With Windows Activation 3.0, Microsoft is doing a smart job by saving the Windows 8 product keys inside the computer firmware (BIOS) instead of pasting it on the computer or laptop which came pre-installed with Windows 8.
If you have purchased Windows 8 from a retail store, you are safe and can use the same Windows 8 product key again and again and on multiple computer (not simultaneously). This means that if your computer dies or you buy a new computer while disposing off the old one, you will be able to use the same Windows 8 product key which was installed in the dead computer.
The problem of Windows 8 product keys comes with OEM versions of Windows. The OEM edition of Windows 8 comes with the license only to be used on that particular computer. You can’t take another computer and install Windows 8 using the same product key. This is because you will not be able to find the product key which used to be pasted on the computer. Instead of showing the key to everyone, Microsoft embeds the key in the BIOS.
Here’s a word from Microsoft:
The OEM license is actually non-transferable to another PC. When you buy a PC pre-installed with Windows, that version of Windows is only licensed for that PC and cannot be transferred to a new PC. The transfer of the license must accompany the PC it was licensed for. If the customer were able to get that machine fixed, they would simply need to call customer support to re-activate if there were changes big enough to merit PC reset or system recovery unusable.
Let’s look at some options for recovering the Windows 8 product keys when they are embedded into BIOS.
Resetting Windows 8 using the Reset/Refresh Feature
Windows 8 comes with two unique recovery features that were not present in any previous Windows versions including Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The two recovery features can make your life of re-installing Windows a lot easier. The first feature is Windows Refresh feature. Windows Refresh feature will restore Windows settings to factory default. This means that Windows settings will be erased and the default settings will be installed without losing your data. Please note that the Desktop programs that you have installed will also get removed. You will need to install those programs again after using Windows 8 Refresh feature. The Metro apps will have no effect and will not be removed.
To use the Reset or Refresh feature, you will need to go to Charms bar (Windows Key + C) –> Settings –> Change PC Settings –> General
From the right hand screen, you can either select “Refresh you PC without affecting your files” or “Remove everything and reinstall Windows”
Recovering Windows 8 product keys through third-party software
There are a few third-party software that will find and show the product keys of software installed in your computer. This is not limited to Windows or Microsoft only product keys. You can get keys from many other software installations. But since our focus is on Microsoft Windows, we will list down some software which are known to work with Windows 8.
Belarc advisor is the complete system profiling software which can create a detailed profile of installed software and hardware, network inventory, missing Microsoft hotfixes, anti-virus status, security benchmarks etc. Another feature of Belarc Advisor is that it can find the product keys of all Microsoft software installed on the computer including Windows 8. It will be able to extract the product key from Windows Registry. You can make use of the product key and the Windows 8 backup media to install Windows 8 from scratch.
ProduKey is a small portable utility from Nirsoft which has been created for extracting detailed information about the products installed in Windows including Windows product keys. Although the publisher’s site does not list Windows 8 as a compatible Operating System for running ProduKey, I have tested it on my Windows 8 computers and it was working perfectly and retrieving all the product keys for Microsoft products.
If you want to get the product key of Windows, you can run ProduKey with the following command parameters to force the program to list Windows product keys:
KeyFinder is another excellent program from The Magical Jelly Bean. It is quite popular and can list down the product keys of more than 300 programs including all Microsoft products. It works smoothly in Windows 8 and gives a lot more information including Product ID, Product key, registration information, product part no. etc. The only limitation is that it is not portable and needs to be installed on the target computer.
Requesting replacement product key from Microsoft
If nothing else is working for you, you will need to call Microsoft and ask for a replacement Windows 8 product key. But before calling Microsoft we need to confirm that we have a OEM version of Windows 8 installed on our computer. If you bought a computer with Windows 8 pre-installed, this will be the most probable case.
With OEM version of Windows 8, you will need to call the support department of your PC vendor first. To get to the support department of your vendor, please go through this Microsoft Windows Vendor list and find the details of your vendor.
If your vendor is not able to solve your problem, then you can go to Microsoft support and ask them for Windows 8 replacement product key. The only glitch here is that Microsoft support will cost you $20 – $40 for getting the product key. In my opinion, it is better than buying a brand new license of Windows 8 which will cost a lot more than this amount.
You can call Microsoft at +1 (800) 936-5700.
What are your experiences about re-installing Windows 8? Please share your experiences with us in the comments.