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How to install a Windows 8 upgrade on an empty hard drive

Make a clean install of Windows 8

The good times seem to be over - at least in terms of Windows 8 discounts. While the upgrade sat at an affordable £24,99 until the end of January 2013, you will now have to shell out at least £99,99 to get a hold of it. Even in the latter case, an upgrade is still quite viable and might be worth its money if you’ve found a liking to Windows 8’s new features. Unfortunately, every upgrade, discounted or not, will need to be installed onto an already existing version of Windows - with XP as the bare minimum. This can quickly get annoying, as you will essentially need to reinstall Windows twice every time you wish to make a clean sweep of your hard drive or update crucial hardware components. Even worse, in the case of pre-installed OEM-versions of Windows, a proper installation DVD is often nowhere to be found, thus making the migration to another PC impossible without buying Windows 7, Vista and XP as a formality. That’s why, in this How-To, we’ll show you how you can install the Windows 8 Upgrade on a completely empty hard drive – no strings attached.

This might also be of interest: How to stop Windows 8 from installation Updates automatically

1. Creating an Windows 8 Installation medium

In order to make this work, you will either need a Windows 8 Installation DVD/USB-Stick or an upgradeable version of Windows to download the necessary files and put them into a bootable format. If you already have a Windows 8 installation medium, you can simply jump to step 2. If not, proceed as follows: Go to Microsoft’s website and download the Windows 8 upgrade assistant. It will check your PC and subsequently offer the purchase and download of the actual upgrade.

Tip: Users of an older 32-bit Windows will also only be offered a 32-bit version of Windows 8. If you want to circumvent that and gain access to the 64-bit version (advisable of you have more than 4 GB of memory), try using the PC of a friend with a 64-bit Windows version to follow these steps. Don’t worry - you will receive the license number for Windows 8 in your own mail in either case.

a) In Windows Vista and 7

Creating a boot medium is rather easy in Vista and 7. After downloading the upgrade files, look for the option to create a bootable DVD or USB stick in the upgrade assistant and follow the instructions. After preparing the device, proceed with step 2 further below.

b) In Windows XP

In Windows XP, things get a little trickier. Unfortunately, the Upgrade Assistant fails to offer the option to create a bootable device here. To compensate for that, you can download the free tool Imgburn and put the upgrade files onto a bootable disk manually:

Start Imgburn and select „Write files/folders to disk”. Click on the small button with the image of a folder in the middle. (called “Browse for a folder…” in the tooltip). Head to the hidden folder “C:\ESD\Windows” and select it. Switch to the tab “Advanced”, followed by “Bootable Disc” and tick the box „Make Image Bootable“.  Enter the line “C:\ESD\Windows\boot\etfsboot.com“ into the field „Boot Image“ and the number “8” into the field “Sectors to load”. Insert an empty disk on your tray and click on the huge button to the bottom left to begin burning.

See also: How to shut down Windows 8 with your computer's power button

2. Installing the Upgrade on an empty hard drive

To get the installation going, start your PC from the bootable device. This should happen automatically, as there’s nothing on the hard drive to boot from – if it doesn’t though, pay your BIOS a visit and make sure that your disk or USB-drive is at the very top of the boot sequence priority list.

Once inside the Windows 8 setup assistant, follow its instructions until you get to the window called “What type of installation do you want?” and select the lower option of the two (“Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)”, see picture). The assistant will also ask you for your upgrade license at some point, which it should accept without any fuss. After Windows has finished installing however, it refuses to be activated.

To fix that, hold down the Windows-key + R and enter „cmd“. Enter “regedit” into the command line tool to bring up the Registry Editor of Windows. In the left panel, navigate along the path

“HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Setup\OOBE”

And look for the entry called “MediaBootInstall”. Open it and assign the value “0” to it. Close the Registry Editor and return to the command line tool. Type in the line “slmgr -rearm” and hit enter.

After all that is done, restart Windows 8 (most easily done by left-clicking once on an empty spot on the desktop and holding Alt + F4). After your PC has booted up again, the activation process should initialize itself automatically.

This article is based on a segment by our sister publication PCWELT.de.

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