Once upon a time, if you wanted a Windows ISO file, you had just two options. Rip a CD you already had, or head to your friendly local torrent site.
Now, there’s an easier solution.
Turns out Microsoft isn’t just offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade They’re also offering free ISO files of the operating system to anyone who wants them. With this file you can burn Windows 10 to a DVD, allowing you to install the operating system on multiple computers without the need to re-download it. You can also install Windows 10 directly from the ISO file, or write it to a bootable USB drive.
Related: Microsoft won’t snub devices with Windows RT: Windows 10 coming to devices with 7, 8, 8.1, RT
Windows 10 is a free upgrade on any computer running Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1, but that doesn’t mean it’s a quick download. At just over 3GB, Windows 10 could take a long time for users to download on slow Internet connections. If you’d prefer to download the ISO once and use that to install Windows 10 on other computers, here’s how to get that done.
Download the Windows 10 ISO legally from Microsoft on Windows
To get started, head to the Windows 10 download page. If you’re on a computer running Windows 7, 8, or 10 you will be offered the Windows 10 Download Tool.
This tool makes it easy to turn any USB key into a bootable Windows 10 installer, and also allows you to download the Windows 10 ISO file for future use.
When the tool is downloaded, run it. You will be asked whether you want to upgrade your current PC, or create installation media for another PC.
Select Create installation media for another PC, as shown above, and then click Next. You will be asked what form your installation medium should come in.
Select ISO file, then click Next. You will be asked where to save the ISO file.
Once the download is complete, you will have the ISO file on your computer’s hard drive.
Downloading the Windows 10 ISO from Microsoft on Mac, Linux, and Windows Vista/XP computers
Related: Want to do a fresh install of Windows 10? The .ISO file is ready for download
The Windows 10 Download Tool only works on computers running Windows 7, 8, or 10. If you’re not running one of those operating systems, you can still download the Windows 10 ISO from Microsoft. Just head to the Windows 10 download page, and it will detect that you’re not running a compatible operating system.
From this page you can pick which version of Windows 10 to download, and you’ll be offered both the 32-bit and 64-bit ISO in the language of your choosing.
Install Windows 10 directly from the ISO from within Windows 7 or 8/8.1
If you’re running Windows 8, mounting an ISO file is easy. Just double-click it. Windows will display the ISO as though it is a DVD drive.
From here you can install Windows 10. Just open setup.exe and the installer will open. From here you can choose to install Windows 10 in place, leaving your files and programs. All necessary files will be copied from the ISO to your computer, which will eventually restart your PC in order to complete the installation process.
If you’re running Windows 7 or earlier, the capability to mount ISOs isn’t built into Windows, but you can download Virtual Clone Drive and use that to mount ISO files instead.
Related: Ditch those old discs! How to mount an ISO in Windows and OS X
Once you’ve got the drive mounted, installation will work the same as outlined above.
Burn the Windows 10 ISO to a DVD
If your computer has a DVD burner, and you’ve got a writeable DVD on hand, you can burn the Windows 10 ISO to a DVD and install Windows 10 by booting from it. Simply right-click the ISO file, then click Burn disc image. The Windows Disc Image Burner will open, asking you which drive you’d like to use.
When ready, click Burn to start the process. When it’s complete, you’ll have a bootable DVD that you can use to install Windows from.
Related: Best free CD and DVD burning software for all your optical-disc burning desires
You can use other software to burn your ISO, but the built-in software is simple enough to use.
Most computers should boot from DVD by default, but in some cases you may need to access your computer’s boot menu to install Windows 10 from DVD. Annoyingly, doing this requires a different keyboard shortcut on different devices, but if you pay attention when your computer is starting up you should see instructions for accessing the boot menu.
Write the Windows 10 ISO to a bootable USB key
If you want to install Windows 10 from a USB key, using the Windows 10 Download Tool is the easiest method. But if you’ve already got the ISO on hand, you can still use it to create a bootable Windows 10 USB key. Just download the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool from CodePlex. This tool was created by Microsoft for creating Windows 7 USB keys, but still works with Windows 10 ISO files.
Just point it to your Windows 10 ISO, then point it to your USB key (at least 4GB or bigger). Be warned: this will completely overwrite your USB key, so be sure to back up any files you want to keep around.
You’ll need to boot your computer from USB in order to install Windows 10. Pay attention as your computer starts up and you should see a keystroke for entering the boot menu.
Other uses for the Windows 10 ISO file
There are plenty of other uses for a Windows 10 ISO file. For example, you may want to install Windows 10 on your Mac, or set up Windows 10 in a virtual machine application. In either case, the ISO file is the prefered tool for installing Windows 10.
In any and all cases, you will need a valid Windows 10 product key in order to install Windows 10. On computers currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 this isn’t a problem. You can upgrade in-place, and Windows 10 will detect your previous license. Failing that, you can use the product key on your device: just look for a sticker.
But the free ISO file isn’t a free Windows license. It’s just a more convenient way to install Windows 10. Mac users, custom PC builders, and anyone installing on a virtual machine are going to need a product key to legally install Windows 10. They can buy Windows 10 Home for $120.
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