Clean install Windows 7 using upgrade media

By on October 27, 2009, 9:00 AM
There are two license types for Windows 7: the full package product license and the upgrade license. While Microsoft is giving both XP and Vista users the option to buy the latter, for considerably less money, it also has some restrictions in place that make it difficult to perform a clean install using upgrade media. Specifically, the Windows 7 installer must be ran from either XP or Vista and detect an active, registered version of the OS.

So what happens if you want to install Windows 7 with an upgrade license on an empty hard drive? Technology blogger Paul Thurrott has detailed a method to bypass this restriction -- and save you up to a $100 if you don't actually own a Windows XP or Vista license. The process requires users to clean install but not activate Windows 7. After the installation is completed, users must make a minor change to the Windows registry, use the Windows "rearm" command, then reboot, type in the accompanying product key and Voila!

Thurrott details two additional methods on his SuperSite for Windows blog, the first and least painful of which includes simply installing with the upgrade media as if it were full media, and only activating your copy of Windows 7 after downloading all pending updates. The other method requires users to install the operating system twice, a technique that also worked with Vista when it was launched nearly three years ago.




User Comments: 26

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guyver1 said:

MS have NOT been clear at all the all the various media types as well as version types. This upgrade has been a morass of misinformation, misunderstanding because of this very issue.

MS really do need to go back to basics, One disc to rule them all and your product key defines what 'version' of windows you end up with.

this morass of media is ultimately confusing and frustrating, not only for the consumer but more importantly for the geeky family member who ends up being the family tech support officer let alone for the professional tech support people who do it for a living (who have access to more knowledge and 'hacks' to make a 'master' disc)

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Agreed with guyver1. It ticks me off that I'm having to jump through hoops to do a clean install using an upgrade copy. How hard would it be to have a menu that during a clean install using an upgrade says, "type in your old license key, now type in your new license key - viola! Clean install!" Sheesh......what a frickin' headache.

isamuelson isamuelson said:

I'll just use my MSDN install if I never need to reinstall it. Once I reactivate that key, then I'll go an enter the Upgrade key. That's what I did once I got my upgrade DVD in the mail. Windows 7 didn't complain one bit when I entered the new key and it registered it.

mattfrompa mattfrompa said:

TomSEA said:

Agreed with guyver1. It ticks me off that I'm having to jump through hoops to do a clean install using an upgrade copy. How hard would it be to have a menu that during a clean install using an upgrade says, "type in your old license key, now type in your new license key - viola! Clean install!" Sheesh......what a frickin' headache.

I would agree that typing in a license key should at least be an option, but not the sole form of verification. I also agree that the hoops are annoying, but you do save money by going with the upgrade copy at least. I have not installed Windows 7 on a computer that didn't have Windows already, so for me it has been easy. But I can think of MANY situations where I'd be just as frustrated. For one, dual booting....

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

I followed that dude's advice (Paul's) for Vista clean install with upgrade disk. But I read over his for this one and there must be a difference in what he's seen and the Student download of HP or Pro, because I was able to clean install 7 Pro on a fresh partition with my student upgrade (pro 64). Just to be safe I didn't use my key on the first install, then I installed from within windows as an 'upgrade' and used my key that time. I also successfully activated it.

Didou Didou, Bowtie extraordinair!, said:

I've got a 3 license family pack which clearly says upgrade on the box but I did a clean install with it without doing anything specific. I had my Windows XP Media Center CDs ready in case it asked for them but they weren't even necessary.

Guest said:

did you have a previous version of windows in the hard drive?

If so that is why it did not asked you for proof

I tried installing W7 upgarde version in a new empty HD and would not accept the acy=tivation key as valid.

So I installed my copy of xp in the new drive and now I am insytalling W7. we will see how it goes.

pomonasi said:

anybody received an error stating that the new student-upgrade windows 7 product key was invalid? i am trying to do a clean install and it wont let me use the product key that was sent to me.

Guest said:

I installed my home premium upgrade on a clean hard drive with no problems, just make sure you skip the first activation key prompt. Activate it later when you boot to the desktop and it should work, it did for me. Didn't have to do any registry hacks or any other nonsense.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Might want to check the OS Forums pomonasi - seems like there are several Windows 7 install threads going on: http://www.techspot.com/vb/menu15.html

Agreed mattfrompa, just the license key wouldn't be enough for an upgrade install. Perhaps that and and verification of the original media CD should be enough. My point being is that MS is well aware that many people like to do clean installs when putting in a new OS, and they should make it easy to do that even with an upgrade. If I can easily demonstrate that I owned a previous, legitimate Windows OS copy, then that should be all it takes to do a clean install with an upgrade copy. It's annoying to have to rely on information from 3rd parties requiring some jury-rigged method to do the install.

Just my 2 bits....

Guest said:

I'm wondering if it might just be easier to buy an oem version and clean install?

I would be upgrading from xp pro and would have to do a clean install either way. So should I buy the upgrade pkg or the oem pkg? If upgrade then I agree with the simple enter old (xp pro) license key then enter new (win7) license key.

I wonder if M$ will catch on to the upgrade workaround for those who are cheating the system (ie those that don't own a previous version of win) and disable the authenticity of their os (much like making the 'pirates' reinstall win every so often because they can't get updates).

Ultimatelty it would be better to have 'one product to rule them all'. No home, pro, ultimate, etc. Just windows 7. One product, one price. And for businesses that require a higher level of tech support then you charge for services.

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

did you have a previous version of windows in the hard drive?

If so that is why it did not asked you for proof

I tried installing W7 upgarde version in a new empty HD and would not accept the acy=tivation key as valid.

So I installed my copy of xp in the new drive and now I am insytalling W7. we will see how it goes.

Nope, I wiped the partition. Had to anyway, it was VHP 32bit as the previous OS. Didou said his was clean too.

For people talking about the upgrade keys not working with a clean install, guyver1 seems to disagree with you. Check out his post here: http://www.techspot.com/vb/topic136658.html

guyver1 said:

Ok heres the deal that MS didnt tell us.

there are 3 types of key?(OEM, Retail & Corporate), but theres also 2 forms of 'media'

Full Package Product & Upgrade

These then come in your windows 'type's of Home Premium, Pro etc.

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/930373

This was the key article that was missing from my knowledge.

Adding to this morass of confusion is the fact that the Student download offer was always advertised as an 'upgrade'.

BUT the actual download you get from Digital River is a full package product! meaning you can do a genuine clean install on a totally blank drive.

I dont know how you go about it (I'll leave that to someone else with more experience in hacking OS discs) but check your media.

Student download is FPP not upgrade media even tho its marketed and advertised as an 'upgrade'.

AS i bought the student offer, I was under the impression all along that as I'd managed to install my win7 x64 pro on a totally blank HDD, and as I was also under the impression that what i had was 'upgrade' media........

You can see where all the confusion comes in......

gadzooks64 said:

I have a brand new hard drive that I was planning to put W7 on using an upgrade license since I already have Vista running on this machine. I was bummed when I was told I would probably have to use the OEM OS disk to install Vista THEN I could clean install W7.

This post totally made my day! I am definitely going to give this a try.

fref said:

I wonder why Microsoft didn't fix this as this was also possible with Vista. It almost seems like they don't care, as long as people buy Windows in one form or another.

VitaminC said:

MS has admitted to there being issues with student versions.

Sorry, don't have a link immediately handy.

guyver1 said:

I know there was issues with Student download, i was one of the people who was on the phone to MS thrusday morning!!

The issue was lack of ISO, how to clean install without an ISO from XP. 10 click download limit on download manager software that registered 10 clicks on your first click, download manager not downloading all the files, download manager downloading a 64 bit exe for the 64 bit win7, even tho you might have been on a current 32 bit system.

elroacho72 said:

This is great info ,I am sure to use.I have bookmarked his page.I would have not thought it was even possible. Thanks to Paul Thurrott

pomonasi said:

thanks for the comments. i tried to install over the weekend so i cannot remember if i had the automatic activation or not. i guess i will try the install without the activation checked.

just wanted to ask if any body had the same "Product Key Is Invalid" message.

Guest said:

I just put my upgrade retail in, booted to disk, custom install, delete partition, install, did not register but installed 25 digit key. After it was up and running I had it register and all was good!

JMMD JMMD, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Good to see articles like this. I'm going to be switching to Win7 soon and this is just the kind of thing I need.

SUSHRUKH said:

I wonder if MS will catch on to the upgrade workaround for those who are cheating the system (ie those that don't own a previous version of win) and disable the authenticity of their os (much like making the 'pirates' reinstall win every so often because they can't get updates).

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

I doubt it, because Vista was the same. If they were going to do it they would have for the release of 7. Not much they can do about it at this point, perhaps in Windows 8.

Guest said:

@sushrukh

Don't worry about it, its probably one of the many features that Microsoft so candidly does for his loyal customers. ;)

Guest said:

I was having problems getting mine to activate then I noticed my clock was set to 2005. I updated the clock and it activated perfectly!

Hope this will help someone else who might be stuck

Guest said:

I wish I had researched before I installed the Windows 7 Premium Upgrade on my PC. I've already installed it twice; I'm not doing it again. The first time I had FreeDOS, XP, and Linux installed on one drive, and an empty drive for Windows 7. It worked, but I decided to separate all my Operating Systems on to separate drives, eliminating FreeDOS, and putting Linux on a different PC.

I wiped all my drives and tried to install Windows 7 64 Bit Premium Upgrade. It would not accept my license key. So I then installed XP on a 40 GB IDE drive, and Windows 7 on an 80 GB Raptor SATA drive, and I'm using my 640 GB Caviar Black SATA drive for data. Then I disconnected the IDE hard drive to work with my old IDE drives to bring the data over to the 640 GB drive.

And, lo and behold! Windows 7 will not load without the XP drive present! They stuck the boot loader on the XP drive. Do you ever get sick of Microsoft? (I know, that's a leading question.) In any case, since Microsoft CLAIMED that Windows 7 was all about considering the end user's needs, you would think they would have considered them for something as important as installing the OS. Duh! Shame on Microsoft for this one!

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