How to downgrade Windows 8 to 7

Downgrading Windows 8 to 7 is an annoyingly long and difficult process.  Clearly, Microsoft doesn’t want users doing this or else it would have included bold blinking text in a large tile on the Start Screen that read, “Downgrade to Windows 7 now!”

Here are the five most important things you need to know about downgrading Windows 8:

  1. Downgrading really means: Install Windows 7 for free
  2. You can only downgrade Windows 8 Pro
  3. You can’t downgrade without a physical copy of Windows 7
  4. You have to actually call Microsoft to activate Windows 7
  5. You may encounter software incompatibilities after the install

1. What does it mean to downgrade Windows 8 to Windows 7?

It means you have a PC pre-installed with Windows 8 Professional and you want to legally use Windows 7 Pro but you don’t want to buy a new license.

Every copy of Windows 8 Pro includes downgrade rights to Windows 7 Pro or Windows Vista Business.  So you can’t downgrade to Windows XP, or God forbid, anything older than that.  A downgrade really boils down to installing Windows 7 on top of Windows 8 – but there are a few caveats:

  • If your PC is younger than 2 years old then you’ll need to disable UEFI because the Secure Boot feature prevents other Operating Systems from loading.  Basically, if the exterior of your PC is flaunting a new Windows 8 logo then you probably have UEFI .  Simply put: UEFI is a prettier, more secure BIOS.
  • You need to create a recovery drive so you can restore your PC in case something goes wonky.
  • Backup your files because you’ll be doing a clean install of Windows 7.  Everything gets wiped.

2. Upgrades don’t downgrade

For example, if your PC originally came with Windows 7, Vista, or XP and you used the Upgrade Assistant to install Windows 8 you can’t revert back to Windows 7 on Microsoft’s dime.  Even if your PC shipped with the Windows 8 Core version and you purchased the Pro pack, you can’t downgrade from the Pro Pack to Windows 7 Pro; you can only downgrade from PCs that have Windows 8 Pro preinstalled from the factory.

3. You need a Windows 7 CD

You need the installation media and a valid product key for Windows 7.  Fortunately, this isn’t as hard as it used to be.  In the past, you would hunt down a friend for the CD, find one laying around the house or call the computer manufacturer and beg for it.  But now you can legally download the 64bit and 32bit images of Windows 7 directly from Microsoft’s e-commerce outsourcing company, Digital River.

It’s all legal as long as you have a valid product key.  It’s okay to use the Windows 7 product key from another computer you own, you just need it to click next through the installation screen that requests the product key.

Burn one of the below images to a DVD or USB drive, boot to it, then install Windows 7 in the normal fashion.  Remember, you’re going to loose all your files, programs, and settings so you want to make sure you’ve got everything backed up first.

4. You must activate Windows 7 by phone

I know it’s lame but after installing Windows 7 the automatic activation will fail since the product key you provided was already in use.  Without activation you can’t update Windows and certain features won’t work.

To activate your copy of Windows 7, click Start and type the word “activate” and press enter. You’ll see a phone number to call Microsoft.  During the call, tell the support rep that you downgraded your Windows 8 Pro computer to Windows 7 Pro and you need the Windows 7 Pro product key to activate the software.  Make sure you have your existing Windows 8 Pro product key available so you can prove you have downgrade rights.

5. You may encounter software incompatibilities after the install

Just because your DVD burner worked in Windows 8 doesn’t mean it will neccessarily work in Windows 7.

Components like the trackpad, sound hardware, and display adapters might spaz because they don’t recognize the newer Windows 8 hardware.  Before making the change, visit your computer manufacturers website to see what drivers are available for your model. For example, if you own a Dell Ultrabook, you can visit http://support.dell.com/, enter your Service Tag, and find a list of supported drivers.

The Bottom Line

Downgrading Windows 8 is a pain so only do it if you see no other option.

There’s no one-click downgrade button and Windows 7 isn’t sitting beneath Windows 8 waiting to come to life.

  • You can’t rollback to Windows XP
  • You can only downgrade from a PC that came preinstalled with Windows 8.
  • Upgrades don’t downgrade.
  • Phone activation only.
  • Hardware drivers that worked in 8 might break in 7.

There’s a lot to do and it can take hours, but if you just can’t stand the juvenile, multi-colored rectangles of the Windows 8 Start Screen then maybe the downgrade is worth it.  However, if all you want is your Start Menu back, save yourself the time and just download the Start Menu Reviver from ReviverSoft.  Unlike the $5 Start8 program, the Start Menu Reviver is free.

By the way, the very notion of spending five dollars to get my Start Menu back infuriates me but I digress – that’s another article.  Happy Downgrading!

Alternatively you can just upgrade to Windows 8.1 and and enable boot to desktop to make your computer act like it did in its heyday.

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