Microsoft offers free 90 days evaluation version of the latest Windows 8.1 through their TechNet evaluation center. Though it is meant for IT professionals trying out for their organization before recommend to buy, it is free to download for everyone.
If you still use any older versions, especially Windows XP which Microsoft officially stops support from April 2014, it is a good idea to try out the latest Windows 8.1 version for free before deciding to go for Mac or a PC. Below are the steps involved in installing Windows 8.1:
Getting Free Windows 8.1
- Step1 – Check system requirement and supported software
- Step2 – Cleaning up hard disk
- Step3 – Download Windows 8 ISO file
- Step4 – Convert ISO file to a bootable flash USB drive
- Step5 – Mount Windows 8 on hard drive and activating for use
Each step is explained in details in the following sections.
Important Points to Remember
- This is an evaluation version which will be expired after 90 days from the installation.
- After 90 days of evaluation period the desktop will turn into black background, you will be prompted with a notification indicating the version is not genuine and your system automatically shutdown every one hour.
- There is no separate activation key required for this installation and you just need to click on the activate link. The last day of activating this trial version is 31 October 2014.
- Most importantly, it is not possible to upgrade free evaluation version to a paid Windows 8.1 version. You need to install it from the scratch which means you need to install all software and drivers again. Hence, it is recommended to use trail version only for short term testing purpose and if you are planning to use for complete three months it will be difficult to trace all the data over the period of time.
Step1: Checking System Requirements
Windows 8.1 is not intended for the computers running Windows XP or Vista. Hence, before planning for the free Windows 8.1 installation it is necessary to check whether your system is capable of running it and the already installed software are supported in new Windows 8.1 version.
How to Check 64 bit or 32 bit Compatibility?
Since Windows 8.1 version is offered in 32 bit (x86) as well as 64 bit (x64), it is necessary to find out the version supported by your system. The difference between 32 and 64 bit refers how your processor handles the information. 64 bit version handles larger size of RAM comparatively than 32 bit and hence the system speed will more with 64 bit processors.
In order the check whether your computer supports 64 bit, just right click on the “My Computer” icon in the desktop and check the compatibility under “System” section. The sample check is shown in the below picture for Windows 7.
Using Microsoft’s Upgrade Assistant and Compatibility Center
The minimum installation requirements for Windows 8.1 are as follows:
- 1 GHz or faster processor
- 1 GB RAM for 32 bit and 2 GB RAM for 64 bit
- 16 GB free Hard disk space for 32 bit installation and 20 GB for 64 bit
- Supported Graphics Card for Microsoft DirectX 9 with WDDM driver
- Minimum screen resolution of 1024×768 is required to open Windows Store and download apps
- In order to use touch features, you should have a supported monitor
It is highly recommended to check the system requirement especially when you are using Windows XP or VISTA. Click on the below button to download the free Windows upgrade assistant offered by Microsoft to check the system requirement and the supported software which are already installed on your computer.
For Windows XP, VISTA and Windows 7 versions the upgrade assistant will provide a compatibility report and offers to buy Windows 8.1 which you can ignore. If you are currently using Windows 8 then upgrade assistant will automatically redirect you to Windows Store for free download of 8.1 version. You can also check the compatibility of any software using Microsoft’s Windows Compatibility Center. Enter the software name and click on search button to find Windows 8 can support it or not.
Step2: Cleaning Up Hard Disk
The important aspect of installing Windows 8.1 is to understand that it can be installed along with the existing version of your Windows which means you don’t need to delete your existing Windows version. Once installed, your system will have a dual operating system which you can switch during the time of booting.
The only requirement is to cleanup a drive of your hard disk for the installation. The ISO file needs approximately 3-4 GB of storage space and below is an illustration of how the installation will work. For example, you have Windows XP and your hard disk has C, D, E and F drives as shown in the below picture.
Let’s say you want to install Windows 8.1 on F drive. Ideally you don’t need to do anything at this moment other than to ensure that you have 4 GB of space to store ISO download file.
After you install Windows 8.1 on drive F, it will act as drive C for Windows 8.1 and all the drives will be renamed accordingly. This means none of the installed programs on existing C drive will work with newly installed Windows 8.1 version. It will look like as below after installation:
Hard Disk Cleanup Tips
- Though not required, we highly recommend to backup the complete F drive and leave it blank.
- If possible backup the complete hard disk to avoid the data loss due to any unforeseen error.
- Use Windows Disk Cleanup Wizard to delete the unwanted files to increase the storage space in the hard disk.
- It is not necessary to format any of the drives for installation purpose.
- The ISO file approximately needs 4 GB storage space and the installation approximately needs 13-20 GB storage space in your hard disk.
- You can also copy the data to external USBs or DVDs in order to free hard disk space.
Step3: Downloading ISO File
Free Windows 8.1 evaluation version can be downloaded from Microsoft’s TechNet Evaluation Center. You need to have a Microsoft account in order to download the file.
- Click here to go to the evaluation center.
- Select 32 bit or 64 bit version as supported by your computer.
- Click on “Get Started Now” button to stat downloading.
- You will be prompted to log in to your Microsoft’s account. Enter user id, password and sign in. You can also sign up for a new account from the same screen.
- Once logged in the download will start and the progress bar will show the percentage of downloaded file.
- Microsoft offers the file in ISO image format, which is a single file contains all the data from the installation CD or DVD.
- Depending upon your internet speed, it may take couple of hours to completely download the Windows 8.1 ISO image file.
Step4: Convert ISO File to Bootable USB Drive
The free Windows 8.1 download file will be in ISO image format and hence can’t be executed directly to install the operating system. You need to convert the ISO image file into a bootable flash USB drive or burn into a DVD to start Windows from a USB drive or a DVD.
Creating Bootable Flash USB Drive or DVD
In order to create a bootable USB drive Microsoft offers a free USB/DVD tool which you can download here for free. Though the name of the tool suggests Windows 7 it will still work good for Windows 8.1 as well. You need a USB with a minimum capacity of 8 GB (recommended to have 32 GB) and ensure the USB is not having any data. All the existing data in your USB will be deleted since it is necessary for the tool to format your USB.
Once you installed the tool, insert your USB, run the program, select the saved ISO image of Windows 8.1 and select “Begin copying”. The program will start copying the ISO file into your USB which will take around 10-15 minutes.
The tool formats your USB with NTFS file system which sometimes may not work with your computer. In that case, once the USB flash drive is ready, copy all the files to your PC and manually format the USB with FAT32 file system and copy back the files again to USB.
You also can burn the ISO image file into bootable DVD or BD disc using this tool. If the Microsoft’s USB/DVD maker tool does not work for you for any reason, then you can use another free USB maker tool. Download the free WinUSB Maker here and the procedure is same as explained above: Run the program, Select ISO file, insert USB and start making a bootable drive.
Step5: Mounting On Hard Drive and Activating
As explained in the step2, cleanup the hard disk drive where you want to install Windows 8.1 version. It is not necessary to format the drive or entire hard disk for installation. Your system will be having a dual operating system with Windows 8.1 along with the existing operating system.
Changing the Boot Sequence
Change your BIOS boot sequence to boot your computer from USB drive (or from a DVD – if you have created s bootable DVD in step4). Normally when you start your computer, pressing F2 or Del button will take you to the BIOS Setup where you can choose the booting sequence. Save your settings and start your computer by inserting the bootable flash USB drive (or a DVD).
Installing Windows 8.1
Your computer will boot from USB flash drive and Windows 8.1 will start. You will be prompted many question like selecting the hard disk partition where you want to install your Windows 8.1 version. Follow the step by step installation process which may take 30 minutes to one hour and your computer will restart few times during the course of time.
Once the installation is completed, you can add an account for log in to your Windows 8.1 version. Remember to change the boot sequence again from USB to hard disk and when your computer is started you will see an option to choose the operating system. All your old files will be accessible when you log in to your old operating system.
The final part of the installation is to activate your evaluation version. It does not need a separate product key for activation, once successfully installed you will be prompted to activated Windows 8.1. In order to use the trail version you need to activate it before 31 October 2014.