How-To Geek

How to Perform a Clean Install of Windows 8.1 With a Windows 8 Key

fresh-install-windows-8.1-with-windows-8-key

Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade to all Windows 8 users, but you normally can’t install Windows 8.1 with a Windows 8 product key. Luckily, you can get around this limitation if you really want a fresh install of Windows 8.1.

Microsoft also only allows you to download Windows 8.1 installation media with a Windows 8.1 key, so we’ll show you another trick that allows you to download Windows 8.1 installation media with a valid Windows 8 key.

Update! Microsoft Makes it Easier

If you want to just download the installation media for a fresh reinstall of Windows 8.1, there’s a new option from Microsoft that can allow you to download that image without even entering your product key. And if you are completely reinstalling a Windows 8.0 PC you can use this 8.1 installation media with the same key from Windows 8.0, so there’s no reason not to do so. It even comes with Update 1 integrated.

Simply 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), and then follow through the wizard to create your boot media.

You can choose to put the boot media directly on a USB drive, or you can create an ISO for later use or to burn to a disc later.

The Problem, and How We’ll Fix It (Old Version)

The problem is that Windows 8.1 product keys are different from Windows 8 product keys. You can’t enter a Windows 8 product key into the Windows 8.1 installer, just as you can’t enter a Windows 7 product key into the Windows 8 installer. You also can’t install the original version of Windows 8 with a Windows 8.1 product key.

This normally makes sense, but Windows 8.1 isn’t really a different version of Windows. It’s a free upgrade to every single Windows 8 user, so there’s absolutely no reason to introduce a new product key system.

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Microsoft wants you to install Windows 8 normally and use the Windows 8.1 upgrade offer in the Windows Store to get Windows 8.1. Only people who purchase Windows 8.1 can install it fresh, not people who origianlly purchased Windows 8.

That’s the theory, anyway. In reality, there’s a way we can get around this limitation. The Windows 8.1 installer refuses to accept the Windows 8 product key and won’t allow us to install Windows 8.1 with it. However, Windows 8.1 will accept the Windows 8 product key if you enter it on the desktop after installing Windows 8.1 — no, we don’t know why it works this way. If we had a way of skipping the product key prompt during the installation process and entering the key later, we could install Windows 8.1 fresh — luckily, we do have a way of doing that. We’ll just need to modify the Windows 8.1 installation media a bit.

Update: We’ve been informed that simply entering one of the KMS Client Setup Keys from Microsoft’s website during the Windows 8.1 installation process should let you install Windows 8.1 normally. You should then be able to change your key to your original Windows 8 key from the desktop later.

windows-8.1-installer-won't-accept-windows-8-product-key

Download Windows 8.1 With a Windows 8 Product Key

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The second problem is that Microsoft only allows you to download Windows 8.1 installation media with a Windows 8.1 product key. You can’t normally download it with a Windows 8 product key. Luckily, there’s yet another confusing trick we can use to get around Microsoft’s limitations.

First, visit the Upgrade Windows with only a product key page. Click the install Windows 8 button to begin downloading Windows 8 installation media. Run the downloaded tool and enter your product key. After the download begins, close the setup tool.

Next, visit the Upgrade Windows with only a product key page. Click the Install Windows 8.1 button and run the downloaded tool. The Windows 8.1 setup tool won’t prompt you for a key, but will download Windows 8.1 normally. Select the Install by creating media option after it completes and create either USB installation media or an ISO file. We’ll assume you’re creating USB installation media for this process, as it’s the easiest way to do this.

download-windows-8.1-installation-media-with-windows-8-product-key

Modify the Windows 8.1 Installation Media

If you try to install Windows 8.1 with the media you created and your Windows 8 product key, you’ll see an error message. Instead, we’ll need to modify the installation media before beginning in the installation process.

This is easiest if you’ve created USB installation media, as you can edit the files directly on your USB flash drive. If you created an ISO file, you’ll have to modify the files inside it before burning it to disc.

Open the USB drive in Windows Explorer or File Explorer and navigate to the sources folder inside it. Right-click inside the sources folder, create a new text file, and name it ei.cfg . (Ensure it’s named ei.cfg , and not ei.cfg.txt — this may require ensuring file extensions are shown.)

create-ei.cfg-file-in-windows-8.1-installation-usb-drive

Open the ei.cfg file in Notepad or another text editor. Copy-paste the following text into the text file and then save it.

[EditionID]
Core
[Channel]
Retail
[VL]
0

If you have a product key for the Professional version of Windows, replace the word Core with Professional.

create-ei.cfg-so-windows-8.1-doesn't-ask-for-product-key-during-installation

Install Windows 8.1 Normally and Enter Your Product Key Afterwards

You can now install Windows 8.1 normally using the installation media you created. You won’t be prompted for a product key while installing it. After the installation process completes, you’ll see a product key prompt. You can enter your Windows 8 product key here, and Windows 8.1 will accept it for some reason.

enter-windows-8-product-key-on-windows-8.1

You now have a fully working Windows 8.1 system fresh-installed with only a Windows 8 product key. The installation media you created can be used to install Windows 8.1 on other systems with a Windows 8 product key, so you can more quickly install Windows 8.1 on multiple computers.

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Yes, it’s ridiculous that we even have to write an article about this. Windows 8.1 is practically a service pack for Windows 8, and it’s free to all Windows 8 users — Windows 8.1 even accepts Windows 8 keys when installed, but it doesn’t during the installation process. There’s no reason to force Windows users — especially loyal ones who purchased Windows 8 at release thanks to Microsoft’s $40 offer — to jump through so many hoops.


Thanks to Paul Thurrot for demonstrating how to download Windows 8.1 installation media with a Windows 8 key, and thanks to nate.wages on Neowin for sharing how to install Windows 8.1 with that key!

Image Credit: KniBaron on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/23/14

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the drawing shed is a contemporary arts organisation set up in 2009; It is led by visual artists Sally Labern and Bobby Lloyd who practice both collaboratively and autonomously, using diverse media and engaging with ideas led work around creating ‘communities of the imagination‘ and issues of resilience,  resistance,  commonality,  class, and displacement. Based on two housing estates in Walthamstow, East London, from where they bridge on and off, the work is inter-generational and inter-cultural and involves diverse partners and communities which include teenage girls, boys, women, mixed gender adult groups and older people.

the drawing shed’s three trademark mobile spaces, established in 2009/10/11 as an artist-led resource, form a central platform for our creative practice and are at the heart of the drawing shed. These three mobile studios – the drawing shed, ClayOven and PrintBike (sponsored by Brompton) - live in the drawing shed’s three garages on The Drive housing estate E17, courtesy of the estate managers, Ascham Homes, from where the artists have run arts projects on the local estates, at Forest YMCA, and in settings across London since 2009. Through these mobile projects, the drawing shed is able to go to where people are rather than waiting for them to arrive, also using online tools, such as Twitter, where and when it fits. Bridging in and out of the durational project on the estates, social media, printmaking, festival, pop-up cinema, food, film, installation, ‘public’ intervention and live art writing are used to create art works, share ideas,  develop community-based performance and an inter-community dialogue.

the drawing shed works closely with University of East London (IHHD) on the relationship between creativity, networks and community cohesion. We have five years of diverse experience using our mobile studios to deliver contemporary arts projects that engage people on various levels always extending a real but critical dialogue. The artists often develop long-term relationships with individuals which allow complex and rich collaborations to emerge as trust develops. Integral to our work is a strong focus on developing dialogue that includes elements of friction and contested ideas, and the celebration of difference through the content of visual arts projects. Alongside this, we also respond as individuals and in collaboration to commission briefs for site specific and other work that extends our ideas and practice. While the work is led by Labern and Lloyd as lead artists, other artists are brought into the team for their willingness to engage with the unpredictable.

Funded by Arts Council England (ACE) in addition to local council ward funds and charitable trusts, the drawing shed has worked with diverse partners including: Well London with the Institute of Health and Human Development at University of East London (UEL/IHHD) and London Sustainability Exchange; Arts Council England (ACE); Goldsmiths College, University of London; Forest YMCA; Allies and Morrison; Dohaland; University of Qatar; Pentonville Prison; BAAT; A New Direction; Local Authorities; primary & secondary schools, including Walthamstow School for Girls; Walthamstow International Film Festival and E17 Art Trail; New Work Network; London Arts and Health Forum (LAHF); Live Art Development Agency; Studio Polpo; Immediate Theatre; Proboscis; Campaign for Drawing (Big Draw national award winners 2009), Heart in the Community (Public Health/Social Action for Health), Pakistani Community Forum, Well London Phase Two/UEL, and most recently in 2014 for Text Festival with Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre with The Public Typing Pool and residency, Bury Light Nights with the commission ‘Artificial Sunshine‘ and Wandsworth Arts Council and Public Health, for Some[w]Here research. 

 

 

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