If you have a Windows 7 system and ever need a full installation disk for some repair function, you are likely to be out of luck. Nowadays, most PCs only come with a restore or recovery partition or sometimes a restore disk. However, neither of these provides a full installation but only returns a system to the same setup that it was in when you bought it. This is often not what you are looking for. Here is how to get a legitimate free copy of an ISO file for a Windows 7 full installation disk from the download service that Microsoft uses for online Windows 7 purchases. Note that while the disk file is free you still need a valid product key to activate any installation.
Microsoft itself does not provide Windows 7 downloads for the general public but the company uses DigitalRiver for online downloads. Download links for all popular English language versions of Windows 7 can be found on this page. These are large ISO files containing a number of GB so be prepared for a long download. Once downloaded, the ISO can be burnt to a DVD or placed on a USB. These versions are updated to SP1.
Although these are full Windows installation files, be aware that they may not contain all the drivers necessary for your particular system. According to what I read at Microsoft sites, these disks are the same as those sold online by the Microsoft store and installations can be activated with a valid product key that you already have. I have activated copies on virtual machines and everything worked.
For repair purposes, a product key is not necessary and one of these disks is a worthwhile addition to your emergency disks along with the one described in this previous tip.
And there you have it - something to help make it easier to maintain your Windows 7 system.
Update: Microsoft has now taken down the Digital River links for Windows 7 downloads. Some possible alternatives are given at this link.
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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.