Ever since the days of Windows 95, Microsoft has distinguished between an OEM license, an upgrade, and a full version. Here's the difference as I understand it:

  • Upgrade license: Requires you to own a previous eligible version of Windows. Carried in stores. (Here's a Windows 7 Upgrade.)
  • OEM license: Does not require you to own any previous version of Windows. Not transferable to another PC; locked to the motherboard. Not carried in stores. (Here's a Windows 7 OEM license from Newegg.)
  • Retail license: Does not require you to own any previous version of Windows. Transferable to another PC, as long as the previous installation is decommissioned. Carried in stores. (Here's a Windows 7 full product.)

With Windows 8, the landscape seems different. I can find the Upgrade license, both on Microsoft Store and on Newegg, which requires you to own Windows XP or higher. I can also find the OEM (System Builder) license on Newegg.

But I cannot find a retail license anywhere! Does one exist? Is it an antiquated concept? What can one do if they build machines themselves but want to retain the freedom to move the Windows 8 license to a new machine down the line? Seeing as how Windows XP's lifetime is 10+ years, this isn't unreasonable at all.

  • The Personal Use licence is the 'retail' licence. There is a separate, distinct, licence for OEMs. Both are 'system builder'. I've gone into more detail here, including links to the personal use licence and OEM licence
    – Bob
    Oct 28, 2012 at 17:16
  • @Bob, I wish you would post this as an answer so I could mark it as such.
    – Philip
    Oct 28, 2012 at 20:04
  • Similar question here...superuser.com/questions/493608/…
    – Moab
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:05
  • 1
    W8 will not be around 10+ years like XP, but the next version of Windows will.
    – Moab
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:09

7 Answers 7


(I Am Not A Lawyer. This is my interpretation of the EULAs Microsoft have released on their website, and may not be legally sound. Additionally, the online EULA I reference may not match the specific terms you agree to; please read the licence terms included with your copy.)

Note: this answer applies for Windows 8 only. Windows 8.1 and newer got rid of the Personal Use Licence and moved back to a full retail channel.

Ok, let's clarify things. Hopefully for the last time.

There are two licences:

  • Upgrade

    You must have a preexisting XP/Vista/7 licence/installation.

  • System Builder

    Can be installed on a clean computer. Split into OEM and Personal Use.

There are additional licences distributed by large OEMs that have their own contracts with Microsoft, such as Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc.. Those remain more or less the same and will not be covered by this answer. As long as you buy the licence/disk separate from the computer, it is under Personal Use, not OEM.

Traditionally, there was a System Builder licence used by OEMs (typically smaller shops, since large manufacturers tend to have their own contracts). And then there was a full retail licence used by home users. What has been reported is that the removal of the retail licence, 'forcing' users to use the OEM licence with all its restrictions. This is incorrect.

Yes, the traditional 'retail licence' has been removed. Yes, home users must now buy a System Builder licence. No, that is not an OEM licence (practically speaking). Home users who purchase a copy of Windows 8 separate from their computer fall under the Personal Use section of the System Builder licence, which is more or less the same as the traditional 'retail' licence. It just got renamed and consolidated with the OEM licence into one package/price. You still have the same right to support from Microsoft and right to transfer the licence you would have had on the traditional retail licence.1

Now, to address the misconception that the System Builder licence is an OEM licence. For all intents and purposes, it is not. For previous versions of Windows, yes, but not for Windows 8.

Now, firstly, if you were to look at the System Builder licence you would find it here. That is the OEM licensing page. Disconcerting, yes?

However, if you actually read the licence, it states:

If you are not a system builder and are installing this product for personal use, refer to www.windows.com/personaluselicense for terms that apply to you

So, the OEM part of the licence only applies to OEMs! What a surprise!

Now, on to the personal use licence. This is the equivalent of the traditional retail licence, both in terms and in spirit. There are several parts that were part of Windows 7's retail licence, but not OEM, that are in here:

  • You can install it in a virtual machine

    Under our license, we grant you the right to install and run that one copy on one computer (the licensed computer) as the operating system on a computer that you build for your personal use, or as an additional operating system running on a local virtual machine or a separate partition, subject to the restrictions outlined under “Are there things I’m not allowed to do with the software?”

  • You can transfer the licence to another machine

    Can I transfer the software to another computer or user?

    You may transfer the software to another computer that belongs to you. You may also transfer the software (together with the license) to a computer owned by someone else if a) you are the first licensed user of the software and b) the new user agrees to the terms of this agreement. To make that transfer, you must transfer the original media, the certificate of authenticity, the product key and the proof of purchase directly to that other person, without retaining any copies of the software. You may use the backup copy we allow you to make or the media that the software came on to transfer the software. Anytime you transfer the software to a new computer, you must remove the software from the prior computer. You may not transfer the software to share licenses between computers. You may transfer Get Genuine Windows software, Pro Pack or Media Center Pack software only together with the licensed computer.

  • Microsoft will provide support1

    Microsoft provides limited support services for properly licensed software as described at support.microsoft.com/common/international.aspx.

    This is in contrast to the OEM licence, which states that the builder must support the end user.

Let me reiterate. The Personal Use licence is practically the same as the traditional retail licence. It is not an OEM licence.

1(Note: the support is described as 'limited' in the EULA, and apparently there is a message on the box saying there is no support. See the comments under this answer for further details.)

  • 3
    someone needs to tell these retailers about the W8 SB license, they continue to state it cannot be transferred to other hardware....newegg.com/Product/…
    – Moab
    Oct 29, 2012 at 4:22
  • Next question do we have to accept that personal use license and give email addy to make use of the personal license?
    – Moab
    Oct 29, 2012 at 4:39
  • @Moab I don't know, sorry. I imagine the installer will give you a choice on the EULA screen, but it could very well require accepting on the website (that link is at the very beginning of the OEM EULA). I'm just interpreting what's on the licence, but since I'm not getting a (non-trial) copy of Win8 any time soon I can't tell you anything about accepting said licence. In any case, there isn't much choice unless you want to buy a copy of a previous version of Windows.
    – Bob
    Oct 29, 2012 at 4:42
  • 1
    @Moab The whole of Windows 8 just feels... unpolished. So many small things that could have been handled better... Licensing is a big part, considering they're more or less ignoring non-upgrade users and leaving them to go digging for often incorrect information.
    – Bob
    Oct 29, 2012 at 16:04
  • 1
    W8 = Vista2....need I say more
    – Moab
    Oct 29, 2012 at 16:44

Use the System Builder license, it is more cheaper than the old Retail editions that Microsoft used to offer in previous versions of Windows:

Windows 8 x86/32-bit

Windows 8 x64/64-bit

Windows 8 Pro x86/32-bit

Windows 8 Pro x64/64-bit

Also, you can use the Windows Upgrade Assistant to buy an upgrade license on one PC and use the product key on a different PC.


Does a full, retail license of Windows 8 exist? (Not OEM, not upgrade)


No, there will be no Full Retail licence for Windows 8 like there was for XP, Vista and W7 only "System Builder" for W8 as previously mentioned, which appears to allow moving to other hardware. See link in Bob's answer below for documentation for the System Builder license.

See here

The majority of consumers buying the retail license are looking to upgrade. For Windows 8, Microsoft will therefore only offer an upgrade version of Windows 8 through the retail channel. This is the license an end user would purchase who wants to upgrade their current PC from a prior version of Windows to Windows 8.

And here

As previously announced, the lineup does not include a full package product (FPP) SKU for retail purchase. Instead, consumers will be allowed to buy the OEM product, install it on a new PC or in a virtual machine, and take advantage of the Personal Use Rights section of the OEM license. That represents a significant savings for consumers, who can pay $140 for a full license for Windows 8 Pro rather than $275 for the full retail package.

  • The Personal Use licence is not an OEM licence. Terms are more or less the same as the previous retail licence, and you can transfer the licence. You may transfer the software to another computer that belongs to you. You may also transfer the software (together with the license) to a computer owned by someone else if...
    – Bob
    Oct 29, 2012 at 1:23
  • @Bob Thanks for the clarification on OEM, so System Builder is not OEM, seems Root had it right from the start.
    – Moab
    Oct 29, 2012 at 3:05

Windows 8.1 adds the full retail version again.

Since a Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 license are effectively equivalent (if you have a license to one, you have a license to the other), this means that you don't have to be a "System Builder" to buy a brand new boxed copy of Windows 8(.1) (or the digital download if you prefer) for a computer that has no Windows license whatsoever.

  • 1
    While it doesn't specifically indicate its a System Builder license that is indeed the case. They don't have to clarify that fact due to the fact nothing except the System Builder license existing. Microsoft itself never did provide support to the end user only enterprise users. All retail copies of Windows 8.1 are full which means they can be used to upgrade an existing supported version of Windows with an upgrade path to Windows 8.1 or used to install a clean installation of Windows 8.1
    – Ramhound
    Jan 5, 2015 at 19:41

Yes, it exists. There are the System Builder DVDs:

Oddly enough, they don't seem to exist in Microsoft's own store (or I'm too stupid to find them).


It is called System Builder now. This link says system builder is same as retail. But, please cross check it


WallMart sells full version retail Win 8 in larger stores - $199 for pro. License is similar or same as personal license.

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