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Issue #744: October 24-30, 2021

Q: Last year I updated two Dell systems. I’m attempting to upgrade one of the old units to Windows 10. Originally the old unit came with Win 10, but due to our good luck with Win 7, we had “7” installed over “10”. Now we are attempting to get Win 10 back on this unit so we can donate it to a local organization. We can’t find Win 10 anywhere on the hard drive, but we do have documentation that came with the old unit. Is it possible to have a copy of Win 10 downloaded from Microsoft?   If so, what do we need to prove that the unit came with Win 10?  Note: I had a new hard drive installed, as the old one was having issues.

 – Jim W.
Niceville, Florida

A: It’s very nice of you to think of making your old computer into a donation to help someone else.  It sounds like you’re also doing a lot of prep work to make sure it’s ready for its next owner.  I’ll cover some additional things you need to do after I answer your main question.

Microsoft handled Windows 10 in a manner different from any previous version of Windows.  Of course, they offered copies for sale, and it came installed on new PCs, but it was also offered as a free upgrade to owners of existing computers that were running certain prior versions of Windows.  The offer was billed as for a limited time, and officially, the offer ended in July 2016.  But Microsoft never really took the server down after the offer supposedly expired.  As of this writing it is still possible to perform free operating system upgrades to eligible computers.

The question is whether a given computer is eligible.  I say that for my other readers, Jim, as you obviously know yours are.  After all, according to your description, they came with Windows 10 in the first place.  However, you must be prepared to prove your claim.  Microsoft supplies a registration key with every copy of Windows that you must use to register your copy when it’s new.  This self-same key is used in the free upgrade process. In your case, Jim, it should be contained in that documentation that came with the computer.  It might also be on a sticker located somewhere on the computer’s case.

The actual process of determining a computer’s eligibility, the right websites to visit to start the process, the instructions to follow, etc. are far too voluminous to be contained in my small column.  So, I’m going to refer you out to an article over at CNET that contains everything you’ll need to know.  It’s at  For anyone else still clinging on to Windows 7, the best reason to update to Windows 10 is given right up front:  Windows 11 is coming, and you’ll need to be running Windows 10 to upgrade! 

As I said earlier, Jim, I think it’s very nice of you to donate your old computer.  Before you do, I highly encourage you to make absolutely certain that you’ve removed all traces of personal information from the system’s hard drive.  If, when you do your operating system re-installation, it formats the hard drive, that’s a pretty effective method of protecting yourself.  Someone would have to be a computer scientist or a serious geek to recover files from a hard drive that has been formatted.  If you want to protect it so even those in-the-know can’t recover your data, do a Google search on methods to “permanently erase a hard drive”.  You’ll find some methods built-in to Windows, and others that entail using software to write zeros to every available byte on the drive.

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