A valid Windows 10 product key is required

How to upgrade a Windows Embedded 8.1 install to Windows 10

Windows 10 has been unleashed upon the world, and you know what that means – it’s upgrade season. Windows users around the world are plodding on their keyboards as we speak, praying to the old gods and the new that their upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10 goes off without a hitch. I would know, I was one of them. But on Friday I hit a hitch – my trusty Windows Embedded 8.1 virtual machine, used countless times for classes, just refused to upgrade to Windows 10, giving me the now infamous “Something happened” error message.

Windows Embedded 8.1 is a specialized version of Windows 8.1 meant for embedded systems, like ATMs. But Microsoft also gives away this fully functional version of Windows to people like me – students, through their Microsoft DreamSpark program. Perhaps predictably, Windows 10 will out of the box refuse to upgrade from Embedded 8.1. Luckily, tricking the system into performing an in-place install is not only incredibly easy, but appears to work without issue.

So, how’s it done? Fair warning, however. Windows Embedded 8.1 is not eligible for Microsoft’s free Windows 10 promotion, so you will need a valid Windows 10 product key to activate Windows. Functionally, you can use Windows 10 without successfully activating, but you’ll be missing out on quite a few important features.

This guide come with absolutely no warranty whatsoever. It may totally destroy your Windows installation, rendering your computer completely unusable. That said, I don’t think that will happen – these are the exact steps that worked for me.

1) First, you’ll need to download Microsoft’s new Media Creation tool by heading here – you’ll probably want the 64-bit version.

2) Open up the MediaCreationToolx64.exe we just downloaded. A Windows 10 Setup screen will start. Select the “Create installation media for another PC” option, and click next.

3) Select your language. Under “Edition”, select whatever edition of Windows 10 you purchases / have otherwise obtained. In my case, I selected “Windows 10 Pro”. Under architecture, select “64-bit (x64).” Hit next.

4) Select “ISO file”. Hit next. For convenience, save the ISO file on the desktop. Windows 10 will begin downloading.

5) Now for the fun part – we need to essentially trick Windows 10 into thinking that we’re running Windows 8.1, and not Windows Embedded 8.1. To do this, click the Start Button on the taskbar and type “regedit” (without the quotes). Press enter.

(If you’ve never used the Registry Editor before, be sure to follow these instructions exactly as written. The Windows Registry is extremely important to the general health of your PC. I’m not responsible for anything that happens to your PC from here on out, even if it becomes sentient, sets your house on fire, kidnaps your cat, and runs away with your significant other.)

6) In the Registry Editor, expand the “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE” directory. Expand the “SOFTWARE” directory. Expand the “Microsoft” directory. Expand the “Windows NT” director. Single click the “CurrentVersion” directory.

7) The keys found on the right side of the Registry Editor in the “CurrentVersion” directory are responsible for telling applications, including the Windows 10 installer, what version of Windows you’re running for compatibility reasons. We’ll need to change a couple of these in order to “trick” Windows 10 into performing an in-place upgrade.

8) Double click the “EditionID” key. Under “Value data”, type in “Core” if you’re installing Windows 10 Home, or “Professional” if you’re installing Windows 10 Pro. (Without the quotes.)

9) Double click the “ProductName” key. Under “Value data”, type in “Windows 8.1 Core” if you’re installing Windows 10 Home, or “Windows 8.1 Pro” if you’re installing Windows 10 Pro. (Without the quotes.)

10) Double click the “BuildLab” key. Under “Value data”, type in (or copy and paste, let’s be honest here) “9600.winblue_rtm.130821-1623”. (Without the quotes.)

11) Double click the “BuildLabEx” key. Under “Value data”, paste “9600.16384.amd64fre.winblue_rtm.130821-1623” if you have are running 64-bit, or “9600.16384.x86fre.winblue_rtm.130821-1623” if you are running 32-bit. (Without the quotes.) Close Regedit. (hooray!)

12) If you’ve got a halfway decent internet connection, the copy of Windows 10 we started downloading the Media Creation Tool should be just about finished. If so, head to the Desktop and double click the ISO we downloaded earlier – likely called something like “Windows10.iso”

13) From here, go through the Windows 10 Setup prompts as you would – Windows should now allow you to upgrade your copy of Windows Embedded 8.1 to Windows 10. Remember, Setup will require a valid Windows 10 Product Key. As Windows installs, your computer will install a couple of times.

14) Open up a cold bottle of water, you deserve it.

  • UserWithQuestions

    What if i want install x32 version? What i should write in “BuildLab” and “BuildLabEx”?

  • UserWichFoundAnswers

    If you have x32 verison Win 8.1 Embedded, you must write “9600.16384.x86fre.winblue_rtm.130821-1623” in BuildLabEx.
    P.S. Сучечки с антистарфорса – пользуйтесь.

    • Thanks for the input – this was an oversight on my end. I’ve updated the post to reflect this.

  • Liz M

    You Sir, Are A Genius, I have been S T U C K for 2 years with windows 8.1 embeded. I could not upgrade. I could not get the original cd because i was not in the school program anymore. I didn’t have the money to buy the cd and I read i can transfer my laptop windows 10 key to my desktop So I down loaded a key finder found the key on my laptop. Followed your instructions. Word for Word. lol… I didn’t understand why I kept getting told Windows did not understand the language until you stated download to desktop and choose English. OMG This works LMAO A million HUGS AND KISSESSS for posting this Thank you

  • Alex Langan

    Does this method still work?

    • Alex Langan

      And also would I be able to update without losing any of my game files without a product key?

      • Liz M

        I didn’t loose any of my pictures or any of my programs I had like office and such still on my pc but not on the windows 10 side I don’t believe you might have to do a back up to the cloud to reinstall on the otherside of windows 10

    • I can’t say for certain whether this would still work. The build of Windows 10 you can most easily download today is drastically different than the RTM version released 2 years ago, and I haven’t tested this method with any more recent versions. That said, @disqus_7xf2mGoOOv:disqus reported good luck with this method in a comment just a few months ago, so it might be worth a try – just be sure to make a thorough backup of your current setup in case something big has changed.

      • Alex Langan

        Alright big thanks for the help!

        • Liz M

          I just did this 3 months ago subscribed to disqus just because of this post. I followed everything step by step and it worked. My windows 8.1 had been corrupted couldn’t use my internet explorer for about 2 years and couldn’t afford to get another pc or the software. So it turned into a dual boot. but it corrected everything with windows 8.1 as well. I have a laptop that was already running windows 10 so you need a valid windows 10 key in order to run it. I found that key and since I only use that laptop at home I haven’t had a problem with that laptop or the pc version of windows 10 since I downloaded it.