How to Get a Free Installation Disk for Windows 8.1


If there is one question that keeps coming up, it is how to get a disk to reinstall a Windows system. Since most OEM systems don’t come with a Windows installation disk, many people find themselves wanting to reinstall Windows but having no disk. There are ways to create an installation disk from an operating Windows system (see here  and also here) but unfortunately many PC users neglect to do this. In the case of Windows 8.1, Microsoft has finally decided to make an installation disk readily available and here is how to get it.

The new Microsoft download site is at this link. The site provides for either saving the installation files to a USB flash drive or burning an ISO file to a DVD. You don’t have to use a Windows 8 system to do the downloading and I used a Windows 7 machine. The download is large and you will need at least 4 GB of space. I tried a standard 4 GB USB flash drive but, since its capacity was actually somewhat less than 4 GB, it wouldn’t work and I had to use an 8 GB drive. Note that any pre-existing files on the flash drive are deleted.

The instructions on the Microsoft page are pretty clear and the process is pretty straightforward, albeit tedious. You first have to download a small 1.26 MB setup file called mediacreationtool.exe. I placed the file on the USB flash drive I was going to use but it can go anywhere. Click this setup file and follow the instructions. I did not try burning to a DVD but I assume the process will work as long as you have DVD burning capability and a blank DVD with enough space.  Even on a fast Internet connection, the download can take several hours but you can continue to use your PC in the meantime. After the download is complete, it takes another substantial period of time while the installation files are set up. The progress of the download and then of the disk creation are shown in a window. An example of the window display is shown below.

Creating Windows 8.1 USB flash drive

The installation disk is free but it does not come with a product key. You still have to pay for a license. It is, however, a great convenience for those who have to reinstall or repair an existing licensed Windows 8.1 system and don't have an installation disk. 

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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.

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My question is:
Has anyone tried using the generated install media to install 8.1 on a different machine to the on it was generated on??

I wouldn't put it past MS to make that restriction ! :)

An even more basic question:
Has anyone tried using the generated install media to install 8.1 on ANY machine? If so, were there any issues to be aware of?

As posted before, I installed Windows 8.1 from the downloaded disc on to a spare hard drive. I had created the disc using a Windows 7 laptop. Had no issues installing on the desktop. Had no issues during installation, except for one. It cannot be considered an issue though. If I remember correctly, with my original Windows 8 disc, it was possible to create a local account. But, with this disc, there was no choice to create a local account. I had to sign in with my hotmail account, because otherwise, the installation will not let you move forward. This is what I did not like. I was forced to sign in with my Hotmail account. There should have been a choice to create a local account. Other than this, no issues. Had no problem with the OEM key that I have. It was accepted.

I don't HAVE a Hotmail account. That is the sort of restriction I was talking about.

Came across a trick to get past this restriction. Click the Create New Account link and then at the bottom of that next screen you will see a link that will let you cancel the process. You will then login using your local account. Got it from this article: The article also provides details on how to switch to a local account, in case you had to sign in through a Hotmail/Outlook account.
Well, Android requires you to have a Google account. MS are bound to put such restriction :D. Now am off to find that article, where it's provided how to remove a Hotmail account and use a local account on a system.

Did you mean HOTMAIL account or a Windows LIVE account.

Microsoft have a Microsoft Live login which is NOT an email address and is a different thing. Repeat that (Microsoft Live) sign in is nothing to do with email of a similar name by MS

In fact I have one from when I was an MVP and my ID is my own real email address.

Well, like I wrote, I used a Hotmail account and it worked. Guess an Outlook account will work too, since they are practically the same now. Don't know about Windows Live account.
Not sure when, but I will try installing it on a spare hard drive I have. It will answer both the questions then :).

That has to be a spare drive on a machine other than the Windows 7 Machine you downloaded it on.
As I said, I'm not being awkward, I'm just trying to make sure any test is valid ;)

Haha, yes, it will be the desktop on which my Windows 8 is installed :). It's a different machine.
Since choices are being provided to download the version of Windows 8.1 that you want, it wouldn't matter on which machine you downloaded it. I downloaded it on Windows 7.

Yes I saw that.

My question was has anyone tried to INSTALL it on a different machine to the one it was created on.
I am not saying that it will be the case, but I would hate for someone to rely on it and find that restriction.
I know,for instance, that a lot of the free recovery stuff MS has supplied in the past will only work on the machine it was requested from.

Can you post some links for the 4 ISO files, please?

My 8.0 machine is broken, and as advised on the MS information page, I've gone to a friend's house.

My friend still runs XP, and I downloaded the MedicCreationTool.

The MediaCreationTool won't run on his XP machine, so I can't use my friend's machine to download the 8.1 files.

All the pages connected to the information page check that I'm running on an XP machine, and refuse to give me Win 7 or Win 8 files.

They just tell my XP is end of life, and in one case, offer to sell me a new machine running Win 8.1.

The media creation tool does not provide any links to the ISO files. So, no one will be able to provide you with that. You will have to download using a non-XP system.

Please clarify my doubts
1. Many a times when some issues of Windows intallation or
rectification of other problems and issues are faced, the system asks
for the installaiton CD. Can I use this DVD for the purpose ?
2. Next, if I want to have a 'fresh' or 'virgin' installaion after
formatting the C drive, which Installation Key shall I use. The one
available with the Original DVD that I had purcahsed no more works
because it was changed when I upgraded to Media centre. I
had to get in touch with Microsoft Technicians over the phone to
get my Windows activated.
This also failed once.
They advised me to buy a new license. Fortunately I had an image
of the original Windows 8 installation with me. It saved the
situation. Thereafter I always keep a Backup image. The Original
WIndows 8 installation backup image is still in safe custody on 3
seperate hard disks
3. I can recover the new Keys for my Win_8.1 using Speccy or Belarc
adviser. But the keys generaed by these applications are differnet.
Please advise.

The way I partition my machines is by using one partition just for my data. I keep each operating system and its programs (and its potential troubles) in its own partition. when upgrade time comes along (or I just want to try something new), I put the new OS in its own partition. 60-80 GB is plenty, leaving me 300 or more for data. I have 4 OS's on my laptop and choose between them at bootup, and access my data from any. (Well, except windows, which I rarely use; the data is formatted ext4 which Windows can't read, but I could have formatted it so it could.) If I have a problem or want to upgrade, I just write over that OS with a new live disk. Almost all Linux OS disks are free to download, so there's no reason not to burn one and try it out. Zorin, Mint, or Ubuntu are great for beginners.

Thanks for this article, Vic. About downloading the ISO, I downloaded it last night. You can provide the location for the ISO to be saved in, and the ISO will be downloaded. There is no restriction to burn it right away to the disc. Hope that's helpful.
Thanks, Anupam.

Hi, I guess (as implied above) this doesn't directly help people who bought Win 8 rather than 8.1, who still (incredibly) would have to start again from Win 8 and all the massive updates that followed to reinstall.

And presumably it doesn't support repair install, which was removed with the advent of Win 8.

All of which means that all desktop apps would be lost and have to be reinstalled from scratch if either Win 8 or 8.1 had to be reinstalled, a backwards step and huge disincentive.

If then a free upgrade were offered to win 10, the reinstall path would be even more horrendous for Win 8 licensed users.

That leaves me thinking we need a different model- and OS which can be maintained largely independently of user data, user programs and their drivers instead of a legacy structure based on a one small disk one partition legacy model going back to Win 3.1 and before.

Where is it implied?