There are all kinds of questions and answers relevant moving Windows 8 to a new hard drive. I'm not seeing anything quite applicable to my situation.

I have a new, unopened, unbooted notebook with pre-installed Windows 8. I will be replacing the hard drive before ever booting, unless that is not possible for some reason. I want to "downgrade" to Windows 7 Pro, and I want a clean installation. To do so legitimately, I apparently either need to:

  1. Upgrade Windows 8 to Windows 8 Pro using Windows 8 Pro Pack, then downgrade; or
  2. Just install a newly-licensed copy of Windows 7 Pro.

(Let me know if I've missed an option.)

Installation media is likely not a problem, though if I need something vendor-specific that I cannot otherwise download, that could present an issue (Asus notebook, if that matters). If I could, I would just buy the Pro Pack upgrade, swap the hard drive (without ever booting), then install Windows 7 Pro directly on the new hard drive, using the Pro Pack key for activation. Will this work? Are there any activation issues?

Edited to clarify, as some comments and answers indicate confusion:

Here is, ideally, what I want to do:

  1. Before ever powering on the notebook, remove the current hard drive.
  2. Replace this hard drive with a new, blank hard drive.
  3. Install a clean copy of Windows 7 Pro on this new, blank hard drive.

Unless I have no choice to accomplish the end result (a clean install of Win7 Pro on the newly-installed, previously-blank hard drive), I am not wanting to:

  1. Install Windows 7 "over" the current Windows 8 install (after upgrading to Win8 Pro). That would involve using the currenly-installed hard drive. I want to use a new, different hard drive.
  2. Copy the Win8 install to the new hard drive, then install Windows 7 "over" that installation.
  3. Install Windows 7 "over" the current Windows 8 install (after upgrading to Win8 Pro), then copy the installation to the new hard drive.

If I have to use one of those three options, I will, but only if there is no other choice. Please note that this question is not about licensing: I will purchase the necessary license(s) to accomplish this procedure legally (apparently either Win8 Pro Pack or Win7 Pro -- the former currently appears less expensive).

  • As long as it's windows OS you're installing, you wont run into any issues UEFI would give you, or secureboot, but you can turn that off anyways if you had to, so you should be good. – user88311 Jun 30 '13 at 18:45
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    Just disable Secure Boot and install Windows 7 over your Windows 8 installtion – Ramhound Jun 30 '13 at 19:47
  • @user88311 Good to know. Which license key, if any, would I need to enter in my first option? If I understand correctly, the original Windows 8 "key" is stored in the firmware. It is not a Win8 Pro key, though, so I would need Pro Pack to be legal in that scenario. Will this create any problems? – Andrew Jun 30 '13 at 22:15
  • @Ramhound, I can do that if I need to, but since I'm installing a new hard drive before even starting up, that would seem to require copying the installation to the new hard drive, then installing Win7 over it, which might be unnecessary (or is it?). – Andrew Jun 30 '13 at 22:16

Before you boot the computer into Windows 8, change UEFI settings to Legacy and disable secure boot. I think Windows 7 does not fully support UEFI/GPT configs. From experience Windows 7 installer failed to install while in UEFI mode on my laptop.

You can boot from a CD or USB that has Windows 7 on it and install right over top of 8. Make sure to delete all the partitions and click Create New. In some cases the OEM partition won't be created. This is because the PC came preloaded with all drivers and software for 8 to work. Again speaking from experience, after I installed 7 the drivers that were missing were only located in the OEM partition (USB 3.0 filter and HDD Laptop parking when picked up) left issues. These drivers were not readily available for download from the manufacturer. I used the Device management to locate these drivers online from Windows.

Make sure Windows updates is set to receive updates for Windows and other software from Microsoft updates. Hope this helps.

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  • Did you boot the Win7 DVD in UEFI mode? I can confirm that it does support UEFI/GPT properly. – Karan Jul 1 '13 at 1:44
  • I have actually done a successful clean install on a home-built desktop PC with Win7 Pro using UEFI, and I even have a USB key set up to install it that way. However, I'm still looking, if at all possible, to install Win7 on the brand new hard drive, not install it over Win8 and then switch hard drives. Is that possible? – Andrew Jul 1 '13 at 1:51
  • @Karan None of the computers in my house have CD/DVD drives. Both laptops are portable "SleekBooks/UltraBooks". Desktop has no drive either. I haven't used one in years. USB boot is what I do. – cbabb Jul 1 '13 at 8:01
  • If I understand correctly @Andrew, what you are trying to do is Hot Swapping. Yes it is possible if you have an eSATA port. I have tried it once just a learning experience. – cbabb Jul 1 '13 at 8:07
  • @cbabb: Then did you do all the extra steps necessary to create a UEFI-mode Win7 Setup USB? All the old methods and utilities create BIOS-mode USBs only. The DVD can boot in both modes though. – Karan Jul 1 '13 at 14:37

After following some links, I believe I have found my answer.

From Microsoft's "Downgrade Rights FAQ" near the bottom of this page:

Q. Will the downgraded software require product activation? If so, what product key should be used to activate the software?

A. Once the downgraded software is installed, the PC will prompt for a product key in order to activate the software. The product key associated with the original Windows software should be used for activation. If the product key has been previously activated, which is likely if the media came from a prior legally licensed version that has been activated in the past, the software may be unable to activate over the Internet, due to the hardware configuration change when installing this media onto the Windows 8 or Windows 7 system. When this happens, the appropriate local Activation Support phone number will be displayed, and the person performing the downgrade will need to call the Activation Support Line and explain the circumstances to a customer service representative.

Once it is determined that the end user has a valid Windows 8 Pro, Windows 7 Professional, or Windows 7 Ultimate license, the customer service representative will provide a single-use activation code that can be used to activate the software.

This answer strongly suggests that, no matter what, I will end up having to call Activation Support if I want to use my first option, which is to buy Windows 8 Pro Pack but install Windows 7 Pro. While I happen to have a volume licensing agreement, new Windows license keys are not part of my specific agreement, so I will probably just reuse one from a prior installation, get the error, and call the hotline.

The volume licensing agreement does confirm the downgrade rights I am describing, though it appears that any consumer with a valid Win8 Pro license could downgrade to Win7 Pro at this time.

I have MSDN, but I believe use of one of my Win7 keys from MSDN for this purpose may violate my MSDN license, so I'm not going to go that route.

Of course, just buying a new Win7 Pro license would appear also to work, but right now, Win8 Pro Pack appears cheaper. Since I don't mind the activation hassle this time to save a few bucks, I think that is the route I will go. Plus, I will have Win8 Pro available (for that machine only, since the original Win8 is an OEM install) in case I ever decide to go back to that OS or upgrade to a later one that requires a Win8 Pro license.

To summarize, I plan to:

  1. Determine whether Windows 7 drivers are available for the machine, and obtain those drivers.
  2. Purchase a Windows 8 Pro Pack license.
  3. Swap the pre-installed hard drive for a new, blank one. This is because the new drive will be faster and have greater capacity (new drive: hybrid 7200RPM 750GB; old drive: 5400RPM 500GB with unwanted, OEM-installed software).
  4. Turn off Secure Boot.
  5. Install Windows 7 using a USB key specifically set up for a UEFI install (I already have this USB key available). If UEFI does not work, I will simply perform a legacy-mode install from DVD.
  6. Use the activation key from my last Win7 install.
  7. Get the activation error and call Activation Support to get a valid activation code.
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Before doing ANYTHING, check your computer's hardware and make sure you can get the Win7 drivers. Should be okay, but check first. Next, I don't think you can downgrade from a non Win8 pro or enterprise license to a Pro license but, since you are buying a hard drive, you should be able to qualify for a Win 7 Pro OEM System Builder hardware license. May want to buy it with the drive. Once done, should be like any other normal install. Not sure about the EUFI, may need to turn it off.

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  • Sound advice regarding drivers; I absolutely was going to check before starting any of this procedure. This Microsoft page linked from this answer strongly suggests that downgrading Win8 Pro to Win7 Pro is permitted, as does my volume licensing agreement (details not very relevant here). Secure Boot will almost certainly need to be turned off; UEFI may not unless there is a hardware issue. – Andrew Jul 1 '13 at 22:30

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