For most people, Windows 10 was either a free upgrade or it came on your new PC or laptop. If you’re ever asked for a product key – during a clean install for example – here’s what to do in order to find it.
We'll show you how to extract your key and the steps to take before upgrading your PC components.
How to find Windows 10 product key
If you upgraded from Windows 7 or 8, Windows 10 will have activated automatically after connecting to Microsoft’s servers online. You didn’t need to enter a product key as you were entitled to Windows 10 by virtue of having a genuine consumer copy of Windows 7 or 8.
However, there are a few instances where you'll need your product key. If you've upgraded from Windows 7 or 8 and plan to upgrade your PC components, thus wiping your hard drive, you'll need your Windows 10 product key.
If you're installing a new system all together, then you'll also need your Windows 10 product key.
Both the above scenarios involve a fresh install of Windows, and despite Microsoft adding the Activation Troubleshooter tool in the Anniversary Update (find it in Settings > Update & Security > Activation), you might be stuck between a rock and a hard place if you haven't already extracted your Windows 10 key.
No matter your objective, here's how to extract your product key.
How can I extract my Windows 10 product key?
If you bought a PC, laptop or tablet running Windows 10 then it should have a sticker or Certificate of Authenticity which contains the product key, or be included somewhere with the packaging or documentation that came with it.
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 (now called a Digital Licence), the product key is stored "somewhere in the computer" and will activate automatically if needed. This will work even if the hard drive fails.
He said that the product key was semi-visible on the System screen in Windows: most is redacted with only the last 5 of the digits shown.
If you've purchased a boxed copy of Windows 10, it will be on a label in the box. If you bought a digital copy of Windows 10 online from Microsoft, you should have received the product key in an email.
If however you've not got any of the above, you can always extract your Windows 10 product key using ProduKey, which is free software that displays your product key on various software installed on your machine.
Note: The program might be flagged by your anti-virus program, as it is a tool used to extract keys - some anti-viruses deem this as a virus or malware, but trust us - it's safe.
Write your Product Key on a piece of paper and store it safely. If you ever need to re-install Windows 10 on another machine or decide to wipe your hard drive, you can now install Windows 10 directly from a Win10 ISO.
Another program which can extract product keys is Recover Keys which may cost $29.99, but does a much deeper scan of your PC and can retrieve keys which no free application can, including Adobe's Creative Suite.
Do I need a product key to clean install 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 only for those installing a version of Windows 10 they’ve purchased and which therefore still requires a key.
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.
How do I check if Windows 10 is activated?
Right-click on the Start button and choose System from the menu that appears. Under Windows Activation, you should see “Windows is activated”. Note: If you have the Creators Update installed, you'll see a slightly different screen: click on 'About' at the bottom of the left-hand menu, then on the 'Change product key or upgrade your edition of Windows' link.
Then you'll see the status:
Similarly, if you click on Settings on the Start Menu, then Update and Security you will see the section called Activation. If you're running a version prior to the Creators Update, it will look like this: