How to Legally Download Windows Installation CDs

How many of you experienced the following scenario? Suddenly your computer or laptop is unable to boot up because some how Windows got corrupted (an update installation gone wrong, a virus, or anything else); you attempt to boot from the restore partition, but it fails or freezes up because either the main partition (where the not-working Windows reside) got screwed up and the restore program cannot recognize it or, even worst, the restore partition got screwed up as well. Fortunately there is a way out: you can legally download legit copies of Windows installation CDs that you can use to restore your system.

Unfortunately in the last few years, in order to save money, many computer manufacturers stopped offering the free restore CDs bundled with the computer you purchased, but they expect you to either generate the CDs yourself on the first few days of using the new computer or to buy them separately from them; unfortunately many users do not know/remember about the first option and they are unwilling to spend money for the second option and end up to be stuck on the above scenario. It is then very nice to be able to download Windows CDs legally.

An critical warning: this guide do NOT cover the backing up of any data from the computer and it assumes that you will proceed with a clean install of Windows … and for “clean” I mean that the hard disk will be wiped out of the previous installation to avoid carrying over broken configuration files, viruses, or anything else to the new installation. If there is data you need to save first, you should contact a friend, acquaintance, or professional with good computer skills before following this guide. In some case the Windows installer can detect an existing installation and it may offer you a way to backup any personal data, but I don’t recommend to rely on just that because it doesn’t pop up every time and even when it does, it will backup just some predefined folders (therefore potentially missing some file).

Requirements

There a few things you have to keep in mind before proceeding:

  1. this guide only apply to Microsoft Windows 7, 8, and 8.1;
  2. you can legally download and install only the same version of Windows that your computer came with – for example if the computer came with Windows 7 Home 32 bits, you can’t use Windows 8 or Windows 7 Professional 64 bits (the last requirement in this list is the one that will enforce the limit);
  3. you need to have a secondary working computer connected to Internet and capable to burn DVD or to save files to an USB pen drive;
  4. you need a couple of virgin DVDs or empty pen drives;
  5. you need a valid licence key; somewhere around your computer/laptop case there is a sticker like the following – you should take note of the “Product Key” as you will be prompted to write it during the Windows installation.

Windows licence key
Warning: sometime the “Product Key” of some OEM version (the ones that come pre-installed on the computers) of Windows are not accepted from the installer of the Retail version (the one you are going to download) of Windows; if it happens call Microsoft on the number indicated on the “Product Key” screen, explain the problem and and get them to straighten it out and allow your copy to activate.

Microsoft Windows 7 download

Windows 7 ISO files are available for download from Digital River, an officially licensed distributor of Microsoft software. The following ISO will have Microsoft Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and additional updates built-in:

From time to time the Digital River links go down; if it happens, try again later. Note that the x86 files are the 32-bit versions and the x64 files are the 64-bit versions; furthermore, the above ISOs are for the English version of Windows, for the non-English languages and the relative information, visit HeiDoc.net.

A particular note for Microsoft Windows 7 Enterprise: for that you have to download a 90-day free trial of Windows 7 Enterprise from Microsoft. Despite being a trial version, you will be able to activate it with the product key you got from the last point of the “Requirements“.

When the download is complete if you prefer to have a DVD installation disk right-click on the downloaded file in Windows Explorer and select “Burn disc image” to burn it to one of the DVDs; if you prefer to install Microsoft Windows 7 from a USB drive, use the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool to put that ISO file onto a USB pen drive.

Microsoft Windows 8 and 8.1 download

The following option is available from Microsoft itself and it allow you to download and re-install Windows 8.1 without even entering your product key. And on top of it, if your computer came with Windows 8.0, you will get straight the 8.1 installation without double stages.

To do that download the Windows Installation Media Creation Tool and then select the details about which version you want (Windows 8.1 or 8.1 Pro, etc – keep in mind that it must be the same of the one installed on the computer), and then follow through the wizard to create the DVD/pen drive.

Microsoft Windows 8 Installation

Like Microsoft Windows 7, If you are looking for Windows 8.1 Enterprise installation media, you can download a 90-day free trial and then activate it with the product key you got from the last point of the Requirements.

Drivers

This is another important step you need to prepare before restoring your system. The “retail” version of the Windows installer do have plenty of drivers for many devices and computer components, but not for all of them; the risk here is that your computer may have one (or more) of those unsupported devices and therefore you need a dedicated driver for it. Just as a curiosity note: the “restore” option that the manufacturers offer is basically a modified copy (OEM) of the “retail” Windows installer with the computer specific drivers bundled in (and some bloatware as well unfortunately).

To prepare a Device Drivers Disk yourself (still from the clean computer where you made the Windows installation DVD/pen drive):

  1. make a temporary folder;
  2. go to the manufacturer web site and search for the specific model;
  3. there should be a link to the download page of the specific drivers;
  4. download all the drivers on the point #1 folder;
  5. if the downloaded drivers are zipped, uncompressed them to a sub folder;
  6. (optional) for an easier use of the downloaded drivers later on, you may divide the drivers in sub folders named after the device or area of use (like Audio, Video, Monitor, etc.);
  7. (optional) since the drivers will probably take just a small portion of the DVD/pen drive, you may take the opportunity to download also some program you need, like Mozilla Firefox, Open/Libre Office, Chrome, Flash, etc.
  8. when you have everything inside the point #1 folder, burn it to the second DVD or save to the second pen drive.

Now you have a totally legal set of DVDs/pen drive install media to restore your computer.

While I covered the main focus of this guide, let me give some guideline for the …

Installation

To re-install Microsoft Windows on your computer:

  1. from a clean computer, search on the internet for the details of following points (2 to 4 and 6) as the specific steps changes from manufacturer to manufacturer (and in some case from product line to product line);
  2. access the BIOS of the broken computer;
  3. search for the area related to the devices priority during boot;
  4. if necessary, change the configuration to be sure that the DVD or pen drive will be the first device to be accessed;
  5. either insert the DVD in the drive or plug the pen-drive;
  6. save the changes to the BIOS and exit;
  7. the computer should reboot automatically and the Windows installation will start.

From there you should follow what the Windows installation tell you to do as the various steps are sufficiently self explanatory; only one major note: at one point it will ask you what do you want to do with the disk – as I warned you earlier, by now you should have found other ways to recover any important data from the hard disk because it is very likely to loose things (even if you don’t fully format the hard disk); if there isn’t anything you need to recover, I would actually recommend to fully format the disk so you will start with a totally fresh installation and configuration instead of keeping files from the previous installation (since you will risk to bring over the whatever issue caused the Windows corruption in the first place).

Once the installation is finished and you can log in for the first time, Windows will prompt you for any eventual missing driver and here where the drivers disk come handy.