How to get Windows 10 Professional for free

By: ( +David Herron; Date: December 6, 2017

Tags: Refurbished Computers

That you can download a trial version of Windows 10 Professional from Microsoft's website is mindblowing for those of us who remember the old Microsoft, and the Microsoft Police trying to enforce software piracy. But what you get is a time-limited system, for which you must pay $199 for a software license. It's still Microsoft, after all, just a little friendlier. But, what if there's a way to get Windows 10 Professional essentially free? We're not going to crack Windows 10 Professional, but explore a way to get a perfectly reasonable Windows computer that runs Microsoft's latest OS.

If you buy a brand-new computer, chances are that you're either buying a Mac or a Windows machine from one of the many Windows vendors. You can buy computers with pre-loaded Linux and skip past the Mac or Windows choice. But if you came here, you're interested in ending up with a computer running Windows.

Part of the price of a Windows or Mac computer is paying for the operating system. While Apple doesn't charge a fee for their OS, let me suggest that the cost for the OS is amortized into the cost of that computer. With Windows, the price for Windows is a little more explicit - because the vendor is required to paste on a sticker showing the license key, and as mentioned earlier you can buy a Windows license for a small pile of cash.

A third route is to buy a refurbished computer that comes bundled with a Windows license. It's not hard to find these with Windows 10 Professional pre-installed and with a license key.

Monetarily - the deal is that one can easily find a sub-$200 computer with a perfectly good Windows 10 Professional license. If you were to buy that license at retail, it costs $199. Meaning, that a computer with licensed pre-installed Windows 10 Professional that costs less than $200 costs less than the price of that Windows license.

In other words, you will have bought a Windows 10 Professional license for free because the hardware you've purchased with it is worth more than the Windows license.

A caveat - you'll be buying an older computer.

The computer in front of me is an HP EliteBook from 2011 that's built like a tank, and is nearly as heavy, and is nowhere near as sleek as the 2012 MacBook Pro I'm using to type this. Well, those characterizations aren't quite accurate, but it's surprisingly heavy for a 13-inch screen laptop. I bought this computer for a specific purpose - I have occasional need to run Windows software and to check Node.js development tools on Windows. The computer is perfectly fine for this purpose, and will be completely adequate for most people.

Think about it - a Refurbished computer is going to have been used by a business, and is probably a lease return. You can find these machines via certain auction sites but it's risky to buy them directly from the lease return. What you want to find is a good quality refurbisher who will certify and warranty the laptop.

The next thing to be certain of is that the computer comes with a licensed copy of Windows. Sometimes the refurbisher will simply throw Windows on the machine, and you have to turn around and buy a license.

Microsoft offers what's known as a "Windows 10 Pro for Refurbished PC's" license. It's what it sounds like, Windows specifically licensed to a refurbishing company. What counts is that it's a fully licensed copy of Windows 10 Professional.

Obviously Microsoft is getting a license fee as part of the system price.

In my case I was about to buy a license from Microsoft and run Windows 10 inside VirtualBox. But the $199 license fee stopped me in my tracks. As I pondered the options, I remembered a vendor that sells refurbished computers.

Specifically, ( Refurb.IO specializes in refurbished computers. Primarily they deal in Windows hardware, but they have a section for Mac and Apple computers if you prefer that. The computers come bundled with a properly licensed Windows, generally you have a choice between Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Professional. The latter is of course a bit more expensive.

The HP Elitebook I bought from them is a Core i7 machine, with 8GB memory and an SSD drive, from 2011 and it's perfectly adequate to the task. The machine is clean inside and out, and is working great. The cost was $229 or slightly more than the retail Windows 10 Professional license.

Besides ( Refurb.IO, you can of course find refurbished computers on eBay and other sites. On eBay you can of course also find used machines sold by individuals. The downside there is the risk that you're being sold junk - with a professional refurbisher, you receive a warranty and a bunch of other reassurances.