Windows directly on it. If the SSD is below 250 GB then it should be set up as a Cache Drive.
Note Cache Drives can be more problematic and are more likely to result in boot issues and as SSDs are quite cheap these days I would recommend just replacing the SSD drive with a large capacity SSD.
The correct SATA Operation should be used for your drive(s). Then SATA operation can be changed in the UEFI BIOS setup. Power off your Dell and power it up while pressing [F2] to enter the UEFI BIOS setup.
- When no Cache Drive is used the SATA Operation should be set to AHCI
- When a Cache Drive is present the SATA Operation should be set to RAID On.
Under System Configuration look for SATA Operation and ensure the setting is correct.
Install Windows 8.1 on your larger capacity Hard Drive.
Exit the Windows setup and power off your Dell. Once Windows 10 is installed. Install Intel Smart Response from your Drivers and Downloads Page:
Then select Performance. Then select options similar to below.
If no drives are listed on the screen below with the error:
We couldn't find any drivers. To get a storage driver, click Load driver.
Then a Storage Controller or SATA Driver needs to be loaded from the Windows 10 Bootable USB (see below):
If you instead get the error:
We couldn't create a new partition or locate an existing one. For more information, see the Setup log files
Then your Drive is formatted as MBR opposed to GPT (or vice-versa). You will need to use DiskPart to remove all the partitions.
If you get the following error messages instead then your installation media is likely corrupt. Try redownloading the ISO and making a new Bootable USB:
A media driver your computer needs is missing
A required CD/DVD drive device driver is missing
These normally mean your installation media is corrupt and are not because you need to load a driver. "A required CD/DVD drive device driver is missing" quite often shows on Desktops when the Front USB Ports are used, move your Bootable USB to the back USB Ports instead and restart the computer.
Loading Storage Controller (SATA) Drivers
Then you must select Load Driver and select the SATA drivers from a USB stick. The SATA drivers essentially allow Windows to recognise the hard drive controller on the motherboard and thus allow Windows to view the drive letting you proceed with the install.
Get the SATA Drivers from:
Press [Ctrl] and [ f ] to do a search. I'm going to type in 7040 as I am going to clean install Windows 8 64 Bit on this model.
You can scroll down until you get to Serial ATA:
Alternatively press [Ctrl] and [ f ] and do a search for F6 (these were called F6 drivers as they used to be loaded in Windows XP by pressing F6 and using a Floppy Drive!)
You must extract the driver as the Windows Setup cannot read .exes. Normally this can be done by launching the setup:
Accept the User Account Control:
Specify the location:
Copy the extracted folder to your Windows 7 Bootable USB.
Look through the contents of the extracted folder, there is normally a drivers subfolder and a Windows8.1-x64 subfolder, if this is not found use the Windows8-x64 or Windows 7-x64 instead for 64 Bit Windows 8.1 or use the x86 equivalents for 32 Bit Windows 8.1.
It's contents should look like:
This is the format the Windows setup can read. Select Load Drivers:
Select all the drivers listed and then click next. It will take you back to the “Where do you want to install Windows Screen?” this time showing the hard drive.
You can then select “Drive Options” which will allow you to delete or format partitions if any are present aswell as create new ones if there is unallocated space on the hard disc.
To remove the existing partition table from a Drive we can use DiskPart.
Restart the Windows Installation and Boot from the USB. Select Next:
Then select Repair your Computer.
Select Advanced Options
Select Command Prompt
The elevated command prompt will then open:
Then press [↵]
Now type in:
Then press [↵]
In this case I have 2 Disks Disk 0 the SSD and Disk 1 the Bootable USB. I can tell what is what by the size. Type in:
Select Disk 0
Or use your Disk number in place of 0, if your drive is a different number. Then press [↵]
To remove the partition table on the drive type in:
Then press [↵]
Alternatively to remove the partition table and wipe the drive type in:
Then press [↵]
Note however that this wipe routine has not been optimised for Solid State Drives and will take a few hours on a Hard Drive.
You will be told that DiskPart has cleaned the disks.
You can now close the Command Prompt and Restart the Windows Install.
The Windows Setup
The Windows 8.1 Install will then proceed:
You will be informed that your computer will restart in 10 seconds. It is a good idea to remove the Bootable USB at this stage as some computers are setup to list the Bootable USB as a higher priority than the internal drive and people end up stuck in a loop.
It'll take a moment to get ready.
Personalisation and Setting Up Accounts
You will then be prompted to type in your computers name and select a colour scheme.
You can then select express settings (red) or customise (green) to suit your preferences.
If you select customise:
You will be presented with the next 4 screens:
One thing to notice about Windows 8.1 when changing the settings is that it is very touch screen optimised, you can move the sliders along with your finger if using a touchscreen, otherwise just click them with the mouse.
There are 2 login scenarios a Microsoft Account and a Local Account. The Microsoft Account is recommended in most cases as its linked to Microsoft email services, Microsoft Office services and importantly Microsoft OneDrive cloud services. Use of a Microsoft Account gives the best Microsoft Service experience. The local account does not have such tight integration with Microsoft cloud services and is perhaps recommended for a public shared computer or for enterprise use. You will only be offered to login to a Microsoft Account if you are online.
Microsoft recommend the utilisation of a Microsoft Account for the best experience with their other services. If however you want a generic recovery partition without your Microsoft Account details I recommend making a local account (variant C) without a password and switching to a Microsoft Account after the creation of a Recovery Partition with Dell Backup and Recovery.
Online – Microsoft Account
If you are online you will then be prompted to enter your email address and sign in with a Microsoft Account. The Microsoft Account is recommended for easier use with Outlook, OneDrive, the Windows Store and to sync your Windows settings across devices:
Enter your email address and select next, it will then search for a Microsoft Account (if you use a Microsoft email or XBOX live it will be one). If you don’t have a Microsoft account you can sign up for one.
If you sign in with a Microsoft Account, additional security measures are usually put in place such as validation of your phone number associated with your Microsoft Account. Windows 8.1 only lets you log in when the validation checks are complete.
Usually the checks are done with a mobile phone. You are prompted to enter the last 4 digits of your phone number:
A text is sent to you and you need to input it:
Once you have input the correct code select next.
Offline – Local Account
Alternatively if you are offline you will only be given the option to sign in with a local account.
Upon first connection to the internet you will be given the option to convert your Local Account into a Microsoft Account.
Online – Local Account
To sign in without a Microsoft Account, select create a new account:
At the bottom select sign in without a Microsoft Account:
Create a new username and password:
End of Install
Your settings will finalise and your Windows 8.1 Apps will be installed.
You should now be logged into Windows 8.1.
Monthly Security Rollup
Microsoft have been releasing Monthly Quality Rollups for Windows 8.1. The Latest one at this time of writing will give you all the Security Updates until the 23rd of November 2016 and can be obtained from the Microsoft Update Catalog.
The one for “Windows 8.1” is for Windows 8.1 32 Bit only and the one for “Windows 8.1 for x64” is for Windows 8.1 64 Bit only.
Simply download the update and install on your computer. Restart when prompted.
You should now look at installing your system drivers starting with the Chipset drivers. After the system drivers are installed, Dell Backup and Recovery should be installed to make a new Recovery Partition from the Clean Installation. See the full A Clean Install of Windows 8.1 for more details if you need additional guidance for these steps.
You should install the following system drivers:
- Dell System (Notebook/Desktop) Software – Under System Utilities
- Chipset Drivers – Intel Chipset First – Under Chipset
- Chipset Drivers – Any other Intel – Under Chipset
- Card Reader – Realtek, Ricoh, O2 Micro – Under Chipset or Removable Storage
- Intel Matrix Storage Manager/Rapid Storage Technology – Under SATA Drives or CPU
- Video* – Intel, AMD or NVIDIA – Under Video
- Modem* – Conexant or Intel – Under Modem
- Network* – Ethernet – Under Network
- Touchpad – Touchpad – Under Input
- Audio – Sigmatel, Intel or Realtek – Under Audio
- TVTuners – Under Video
- Wireless Card* – Under Network
- Bluetooth* – Under Network
- Keyboard/Mouse Application – Under Applications
- Dell Quickset – Under Applications
- Webcam Driver – Under Input
If using a SSD Cache Drive be sure to set it up after driver installation following the instructions.
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":
Enter in your Media Center key:
Select Add Features
Then select close. You may want to recheck that Windows is activated under system.