If you’re planning on doing a reinstall of Windows but can’t find your product key, you’re in luck because it’s stored in the Windows Registry. It’s just not easy to find, and it’s impossible to read without some help. Luckily, we’re here to help.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the product ID is stored in the registry but is in a binary format that can’t be read by humans unless you are some sort of Cylon. You aren’t, are you?
- When we download Windows 7 ISOs, we can install Windows without a product key.The installation will go through, and we will get a 30-day trial of the operating system. With the official Windows 8.1 ISOs, though, we can't skip entering the product key during the installation.Let's see how to bypass this restriction and install Windows 8.1 without a product key.
- Get Windows 8.1 Product Key for free. See more Windows 8.1 keys on our site. We've spent lots of time to find working Windows 8.1 products keys for you.
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How to Find Product Key for Windows 8 or Windows 8.1. If forgot or lost Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 product key, how could we find it? It is known that Windows 8 is different from previous Windows operational system. There is no sticker available on computer listing product license key.
We’re not really sure why Microsoft went to great lengths to make it difficult to see the product keys for their software, especially since they are stored right in there in the registry and can be read by software, if not by humans. We can only assume that they don’t want anybody to re-use a key from an old computer.
The great thing is that you can even recover a key, even from a computer that won’t boot anymore. All you need is access to the disk drive from a working computer. Keep reading for more.
Three Places You Might Find the Key
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The key you need will be in one of three places:
- Stored in software on your PC: When you (or your PC manufacturer) installs Windows, Windows stores its product key in the registry. You can extract this product key, and–often–enter it when reinstalling Windows on your PC. Crucially, you’ll need to grab it from your operating system before you begin reinstalling Windows or it could be deleted if you format your hard drive.
- Printed on a sticker: Some PCs use a technology called “System Locked Pre-installation,” or SLP. If your PC uses this, the product key on your PC–the one stored in the registry, and the one key-viewer applications display–will be different from the actual key your PC needs. The actual key is on a certificate of authenticity (COA) sticker on your PC or its power supply. The one in the registry and key-viewer application is a red herring. This system was common for Windows 7 PCs.
- Embedded in your PC’s UEFI firmware: Many newer PCs that come with Windows 8 or 10 use a new method. The key for the version of Windows the PC comes with is stored in the computer’s UEFI firmware or BIOS. You don’t even need to know it–assuming you’re installing the same edition of Windows the PC came with, it should automatically activate and work without you needing to enter a key. It’ll all happen automatically.
Be sure to use the same version and edition of Windows the computer came with. In other words, if it came with Windows 7 Home Premium, you can’t install Windows 7 Professional.
If the Key Is Stored in Your PC’s Hardware
Let’s start with the simplest situation. On newer Windows 8 and 10 computers, the key isn’t stored in software where it can be wiped, or on a sticker where it could be smudged off or removed. No one can glance at your computer’s sticker to steal its product key. Instead, the key is stored in the computer’s UEFI firmware or BIOS by the manufacturer.
You don’t have to do anything special if you have this. You should just be able to reinstall the same edition of Windows the PC came with and it should just work without even asking you for a key. (Still, it may be best to find the product key using one of the below methods and write it down before reinstalling Windows–just in case.)
If you want to find the UEFI-embedded key and write it down, you can do so quite simply. Just open the Start menu, type “powershell”, and run the Powershell application that comes up.
Then, enter the following command and press Enter:
You should be rewarded with your embedded license key. Write it down and store it in a safe place.
Read the Key From the Certificate of Authenticity Sticker
If you have a Windows 7-era PC, there’s a good chance the PC’s key is a single key the manufacturer uses for all their PCs. Thanks to “System Locked Pre-installation,” you’re not allowed to use that key to install Windows. If you try, you’ll get error messages about the key being invalid.
To check, you’ll need to look for a certificate of authenticity sticker on your computer. The COA sticker verifies that the computer came with an authentic copy of Windows, and that sticker has a product key printed on it. You’ll need that product key to reinstall Windows–and, if the manufacturer used System Locked Pre-installation, that key is different from the one your PC came with in software.
Examine your computer to find the key. On a laptop, it may be on the bottom of the laptop. If your laptop has a removable battery, it may be under the battery. If there’s some sort of compartment you can open, it might be in there. It may even be stuck to the laptop’s charger brick. If it’s a desktop, look on the side of the desktop’s case. If it’s not there, check the top, back, bottom, and anywhere else it might be.
If the key has rubbed off of the sticker, there’s not much you can do. You can try contacting your computer’s manufacturer and explaining what happened, but we can’t guarantee they’ll help. Microsoft would always be happy to sell you another key, though!
Use NirSoft’s ProduKey to Recover Product Keys (Even if You Can’t Boot the PC)
The easiest way to get access to your product key is with a third-party utility, and there’s nobody better at those than NirSoft. Their utilities are always crapware-free, and are always really useful. The only issue with this particular utility is that some antivirus will detect it as a false positive, because some malware might try to steal your product key.
Note: the NirSoft keyfinder won’t always work for OEM computers, depending on how they decided to activate the licenses. If your OEM installed your computer and used a single key for all their PCs, this won’t work. It also doesn’t work for Office 2013.
All you have to do is download ProduKey, unzip it, and then run it to immediately see all of your product keys. It’s as simple as that.
If you want to recover a key from a dead computer, you can hook up the hard drive to a working PC, and then run ProduKey and use File > Select Source to point to the external Windows directory. You can then grab the keys from that computer easily.
You can also use a Linux live CD to pull the Windows directory off the other computer and onto a thumb drive, or just grab the registry files if you prefer. If you need help, we’ve got a guide to pulling data off a dead computer.
Find the Windows Key Without Any Software (Advanced Users Only)
Assuming you can boot your computer without any problems, you can easily create a simple VBscript that will read the value out of the registry and then translate it into the format that you need for reinstalling. We’re not sure where this script came from, but reader raphoenix posted it on our forum a long time ago, so we’re sharing it here for you.
Copy and paste the following into a Notepad window:
You’ll need to use File -> Save As, change the “Save as type” to “All Files” and then name it productkey.vbs or something similar ending with the vbs extension. We’d recommend saving to the desktop for easy access.
Once you’ve saved it, you can just double-click and the popup window will show you your product key.
Pro tip: If you use CTRL+C when the popup window is active, it will copy the contents of the window to the clipboard, and then you can paste it into Notepad or somewhere else.
The product key system is complicated to understand because Microsoft doesn’t really want typical Windows users to reinstall Windows on their PCs. Instead, they’d rather you use your computer manufacturer’s recovery media. But the recovery media is full of the bloatware you don’t want on your PC–that’s why so many geeks often opt to reinstall Windows on their new PCs.READ NEXT
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Microsoft’s free Windows 10 upgrade offer is over–or is it? There’s still a way to activate Windows 10 with a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key, in addition to Microsoft’s accessibility offer.
Update: We tested this upgrade method once again on January 5, 2018. It still works!
You Can Still Use an Old Key with the Anniversary Update
RELATED:You Can Still Get Windows 10 for Free from Microsoft’s Accessibility Site
As part of Windows 10’s November update, Microsoft changed the Windows 10 installer disc to also accept Windows 7 or 8.1 keys. This allowed users to perform a clean install Windows 10 and enter a valid Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key during installation. Windows 10 would then report that key to Microsoft’s servers, and Windows 10’s activation servers would give your PC a “digital entitlement” (now a “digital license”) to continue using Windows 10 for free, just as if you had upgraded.
This also works from within Windows 10. Even if you don’t provide a key during the installation process, you can head to Settings > Update & Security > Activation and enter a Windows 7 or 8.1 key here instead of a Windows 10 key. Your PC will receive a digital entitlement.
Now, even though the free upgrade offer is technically over, this method still works in the Anniversary Update, either when installing Windows 10 with Anniversary Update media or by entering the key after installing Windows 10. Enter any Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key that hasn’t previously been used to upgrade to 10, and Microsoft’s servers will give your PC’s hardware a new digital license that will allow you to continue using Windows 10 indefinitely on that PC.
Microsoft hasn’t released any sort of statement about this upgrade method at all. It’s possible that Microsoft will disable it soon, but it’s also possible Microsoft will look the other way and keep this trick around to encourage more Windows 10 upgrades for a long time to come.
How to Use a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 Key to Get Windows 10
RELATED:How to Find Your Lost Windows or Office Product Keys
This process is easy. First, you’ll need a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key. If you have one of those lying around, great. If you don’t, you can use a tool like NirSoft’s ProduKey to find the key currently in use on your Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 PC. Write it down.
Be sure you have backups of your important files before continuing. Even if you plan on performing an upgrade install, something could go wrong. It’s always a good idea to have backups, especially when installing a new operating system.
Create Windows 10 installation media if you don’t already have it lying around. You can do this with Microsoft’s Windows 10 media creation tool. Select “Create installation media for another PC” and the tool will offer to create a bootable USB flash drive or burn a bootable DVD.
Insert the installation media into the computer you want to upgrade, reboot, and boot from the installation media. Install Windows 10 normally. You can perform an upgrade installation that keeps your existing files or a clean installation that wipes your system drive.
When you’re asked to enter a key, enter the Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key. The installer will accept this key and the installation process will continue normally.
(If you’re using a Windows 8 or 8.1 system with the product key embedded in your systems UEFI firmware or BIOS, you may also be able to click “I don’t have a product key.” Windows 10 should automatically find the key in your UEFI firmware later and activate your system.)
After you’ve installed Windows 10, head to Settings > Update & Security > Activation and you should see that your PC has a digital license.
If you didn’t enter a key during the installation process, you can enter a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key right in this window when you’re asked to provide a Windows 10 key. Windows will check in with Microsoft’s servers and give your PC a digital license for Windows 10.
Windows 8.1 Product Key
It’s that simple. If you ever want to reinstall Windows 10 in the future, you should be able to use the same Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key you entered here. That key will be associated with a “digital license” on Microsoft’s servers, allowing you to continue reinstalling Windows 10 even if Microsoft disables this method of acquiring Windows 10.
You can also sign in to your new PC with a Microsoft account and that key will be associated with your Microsoft account, making it easy to reactivate your digital license if you ever need to reinstall Windows 10 later.READ NEXT
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