Retail version of Windows 7 has two main primary type of licenses – full or full package product (FPP) and upgrade, where the most obvious differences between full and upgrade versions are different prices for full and upgrade license, and customers have to possess an existing Windows license to be eligible for upgrade license.

Officially, Windows 7 Upgrade version only allow an user to “upgrade” from a previous version of Windows operating system, via “in-place upgrade” or custom install, which replaces old Windows. Even if upgrade path from some versions of older Windows cannot perform “in-place upgrade”, and require user to perform a custom clean install, but it only means that user has to start the Windows 7 installation from within an existing Windows, and choose “Custom Install” during the course of Windows 7 setup.

Windows 7 Upgrade license wants to see an installed and activated copy of Windows XP or Windows Vista before installation is allowed. As Windows 7 setup does not ask for an existing CD or DVD disc of Windows, thus if user full formats and wipe XP or Vista installation so that the drive is empty and blank before using the upgrade disc, setup no longer able to see any existing installation, and will return “Invalid Product Key” error message.

Tip: User is allowed to create or delete hard disk drive or partition during the setup through Custom (advanced) -> Drive options (advanced) option (note: a 100 MB system reserved partition may be created by Windows 7 Setup), or let Windows 7 install wizard backup the existing Windows files to Windows.old directory, and then delete and wipe clean the whole partition volume prior to install Windows 7.

Many people believe that Windows 7 FPP (full version) disc media or ISO is different from ISO image or disc media of Windows 7 Upgrade version. In fact, the Windows 7 Upgrade disk and Windows 7 FPP disc may be similar, if not completely the same. Only product key represents the actual version of license bought, and Windows 7 will validate against the product key, as shown by Microsoft Product Key Checker.

Not everybody has a PC readily installed with a Windows for upgrade. And more people does not have time to install an operating system especially the time-consuming Windows Vista just to install Windows 7 Upgrade version. Good news is that Windows 7 upgrade media or ISO image and product keys can be used to perform clean install or custom install on a blank and emtpy PC without any prior OS installed. With the following clean install hacks or custom install tricks, which not only save the headache of users who need to install on a new or clean computer system, but also mean everybody just need to purchase an Windows 7 upgrade license, which costs up to $100 cheaper over a Windows 7 full edition price.

How to Clean Install Windows 7 with a Upgrade DVD Disc or ISO Image

Note: User who has downloaded Windows 7 boxed ESD installation files should follow these steps to create a bootable Windows 7 ISO image from unpacked Windows 7 installation files and burn to DVD prior to follow guide below.

  1. Boot up the PC with the Windows 7 Upgrade DVD disc media into DVD-ROM drive.

    Note: May need to change boot sequence or boot order of device in BIOS, and/or press any key to boot from CD/DVD drive.

  2. Follow the Windows 7 Install Wizard to install the operating system on the blank, empty and clean system.
  3. During installation, when prompted for a product key, DO NOT enter the upgrade version product key.

    Tip: This step is to prevent “Invalid Product Key” error. User can try to input the serial number to check if setup accepts the key. If it’s accepted, all the rest of steps can be skipped.

  4. Unselect and untick the Automatically activate Windows when I’m online check box during the installation process.
  5. After Windows 7 is installed, boot up to desktop, and manually enter the Windows 7 upgrade product key to activate online or activate via phone.

Steps above, which is practically how to perform clean install with a Windows 7 full version media and product key, should work for some, if not most, users. On system that the system still does not accept an upgrade version product key, or face activation failure error code of 0xC004F061, try one or more of the following workarounds to get Windows 7 activated:

Workaround 1: Use SLMgr Commands to Insert Product Key and Activate

  1. Open an elevated command prompt as administrator.
  2. Use the following command to install product key:

    slmgr -ipk <upgrade product key>

    Install Product Key with SLMgr

  3. Activate Windows 7 with the following command:

    slmgr -ato

    Activate Windows with SLMgr

Steps above have also been used to clean install Windows Vista Upgrade version. To check activation status from command line, use slmgr -dlv or slmgr -dli.

Workaround 2: Clean Install Windows 7 Upgrade with Double Installs

  1. After starting up the just installed Windows 7 system, allow system to boot to desktop.
  2. Insert the same Windows 7 DVD media into CD/DVD optical drive tray to start Install Windows wizard again. Alternatively, mount the Windows 7 ISO image to a virtual CD/DVD-ROM drive, or directly run setup.exe from the unpacked Windows 7 installation files.
  3. Reinstall Windows 7 once again (both Upgrade or Custom Install should be OK), enter product key during installation so that Windows 7 can be automatically activated when user first online after installation is done.

Steps above is originally used as a workaround to clean install Windows Vista with upgrade media, and is less commonly used as it’s time-consuming.

Workaround 3: Clean Install and Activate Windows 7 with MediaBootInstall Registry Hack

  1. After booting up, ensure that no Windows Updates pending task which requires a system reboot to finish installing.

    Tip: Normally, an orange-colored shield icon will be displayed next to Shutdown button in the Start Menu Power Button or at notification tray area if a restart is required.

    If reboot is required, restart the computer to allow any pending updates is installed.

  2. Run Registry Editor (RegEdit).
  3. Navigate to the following registry key:


  4. In the right pane, change the value data for MediaBootInstall from 1 to 0.

    MediaBootInstall Registry

    Alternatively, just download and execute MediaBootInstall.reg to merge the value into registry.

  5. Open an elevated command prompt as administrator.
  6. Run the command below to reset Windows 7 activation status:

    slmgr -rearm

    Rearm Windows

  7. Reboot the computer.
  8. Run the Activate Windows utility (accessible from bottom section of Control Panel -> System and Security -> System, or type Activate Windows into Start Search), type in the upgrade product key and activate Windows.

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