You might think you\’ll never need to know your Windows product key, and the sticker attached to the bottom of your laptop or the scrap of paper on which you jotted it down may have long since worn away. Perhaps you never knew what it was in the first place.
But there are times, such as when reinstalling Windows or upgrading your machine, that you may be asked to enter it. And if you don\’t know what it is, it may already be too late to find it, and you really don\’t want to have to pay for Windows again.
Follow our advice below to make sure you have a record of your Windows product key.
Finding your Windows 10 Product Key using third-party software
Windows 10 is different to its predecessors, in that the key finding programs that worked so well in Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8.1 aren’t much use now.
Using a paid program such as Recover Keys, or free versions like Magic Jelly Bean KeyFinder, may return a code, but there’s a very good chance that this will be a generic number used by the manufacturers, and not one that will work to activate your PC.
We\’ve downloaded Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder, which upon launch displays any Windows codes it has found.
However, this isn\’t always the case. One reader told us that, according to HP, it does not put product key on laptops or PCs for security reasons. As with the Digital Entitlement or Digital Licence, the product key is stored ‘somewhere in the computer’ and will activate automatically if needed. This is supposed to work even if the hard drive fails.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft states that it ‘doesn’t keep a record of purchased product software keys’ so if you’ve lost the packaging, and the sticker no longer displays the code, then we’re sorry to say that you might be out of luck.
Do I need a product key to reinstall Windows 10?
Since Microsoft has your computer’s ‘digital signature’ from the initial upgrade it recognises the combination of components when you do a clean install and automatically activates Windows. This means you can safely skip the screen which asks for a product key at the start of the installation process.
It’s just frustrating that there’s no message to tell you this: the screen is primarily for those installing a version of Windows 10 they’ve purchased and which therefore still requires a key.
So, even if you skip that screen on installation, Windows 10 should activate as long as you haven’t made any major changes to your PC. Upgrading from a hard disk to an SSD won’t affect anything, nor will changing your graphics card.
However, upgrading your motherboard and processor will probably count as ‘significant’ and you’ll have to ring Microsoft’s support line if you find that Windows is no longer activated, or you’re reinstalling it.