Missing Windows DVD? How to Download and Reinstall

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'Bob T.' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I am trying to reinstall Windows on my computer but I can't seem to find my Windows DVD anywhere. In fact, I'm not even sure if my computer came with an install disc. Should I download Windows from a torrent website? Can I use a DVD or USB drive to reinstall Windows? What do you suggest? "

My Response:

You can download a copy of MS Windows 7, 8, or 10 for free from Microsoft and install it from DVD or USB, though the steps for installing from USB are a little more involved for Windows 7. At the time of writing this article, there are no longer Windows Vista download links. Windows XP is no longer supported so you are not able to download that either. I will provide links for that further down.

I do not recommend you download a copy of Windows from a torrent website (or any website other than Microsoft, for that matter), as there is a very good chance it will be laced with malware. Besides that, downloading it from another website other than Microsoft would be considered piracy, which is illegal.

How to Reinstall Windows from DVD or USB

In general, the reinstall procedure goes something like this:

1. Find out what edition of Windows you are running

2. Extract your Windows CD key from Windows and set it aside

3. Download the appropriate version of Windows from Microsoft's website (free)

4. Burn the downloaded Windows .ISO file to DVD or extract it to a USB drive

5. Export and Backup your Data before reinstalling Windows

6. Modify the computer's boot sequence (if necessary)

7. Boot from USB or DVD and begin the reinstall

8. Additional Support from Dennis

Step 1: Find which edition of Windows you're using

Before you can download Windows, you need to know which edition you're currently using. Two of the best ways to figure that out are done through the command prompt, with option #2 being my recommended method as it provides the most accurate detail. To launch a command prompt, click Start -> then type in "cmd" (no quotes) and press Enter on the keyboard. Once the black command prompt window appears, type in (or copy and paste) one of the following commands and press Enter:


systeminfo | findstr /B /C:"OS Name" /C:"OS Version"

Step 2: Extract your Windows CD key

Before you reinstall Windows, you will need to extract your existing license key from within your current Windows installation. To get the license key, download Magic Jelly Bean finder (free), run it, then print out your CD key from within the program (or very carefully write it down).

Please note that Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 have different license keys. That said, Microsoft's officially supported method to reinstall Windows 8.1 from an original Windows 8 machine is to install Windows 8, and then upgrade to Windows 8.1 via Windows Update. Please keep this in mind if you are going to do a fresh reinstall of Windows 8. That said, you can also do a 'refresh' or 'reset' instead of reinstalling Windows entirely, which is also described further down in Step #4.

Step 3: Download Windows .ISO from Microsoft

Only download the edition of Windows that you have already installed on your system (previously identified in Step #1), or you will have to purchase another Windows license from Microsoft. If you own a 32 bit version of Windows 7 or 8 and you want to upgrade to 64 bit, you won't need an additional license as the existing license will work.

Here are the links to the downloads:

Step 4: Burn Windows to DVD or extract it to a USB drive

Once you download the .ISO image, you will need to burn the file to DVD disc or write it to USB drive. To do so, go to your download folder, right click the .ISO file that you download, and select 'Burn disc image'. If the option isn't there, you can also use ImgBurn (free) to burn to disc. The steps on writing to USB are below.

Write Windows 7 .ISO to USB

To write it to USB for Windows 7, you need the Windows 7 USB / DVD Download Tool, though the steps to get it to work are somewhat obfuscated. If you own a DVD writer then I suggest doing that instead of writing to USB.

Write Windows 8 and 10 .ISO to USB or DVD

To write to USB or DVD on Windows 8 or Windows 10, there are no extra steps or downloads as the installation media program will perform the operation when writing to USB or DVD.

Optional: Windows 8 or Windows 10 Refresh or Reset

If you have Windows 8 or Windows 10 already installed, you can also choose to do a 'refresh' or 'reset', which is similar to reinstalling Windows and does not require that you download and use install media. A refresh will keep your user data in tact (downloads, pictures, etc) but you will have to reinstall all your programs. On the other hand, a reset will nuke the entire drive, and you will lose everything (including user data). Only for systems that are severely messed up will you need to download the Windows 8 or Windows 10 install media.

In either case you will most likely want to back up your system before proceeding as all of your installed programs will be lost. If you are unsure what to backup or don't have a backup program, you can send me an email through the contact form if you need assistance.

To refresh Windows 8, go to Settings (charm) -> Update and Recovery -> Recovery. Look for the heading 'Refresh your PC without affecting your files', and click on the the 'Get started' button. Optionally you can do a full PC Reset, which would effectively nuke the entire system and remove all your data. To do that, click the 'Get Started' button under the option to 'Remove everything and reinstall Windows.' Follow the on-screen instructions to continue.

To refresh Windows 10, click Start and type in "recovery options" (no quotes) and do the same steps as mentioned above.

Note that you do not need to follow any other instructions in this guide (above or below this section) to complete a Windows 8 / 10 'refresh' or 'reset'.

Step 5: Export or Backup your Data

It is highly recommended that you backup your data before reinstalling Windows. Most people will want to reinstall some of their data after a fresh reinstall. If you are unsure what to backup or don't have a backup program, you can send me an email through the contact form if you need assistance.

Step 6: Modify the Computer's Boot Sequence

Your computer may already be set to boot from CD / DVD / USB before the hard drive. If it is not, you will need to adjust the boot sequence in order to boot from CD / DVD or USB if you are doing a fresh install of Windows.

The boot sequence can be adjusted in the BIOS by pressing DEL, F2, F12, etc when you first turn the computer on or reboot the system. You need to do it very quickly and I suggest you keep tapping the key repeatedly until you get in. Each BIOS menu is different, but you will need to look for "Boot Sequence" or "Boot Options" menu and adjust the boot order so that CD / DVD or USB options is listed first before the hard drive.

If you installed Windows 8 using UEFI, you will need to modify the boot sequence through the Settings or through manufacturers options.

Step 7: Boot from USB or DVD and begin the Reinstall

Once you have the boot sequence set up properly, you can boot from CD / DVD or USB by resetting the system or powering it on. When you see the option to "Press any key to boot from DVD..." or similar, press the spacebar to initiate the install, then follow the onscreen instructions.

Good luck!

Step 8: Additional Support From Dennis

If any or all of this is above your head and you need help, you can contact me for remote desktop support assistance. I offer 15 minutes of free consultation and you can ask me anything you want during our 1-on-1 meeting.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question -- or even a computer problem that needs fixing -- please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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josephbleau22_3750's picture

For Windows Vista, try this link.

[link removed]

Also, on the same page, there are links to other Operating Systems, including XP SP3

WOT rating is "Good"
joe bleau

Dennis Faas's picture

Please do not post links to third party websites that host ISOs of Windows operating systems, as it is considered piracy. Thanks very much! I have found and updated the article to include links to Vista Ultimate SP1 which is legitimate from Microsoft (and digitalriver), though they are not in .ISO format (but most likely build an ISO).

Stuart Berg's picture

Isn't it true that the license key that Magic Jelly Bean finds will be the license key that the computer manufacturer used on all of that model PC when manufactured? In other words, don't you need a different license key that's for the individual installing the replacement operating system, or am I confusing it with the Microsoft Office license key?

Dennis Faas's picture

It's my understanding that the Magic Jelly Bean key finder program will extract whichever key you have registered on the system. If you used a volume license key (VLK) to register Windows, then it will extract that key. VLKs are typically used for corporations or institutions (such as Universities) where the entity purchases a bulk license for hundreds or thousands of computers under one domain.

I do not believe that VLKs are used when computers are sold to the public (from Dell to you, for example). In other words: if you purchased your computer brand new from a store, it should not contain a VLK. It may however contain a VLK if you purchased a second-hand computer from a store, which purchased the second-hand computer from a corporation that used VLKs.

keffdoak's picture

When I followed this procedure, I got two files in my download folder:

X17-58997.iso and

WinZip identified the first file as a zipped file. When I double-clicked it, I got the error message "WinZip only supports IMG files that are in the ISO format."

When I double-clicked the part file, I got this message: "To open this file, Windows needs to know what program you want to use to open it. Windows can go online to look it up automatically, or you can manually select from a list of programs that are installed on your computer."

I burned a disk with both of these files, but I'm not sure what would happen if I booted from it.



Dennis Faas's picture

For windows 7 or 8 you can right click the .ISO file and 'burn' to disc. Or, you can use a program like imgburn to write .ISOs. You cannot write the .ISO file directly to a disc; it is an image and requires image writing (.ISO writing) software to extract / write properly.