When Is It OK To Borrow Or Download A Windows Installation Disk

Tina Sieber 20-10-2011

download a windows installation diskWhen was the last time you bought an operating system? For non-Mac users that practically never happens because you don’t buy an operating system or an upgrade, you buy a computer that comes with the operating system pre-installed and that’s it.


Nowadays, most manufacturers no longer ship their computers with installation discs. Instead they deposit a recovery partition on the hard drive or provide software that allows you to create your own recovery media. Now what do you do when the hard drive breaks and you never prepared recovery CDs?

Do You Have a Windows Product Key?

First, you need to check whether or not you have a Windows product key. If you bought a laptop, there should be a ‘Proof of License Certificate of Authenticity’ sticker from Microsoft at the bottom of the device where the hard drive sits.

download a windows installation disk

If your netbook or laptop has a removable cover at the bottom (e.g. HP Mini), you might have to take it off to see the sticker sitting on or close to the hard drive.

windows installation disk


If you bought a desktop computer, you should find that sticker at the back of the computer, close to the power button.

The sticker specifies the version of Windows installed on the computer and the 25 digit product key. If you don’t find that sticker and if you don’t have a proof of license anywhere else, for example on your Windows manual, you’re already in a semi-legal situation and should consider buying the operating system.

How Can I Obtain a Legal Windows Installation Disk

So you found the sticker containing the product key? Congratulations! You technically own a legal copy of Windows. Practically, however, there are few legal ways to obtain an installation disk. You’re stuck in a rut.

A perfectly legal solution would be to contact the manufacturer of your computer and ask whether they offer installation disks in case that the original disk is broken or the recovery partition was compromised. They will probably sell you the recovery media for a small fee. You may also be able to obtain a replacement through Microsoft: How to replace Microsoft software or hardware, order service packs, and replace product manuals


download a windows installation disk

A semi-legal solution would be to borrow an installation disc from a friend to install Windows. Just make sure you use your own product key. Once installed, no one can tell whether or not you used a legal source for the installation and since you own the product key, all is well.

If you don’t have access to an installation disk and don’t want to buy recovery media from the manufacturer, you can download Windows installation files. You will find respective .iso (disk image file) downloads on Torrents and various websites, for example here. This procedure, however, is 100% illegal. Unfortunately, downloading an illegal copy of Windows doesn’t become legal just because you own a genuine product key.


When you buy a computer, make sure it comes with a genuine copy of Windows, i.e. with the ‘Proof of License Certificate of Authenticity’ sticker from Microsoft. If the computer comes with software to create recovery media (e.g. HP PC Recovery CD Creator) or the manufacturer offers such software on their homepage, take advantage and create those recovery media as soon as possible. Otherwise, create a backup of your operating system or clone the recovery partition using software such as Clonezilla.


You will find more information in these articles:

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Data Backup, Windows 7.

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  1. Anonymous
    September 26, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    This has happened to me a lot of times: I get stuck at the PRODUCT KEY section because I keep using the wrong product key. I'd honestly suggest to anybody to either buy the key, or get an OS disk with the product key. Also be be careful of which key you use! DO NOT TAKE KEYS FROM ONLINE, AS THEY MAY BE FAKE KEYS. i have been doing it, and now my PC is corrupted, I can't use it, basically. So now I have NO other choice than to do a clean install, with the genuine key I have now. So yeah.

    • Luke Merriam
      March 26, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      I don't see how a product key can corrupt your OS since that's only related to Windows as an activation cue. Maybe you got an overused product key??? Those from what I have heard may mess stuff up (Since Microsoft only let me reinstall Windows 7 Home on my PC only 8ish times while online). I don't know much about them though. All I know is that Microsoft designed Windows to only run with one specific product key assigned to a system at a time in most cases. If you use a corporate product key it should work out better, and from what I know, they are actually pretty cheap. (Like some around $2.00 when I checked last.) Anyway, I do hope you were able to recover your system I know how irritating that can be.

  2. James Bruce
    October 24, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I think issue is with windows versions that come as OEM - reinstalling them requires the original OEM disks, and Im fairly certainly simply reinstalling a regular retail disk with that key is not permitted - just as using that key on antoher machine is not permitted. 

    • Anonymous
      October 24, 2011 at 8:28 am

      You're almost right. There's actually two answers to the problem. No, a disk set up for any other version of Windows will not be accepted. You must have a disk for the exact version matching the product key. Windows checks the key value when it's entered, you DO NOT have to be connected to the internet (and in fact, shouldn't be) for this check to happen. It will tell you if the key doesn't match the version installed.

      That said, there's another way to do it. If you are in a position to manipulate iso files, then change the ei.cfg file in SOURCES as follows:
      1. Make sure the Edition ID section matches the version on the product key sticker.
      2. Make sure the Channel item says OEM
      3. Unless you're an enterprise customer, VL is always 0

      The official definition of ei.cfg is thus:
      [EditionID]{Edition ID}[Channel]{Channel Type}[VL]{Volume License}Where {Edition ID} must be a valid Windows Edition ID. Use ImageX /info or DISM /Get-WimInfo to get the current EditionID. {Channel Type} can be OEM or Retail. {Volume License} can be 1 (True) or 0 (False). For example,

      If you remove the ei.cfg file, you will get a menu asking which retail version you want to install (Retail is the default). If you leave the file there, but remove the Edition ID item and change Channel to OEM, you can install any of the OEM versions.

      Once the changes are made, regenerate the iso file and burn it to a DVD. Now install with your original product key.

    • Anonymous
      October 24, 2011 at 9:27 am

      As a followup, i compared the contents of two Windows 7 disks, one retail-64 and one OEM-64. The ONLY difference between them was the Channel item in ei.cfg. So it's safe to say that you can modify the iso for a retail product, by changing Retail to OEM in ei.cfg, and get a valid install image.

      BTW, the exact phrases to use for Edition ID are as follows:


      That should do it.

  3. EPS
    October 23, 2011 at 4:17 am

    There is a difference between being illegal or against a license agreement. Those are permanent official links. For example, it is illegal to steal the Mac OS X Lion. However, buying it and installing it on your own superior and more inexpensive hardware is against the EULA. When I downloaded my academic copy of Windows 7 Professional, they gave me a temporary link that expired after some time. I think they intended to leave those links available to customers. Many companies have things available to their customers without advertising it. Having a trusted source to get the images could also help limit malware being spread by infected unofficial copies found who knows where online. I think MS is perfectly fine with you having a backup copy of the install disk. Distributing or selling could be an entirely different story. EULAs are meant to be all inclusive, not literally enforced. They are for "just in case" situations. Companies don't want to hassle their customers to an intolerable extent.

  4. Anonymous
    October 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    The stickers that come with OEM versions of Windows, include the version name. Product keys shipped with full versions do not, but the sticker on the package does. Except calling Microsoft and asking, I know of no way to translate a full product key to a version name. If you make a universal install disk, you can try each version for a valid activation. DO NOT connect the test machine to the internet. You don't want to really activate it. Windows itself will know if the key is for the version installed.

  5. Anonymous
    October 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I'm not sure where you're getting your information, but the media used, and the source thereof is totally immaterial. IF you own a valid product key, and that's a big IF, then you may use ANY source disk or iso file to install Windows. Microsoft doesn't care. All installation dvds are identical, except the 32/64 bit difference. The illegal part comes in when you use a pirated product key. Remember, the OS has to be activated and validated to continue running after 30 days. That's where Microsoft exerts control. It doesn't care about the media.

    The version installed is controlled by a very small configuration file on the disk. It is possible to remove that file and make a universal install disk that will present you with a menu asking for the version to install. I have done this, and loaded the resulting images in two USB flash drives and two DVDs, one each for 32-bit and one each for 64-bit. They will install any version of Windows 7 I want. The controlling factor is the product key. If you install a version that doesn't match the product key, it complains and won't allow activation.

    If you happen to have a Home Premium product key, but would like to know what the fuss is all about with Windows Ultimate, you can install Ultimate for 30 days and try it out. You just can't activate it. You have to reinstall Home Premium, or get an Ultimate key, to validate.

    • Shil
      October 22, 2011 at 5:42 am

      No matter how much you elaborate, she is hell bent on not accepting the simple fact. Ah! 100% illegal!!

      • Luke Merriam
        March 26, 2019 at 2:46 pm

        You do know that Microsoft does provide downloads for these files on their website right? That's where I get my downloads from anyway. It's not illegal to back up your own media (Windows Installer) either. I do it to keep my Installations safe in case I scratch a disk or wipe a USB on accident. The product key is what makes it legal or not, if that system had Windows installed on it in a point in the past then your owned that version (...XP, Vista, 7...) and are thus able to legally use the software. It even mentions it in the EULA

        " Software preinstalled on device. If you acquired the software preinstalled on a device (and also if you upgraded from software preinstalled on a device), you may transfer the license to use the software directly to another user, only with the licensed device. The transfer must include the software and, if provided with the device, an authentic Windows label including the product key. Before any permitted transfer, the other party must agree that this agreement applies to the transfer and use of the software."

        If you had a TLDR moment, then let me explain it.
        Windows will allow you to transfer your distro of it to a different system.

        And by backing up and then allowing your friend or whoever use the data on the disk to fix their PC you are not breaking their contract.

        What will break the contract is you selling the software as well as the product key on multiple disks. Without a license or their consent

        So even in Microsoft's perspective it's fine with them if you copy their data to a different device. (This includes the Windows 10 setup partition since I know that you guys are going to try to rip my tongue out for posting something like this). They are only against stuff like product key duplication and mass selling of the media (Like already activated copies.) to people. From what I know, Microsoft mainly has you pay for the license to use their products and charges very little for the actual media (Like all you have to pay for is the DVD and time it took to make it look pretty and copy the files on to it.

        So no. Making back up copies isn't illegal. It's not even ethically wrong. You just can't continue to use its features without a product key. That's all.

        Oof that was 2011. Who's here in 2019?

    • Tina
      October 22, 2011 at 8:13 am


      what you write makes total sense: software source doesn't matter, any source is legal as long as you use a valid product key with your installation. It could be so easy!

      The official License Agreement, however, doesn't follow this logic. It explicitly speaks about software, not product key. Publishing the software for others to copy
      or working around any technical limitations is illegal (see point 8. Scope of License). In my understanding this also means that creating a universal install disk is illegal.

      You could argue that the person making the software available violates the License Agreement, not the person using the installation files (provided they have a valid product key). But it's a grey area at the very least.

      [Broken Link Removed]

      Finally, the article and my comments here are not an opinion. Personally, I support the idea of being able to legally share the installation files and restrict subsequent use of the OS to owners of a valid product key.

      • Anonymous
        October 22, 2011 at 8:42 am

        You are absolutely correct, as far as you go. However, there's the EULA requirement, and then there's what Microsoft accepts as normal.

        On that vein, there are OEM versions of all Microsoft products. Part 14 of the OEM EULA specificly enjoins a seller from selling an OEM version to an individual. Yet Newegg, among many others, does exactly that. It's a major revenue stream for Microsoft.

        Further, the OEM EULA restricts the software to a single machine and prevents you from moving it to another, or even changing hardware in that machine. Fortunately, if you wait for a minimum of 120 days, you can install the software on another machine and activate it just fine.

        The point is that Microsoft is engaging in a CYA operation with it's EULAs. If someone is engaged in pirating or other missuse of the software, they have the means to shut them down. If you are simply installing the software, with a valid license, and with a valid copy of the software, Microsoft doesn't care whar source you use.

        There is a large gap between what's strictly legal and what's perfectly acceptable by Microsoft. They really only care about you having and using a valid product key for the installation. That's why the universal disks work so well. The end-user license is all that matters.

        • Tina
          October 22, 2011 at 11:34 am

          Point taken. Microsoft doesn't care.

  6. Tina
    October 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Good tip!

    There are several ways to get serial numbers off a running operating system, I have written about 3 of them before.

  7. ScottB
    October 21, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    The problem I've had over the years, is various (legal) versions of Windows - OEM, End User blah blah blah -- and no ability to correlate my license to the particular flavor of distribution I have. Anybody know of a mechanism to "translate" the license key to the distro?

  8. C0rtm4n
    October 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    What is illegal about downloading a Windows ISO image? The OS will stop working after 30 days unless activated anyway. And if you don't have a key, you don't have an activation. It's as simple as that.

  9. Andrei
    October 21, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    What about this link

    It offers windows 7 enterprise for trial, but I guess you can activate it if you have the right (legal) key.

    • Tina
      October 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      It's legal to download if you qualify. The majority of Windows users definitely don't qualify for running Windows 7 Enterprise. Also check out this guide on Windows 7 Editions.

      • James Bruce
        October 24, 2011 at 8:12 am

        Tina, the version linked is a demo, in that after 90 days it will reset once every hour. The trial key is preprogrammed, and you cant change it. There's no 'qualification' to download... Members of MSDN / Technet etc have access to the 'full' version and therefore don't need that download - this is purely for members of the public (though microsoft 'recommends' it only for professionals).

  10. Bogdan
    October 21, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Or just use Linux, which is completely free and you don't have to worry about all this stuff.

  11. Shil
    October 21, 2011 at 5:12 am

    Wow! The link you have provided to download Windows 7 ISO isn't illegal. Hell! It's not even same as torrents. Those are from DigitalRiver, who are the official distributors of Windows 7 on the web. Please edit the post to give the correct information for the readers.

    • Tina
      October 21, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      The download source itself certainly is not illegal. However, the links were posted on a blog and were never meant to be publicly accessible.

      • Shil
        October 22, 2011 at 5:40 am

        Really? You think Microsoft and DigitalRiver are lame enough not to change the download links?

        • Tina
          October 22, 2011 at 7:48 am

          First of all, if they changed the links, do you think it would matter? Someone would figure out the new URLs in no time. Microsoft probably realized that it's a waste of their time to bother with changing links or a hackable system of protecting the download. Instead, they protect their software with a license agreement.

          "Any software that is made available to download from the Services ("Software") is the copyrighted work of Microsoft and/or its suppliers. Use of the Software is governed by the terms of the end user license agreement, if any, which accompanies or is included with the Software ("License Agreement"). An end user will be unable to install any Software that is accompanied by or includes a License Agreement, unless he or she first agrees to the License Agreement terms.

          The Software is made available for download solely for use by end users according to the License Agreement. Any reproduction or redistribution of the Software not in accordance with the License Agreement is expressly prohibited by law, and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties. Violators will be prosecuted to the maximum extent possible.


          From: Microsoft - Information on Terms of Use [Broken Link Removed]

        • Shil
          October 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm

          You are trying really hard to prove your nonsense, there is No reproduction or redistribution of the iso. No other server or location is used!

        • Shil
          October 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm

          For the benefit of others, digital river is the official e-com partner of Microsoft and the links to the iso are located on their servers and users must be required to use their own license key

  12. Miggs
    October 21, 2011 at 5:08 am

    90% of Windows users have no intend to act legally.

    • Bben46
      October 21, 2011 at 9:22 am

      Actually most win users would like to act legally. But M$ goes out of their way to make acting legally difficult. And acting illegally easy. As they don't require a REAL copy of the Operating system that you suposedly bought with your computer. And then make you feel like a pirate when you try to reinstall the OS you paid for.

      What would make sense to me is if they would put the ISOs for all Win Operating Systems on a site for free download. Then you must furnish the LEGAL Key when you install it.

      • James Bruce
        October 24, 2011 at 8:14 am

        The OS you 'paid for' on a purchased computer is an OEM version. You are a pirate if you reinstall that from retail install disks as opposed to the manufacturer supplied restore disks, and you have obtained that OEM license far cheaper than a retail version of the OS costs. It's really not that complicated. 

        • Matt Kinkead
          November 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm


          That is just plain ignorant. Yes we did pay far less for the OEM version but what you are forgetting to mention is that the OEM version was built from the retail version to begin with!  How is it pirating that I go from OEM to retail when I'm actually getting less software? It's not like the retail version has some major difference that is making M$ less rich by me using it instead of some bloated OEM version. If a user has a license key they are allowed to use it as long as they install the same version of the OS they have a key for, plain and simple. The only exception to that is the ability to go one OS down from what you are licensed to explain how M$ thought people were going to be able to do that without the OS disc for Vista? They figured they would just download it. You people irritate me...

  13. Anomaly
    October 21, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Windows 7 comes with a built in cloning tool. Just clone the system as soon as you get it and make the recovery CD as well and your good to go. No need to install any software for this as it's built into Windows already.