How to Uninstall Windows 8, Install Windows 7 on Your PC
Has Windows 8 got you down? It’s not easy, but you can switch your new PC back to Windows 7. We show you the step-by-step (and the pitfalls).
by Brian Westover
April 8, 2013
How to Uninstall Windows 8, Install Windows 7 on Your PC
If you’re fed up with the Windows 8 operating system that came on your new laptop, and just want to switch back to Windows 7, I’ve got good news, and bad news. The good news is that it is possible. You can remove Windows 8, install Windows 7, and go about your life as if Windows 8 never happened. The bad news is that it’s a complicated endeavor.
In addition to the expected BIOS wrangling, drive formatting, and reinstalling device drivers, Microsoft has actually added extra layers of complexity. The BIOS has the added obstacle of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). Drives are partitioned and protected so that it’s difficult to reclaim all of the space on your hard drive. And finally, manufacturers are spotty at best when it comes to offering Windows 7 drivers and rarely support users in making the switch. The result is a snarled Gordian Knot of complications, but there’s not necessarily a sword available to simplify the issue. This guide, however, should help you navigate the many twists and turns.
If you don’t want to remove Windows 8 completely but still want to have your familiar Windows 7 experience, want to avoid compatibility issues with programs and games, or need a feature that’s gone missing in the new OS, there are other options. Your best bet is actually running Windows 7 on a virtual machine—and we can suggest several.
If you’re ready to embark on the journey back to Windows 7—it feels wrong to simply call it a downgrade—then gather your supplies, muster your courage, and let’s dive in.
A Few Words of Warning
Microsoft does offer downgrade rights, complete with support services and a clear downgrade path to Windows 7, but only for systems with Windows 8 Pro. If you’ve just got plain old Windows 8—and most mainstream systems do—you’re on your own. Switching between the two operating systems is still very doable, but you’ll be doing it without Microsoft’s blessing.
Related to this, you may also run into trouble getting support from your manufacturer, as most do not provide legacy support for Windows 7 on systems that were factory-shipped with Windows 8. This extends to drivers. You’ll need to do your homework as to what your devices are, what drivers they require, and whether or not there are Windows 7 drivers available. Unfortunately, this will vary from model to model, and even from one configuration to the next.
Do Your Driver Homework
Start by opening the device manager in your control panel. It will provide you with a list of all the different devices found on the system, from touchpad and keyboard to networking and Wi-Fi adapters. Don’t skip this step, because you can’t use the device without a working driver—meaning that without the proper drivers, you can easily find yourself stuck with a nearly unusable machine.
By digging into the properties of each device individually, you should be able to find the specific part model name, and information about the drivers. Some searching online will help you discover whether or not Windows 7 drivers are available for each part, but you will often need to track do each driver individually. The one exception to this is when the manufacturer offers two versions of the same model PC—both a Windows 8 configuration, and a Windows 7 version.
The first place to check is the PC manufacturer’s product support page. By looking up your specific PC model number, you should be able to locate a list of all the needed drivers for the laptop’s hardware. If you’re lucky, the manufacturer support page includes drivers for both Windows 8 and Windows 7, giving you everything you need for your entire PC. With one of our test PCs, this was all we needed to do, because all the device drivers were available.
If not, you’ll need to take it one device at a time. Find the name of the manufacturer for each device and search for that company’s website, which should have its own driver download page. If even this doesn’t seem to help, you can always fire up your search engine and search for “[Device name] + Windows 7 Driver.” That should bring up plenty of resources.
Be aware, however, that for some newer devices, drivers may not be available for Windows 7 and older operating systems. If this is the case, you may be out of luck—which is why you’re looking all of this up beforehand.
Back up everything. Tech journalists often preach the importance of regularly backing up, but this is more than the usual preparation against hypothetical disaster—you’re about to overwrite your hard drive. Everything on that drive will be gone. Files, programs, and the original operating system, all gone. Just because you want to ditch Windows 8 now doesn’t mean you won’t change your mind in the future. Additionally, you may want a way to revert back to Windows 8 should you ever need to take advantage of the warranty—there’s worry that some manufacturers will void the warranty on the system if Win 8 is removed.
The learn how to back up your PC to a separate partition of drive, check out “The Beginner’s Guide to PC Backup” and our guide to external hard drives.
What You Need
First, you’ll need Windows 7 installation media, either on disc or on a USB Key. Yes, Microsoft still sells it, as does Amazon. In addition to your installation media, you’ll need a valid Windows 7 Product Key, the 25-digit alphanumeric code used to activate your copy of Windows. If you’re installing from a brand-new copy of Windows, you’re fine to use the product key that was included, but if you’re using an older copy (or a copy of a copy) you’ll need to pay for a new valid key.
You will also need a USB key (separate from your installation media) with drivers loaded on it. This is the result of the aforementioned homework—you really don’t want to install Windows 7 without it.
Disable UEFI and Enable Legacy Boot
Unlike past PCS, which would let you access the BIOS at startup, you’ll need to first enable Advanced Startup Mode.
Open Settings by going to the Charms Bar and clicking on the Gear icon.
Go to “Change PC Settings” at the bottom right corner of the screen, below the icons. On the left, scroll down and select “General Settings.” On the right, scroll down through the settings options to find “Advanced Options.”
This will close out of the standard Metro interface and open up a blue screen with several tiles. Select “UEFI Firmware Settings”—you may need to first select “Tools and Settings” and then “Advance Options”—and then follow the prompt to restart and change settings.
Upon rebooting, the system should produce a startup menu. Select “BIOS setup.” Under the “System Configuration” tab, find “Boot Options.” (In some instances, Boot Options will instead be found under the “Security” tab.)
Once into the Boot Options menu, you will first find “Secure Boot” and disable it. Still in the Boot Options menu, find “Legacy Boot” and change it to enabled. You will now be able to boot into your Windows 7 installation media. Depending upon whether you will be installing it from a disc or a USB key, you will want to change the Legacy Boot Order so that either the optical drive or USB device take priority. Finally, exit the BIOS, saving changes.
Commence Installing Windows 7
With Legacy Boot enabled and your boot order changed, you should now be able to boot into your installation media to begin installing Windows 7.
Back to Windows 7
The first thing you’ll see is a prompt to begin installation.
Start the installation process, choose your language and region, and press “Install Now” to begin the process.
You’ll be asked to agree to Microsoft’s software license, and then to choose between an Upgrade or Custom installation. In this instance, you’ll want to choose Custom.
The next step is to choose the destination drive for the installed OS. At the very least, you’ll want to install Windows 7 to your C: drive. If you want to wipe Windows 8 completely off of your system, this is the time to do it. Select the various partitions on the hard drive and go through the process of deleting each, and consolidating the free space. This all handled in the installer, which gives you the option to delete or format each partition as it’s selected. But beware—this is the Rubicon of OS installation. Once those drives are gone, they are gone, and rebooting the system without finishing the Windows 7 installation will leave you with a PC that has no operating system. Next, the installer will go through the process of extracting and expanding all of the necessary installation folders. Kick back and relax for a while, because this part is automatic. During this process, the PC will also restart on its own—don’t panic, that’s just part of the installation process.
Finally, your laptop will boot into Windows, and you should see a more familiar version of the Windows logo come up.
Once you boot into Windows, you’ll be asked to provide a 25-digit Product Key. You can proceed without one, but you’ll be forever hounded by warnings about using a pirated version of Windows, even if it’s a brand new store-bought copy.
Install Drivers from USB key
Once you’ve got Windows 7 installed on your system, it’s time to install your drivers. As a rule, I always start by installing networking drivers—once you’ve got your Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection up and running, you can hunt down the rest and troubleshoot online as needed.
Once you’ve got your drivers installed for everything else (trackpad, graphics processing, USB 3.0 ports, Bluetooth, etc.) do one final reboot. Viola! You’ve now got a pristine Windows 7 PC, ready and waiting for all of your software and files.
Hopefully, this little guide has helped you to navigate the minefield of switching from Windows 8 to Windows 7 without the loss of a limb. Enjoy your Start Menu, and bask in the light of a tile-free existence, free to use Windows as you always have. With any luck, the next version of Windows will be a little easier to adjust to.
Direct Link: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2417359,00.asp