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Clean Install Windows 8 with Upgrade Media

Once more into the breach, my friends. Can you clean install Windows 8 with the Upgrade Media?

You may recall that this was a huge issue with Windows 7. My resulting article, Clean Install Windows 7 with Upgrade Media, remains one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written.

A few things have changed since then.

First, the word “media” in “Upgrade media” is a bit more nuanced. Yes, Microsoft will sell you a Windows 8 Upgrade disc for $69.99 at retail. But the firm is for the first time offering an electronic, web-based version of the Windows 8 Upgrade. And since that version is temporarily a lot less expensive than the retail disc, many will want to use that instead.

Also new this time around is that Microsoft is no longer offering a Full version of Windows 8. So if you are actually installing Windows 8 on a PC that has never had any version of Windows on it before, then you will need to purchase the System Builder version of the OS (formerly called the OEM version) instead. and other online retailers offer this.

But chances are, you (or, more properly, your PC) does in fact qualify for the Upgrade version. And that’s because a PC that came with Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 does qualify. Unless you’ve got a Mac (in which case, yes, you do need that System Builder version), it’s almost impossible to imagine that your PC doesn’t qualify. So the need to figure out clean installs with Upgrade media is even greater this time around.

OK, let’s step through this. Chances are, I’ll need to update and expand this article in the future. But here’s what I’ve learned so far.

It just works: Web-based installer

As you know, the web-based Windows 8 Setup application—called Upgrade Assistant—is the preferred method for installing Windows 8, but it obviously requires that you are already running some previous OS. If that OS is Windows XP, Vista, or 7, you can simply step through the install process from within that OS, and when you get to the step called “Choose what to keep,” just choose “Nothing”. That’s a clean install, and it should just work, and Windows 8 will activate later without issues.


To be clear, I recommend that you install Windows 8 this way whenever possible.

Create install media with the web-based installer

Of course, what many of you want to do is create your own install media (USB or DVD) and install Windows 8 later, either by booting from that media or by doing so on a different computer. Upgrade Assistant permits this: After you’ve entered your payment information, the web-based installer will download Windows 8 and then prompt you to choose how you wish to install it. Your choices are: Install now, Install by creating media, and Install later from your desktop.


That middle option lets you create USB-based install media or write an ISO to the hard drive. You can later burn that ISO to a writable DVD if you wish.

Install by booting the PC with the Upgrade install media

However you acquired physical Windows 8 Upgrade install media—by purchasing the retail Setup disc, perhaps, or by making one with the Upgrade Assistant online—you can of course install Windows 8 by booting your PC using that media. This works much as it did in Windows 7.

Except for one thing. This time it works.

Regardless of how you choose to install Windows 8 on your existing PC—Upgrade or Custom—when you boot into Windows 8 for the first time, you can see that the system is activated. In Windows 7, the Custom option during Setup—which is a clean install—would result in Windows install that wouldn’t activate. So you’d have to use my article to make it work.

Install by booting a different PC with the Upgrade install media

Before signing off on this topic for now, I did want to test one more scenario. This time, I ran Upgrade Assistant on my desktop PC with an eye towards buying another electronic copy of the software and installing it on a different PC (a Windows 7-based laptop).

However, my desktop PC is already running Windows 8, triggering an odd error.


This needs to happen from a PC running a supported OS, like XP, Vista, or Windows 7. (Indeed, this is what the web site explains.) For this reason, you may want to run Upgrade Advisor multiple times on a single PC, purchasing as many product keys as you need. And then you can install the OSes later on the actual PCs you intend to upgrade.

Which I know because I’ve tested this. That is, using one Windows 7 PC, I’ve run the Upgrade Advisor from and stepped through the Upgrade process, buying a product key, and then cancelling it from there. Then I booted a second PC using the previously-created USB-based install media. And when prompted by Setup, I entered the product key I had just purchased on a different PC.

So what happened? The product key worked as expected during Setup, I chose a Custom install (not Upgrade) and blew away all the partitions before proceeding. And when Windows 8 first booted up, I checked Windows Activation and … sure enough, it was activated.

There’s gotta be more

Now, I know things aren’t usually this easy. And I’m guessing that some of you haven’t had the string of positive experiences I’ve had with this new Setup type. If that’s the case, please do write me an email and let me know what’s happened. Ditto for any questions about this process. As always, the aim here is to remove the doubts and document what’s possible when things go wrong. But from what I can see—after an admittedly short examination—Microsoft has done the right thing this time around. And unlike with Windows 7, Windows 8 really does make it easy for upgraders to install Windows the way they want to. Bravo to that.

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