Windows is expensive. That’s a fact PC users have put up with for two decades, but recent moves by competitors like Apple and Google, which provide their operating systems and updates for free, have made the price even harder to tolerate. A lot of users want a cheaper way to install Windows or upgrade on old machine. Especially since rumors indicate that Windows 10 might be free or at least cheap. Meanwhile, the options for the budget-conscious are limited, but there are a few possibilities.
How Much Does Windows 8 Normally Cost?
Before we talk discounts lets talk MSRP. How much will Windows 8 cost if you pay full retail?
According to Microsoft, a standard copy of Windows 8.1 is worth $119.99. If you want Windows 8.1 Pro you’ll have to hand over an astounding $200. That’s almost as much as a Chromebook!
The most affordable option is the student version, which is only $69.99. To buy this edition you need some form of student ID such as an email address, a verification code from your school’s IT department or an International Student Identity Card. Students might want to hold off, though, because there’s another option that’s free.
Deep Discount Deals
Those are the prices from Microsoft, but all versions can be found for less at other retailers. Amazon.com and Newegg.com frequently sell the full edition of Windows 8.1 for around $100. That’s not bad, but it’s still a lot of money.
You’ll have better luck if you’re upgrading a previous install over buying new. There’s a number of “product key card” deals at various retailers, including Amazon.com, which sell for $70 to $90. These are often for the Pro version instead of the regular edition, so it’s a particularly good deal. You don’t receive a disk, however, so you’ll need to download Windows 8. Visit Microsoft’s page on how to upgrade with a product key to download it, then read our article on how to install Windows from a USB drive.
Note that since Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade, you can grab it free of cost after buying Windows 8. Leftover copies of Windows 8 usually sell at a discount compared to 8.1 and can be a way to save money. The only downside is hassling with the 8.1 update after installation, a process that can take several hours on a modest Internet connection.
Students Get It Free Through DreamSpark Premium
DreamSpark Premium is a subscription service offered by Microsoft to schools that want to provide the company’s software to students for free. As with the student edition of Windows 8.1, you’ll have to verify your student identity, but doing so gives you access to a variety of Microsoft products including Windows (but not Office). You can sign up on Microsoft’s website.
Ask your school’s student technology department to see if this program is available before buying Windows. There’s no definitive list of participating organizations online.
Negotiate Volume Licensing
Microsoft doesn’t sell Windows to large organizations the same way it sells to individuals. Instead it uses “volume licensing” which involves bulk distribution of Enterprise Edition keys for a set price that’s often much lower than a normal installation. You can buy copies under a volume deal for organizations as small as 5 computers, but you have to call into Microsoft’s volume licensing center to get the deal. The Microsoft License Advisor tool can be used to generate a quote without calling the hotline.
This won’t work for a lot of people, but Microsoft’s low minimum organization size means most small businesses can qualify. There’s also deals for governments, charities and non-profits. It’s entirely possible, in fact, that your employer already has a volume license deal. Check with the IT department to see if they offer discounts on Windows and other Microsoft programs to employees.
Download Windows 8.1 Enterprise Evaluation
Microsoft offers a free evaluation copy of Windows 8.1 Enterprise for businesses seeking to switch to Windows or upgrade older machines. This version can be obtained with nothing more than a Microsoft account. The catch? It’s only valid for 90 days. When the evaluation period expires, your computer will begin to shut down automatically every hour. This isn’t a long term solution, but it’s a good option if you’re saving money to buy the full version or only need Windows for a few months.
You can find deals on used keys in the usual places (like eBay), but proceed with caution. Many cut-rate keys are actually from volume licensing deals or DreamSpark and re-sold illegally. People with access to these free or low-cost sources for Windows 8 keys flip them for profit. That’s against the license agreement. Microsoft does not aggressively patrol its licenses, but buying a key from an illegal reseller means you run the risk of having your Windows installation deactivated without notice.
If you do buy from an individual, and you want to stay legit, carefully evaluate your purchase. A sealed boxed copy is your best bet because it guarantees the key hasn’t already been used. Product key cards are also legitimate, but there’s no way to verify the key hasn’t already been used. Only buy those from a business or person your trust.
There’s No Free Lunch For Windows
I’m sorry to disappoint if you were hoping for a magic solution. Windows is expensive and the price can only be significantly lowered if you qualify for a few specific plans. For most people the least expensive option will be a Windows 8 product key from an online retailer, but that’ll set you back $60 or more.
What do you think of Windows pricing, and how much did you pay for your last license (if you ever purchased one)? Let us know in the comments.