Your computer is of no use without an operating system. In the case of Windows 10, you need a license that, unless under specific conditions, is not free. Through an activation process, Microsoft can verify that your license is legitimate. We explain what to look out for if you want to buy a Windows 10 license and how activation works exactly.
To Windows 10 to install for free, there are several options. For example, if you have a genuine version of Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 (Home or Pro) running, you can in principle still upgrade to Windows 10 for free.
If you are not eligible for a free Windows license, you may be tempted by websites that offer Windows at bargain prices. Often these licenses come from other countries where they are much cheaper, such as China. Whether it is educational or other volume licensecodes, or even licenses purchased with stolen credit cards.
Often cheap oem licenses (also called system builder licenses) are also for sale, but these are often also in a gray zone. Such licenses, unlike retail and full version licenses, are tied to a specific computer and motherboard. Strictly speaking, these may not be resold without the accompanying device.
So in all these cases you run the risk that Microsoft will consider your Windows license invalid. That can happen even a few months later. It is therefore recommended to purchase Windows 10 through Microsoft’s official sales channels. That is more expensive, but you are assured of a valid, legitimate license.
Check license type
It is useful to know exactly which licenses you have. Especially because you cannot transfer an OEM license to another computer, while a retail license is allowed, under the right conditions.
If you would like to know exactly which license type your Windows 10 version has, you can find out in the following way. Open Command Prompt, type the command Slmgr / dli and confirm with Enter. A pop-up window provides more information about your current license. The command Slmgr / xpr tells you the expiration date of the current license, if any.
There are five license types, the most common of which are Oem_dm channel (original equipment manufacturer_direct to manufacturer) and Retail channel. In schools, for example, this could also be a Volume_mak channel (multiple activation key).
Activate Windows 10 license
Microsoft also wants to know which license you have and whether it is legitimate. For that you have to activate your system. If you fail to do so, Windows will in principle fall back to a more stripped-down version thirty days after installation and you will receive frequent notifications to activate your system.
You can check the activation status as follows. Open Windows settings and choose Update and security, Activation. There are now four options. The status Windows is not activated speaks for itself and Windows is activated also. Although, because you may as well see it appear here: Windows is activated with a digital license and Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account. We will further explain the terms ‘digital license’ and ‘linked’.
You can activate Windows in two different ways. With a product key (five times five characters) or with a digital license. The latter is based on the hwid (hardware id) and is stored on the Microsoft activation servers. The hwid for a Windows 10 digital license depends on the computer manufacturer, CPU family, product name, stock keeping unit (SKU) number, motherboard manufacturer, and motherboard type.
This means, for example, that as long as the Windows edition, motherboard and CPU remain the same, you can safely reinstall Windows cleanly. Immediately after installation, the digital license is checked via the internet and your system can be (re) activated automatically.
Note that such a hwid does not depend on storage media. So you can easily install Windows on another hard drive or SSD, without endangering your license. Such a digital license also does not depend on the bit architecture or language of Windows. So you can just replace an English Windows 10 Pro 32 bit with a Dutch Windows 10 Pro 64 bit.
That also means that you can replace a pre-installed Windows 10 (with a digital OEM license), which may be riddled with excess bloatware, with Windows 10 from an installation medium.
For example, if you assembled your system yourself, you must purchase a product key to activate Windows. After activation, the digital license normally becomes active and you no longer need the product key, at least as long as the original hwid remains recognizable. If it concerns a retail product key, you can transfer the digital license to another PC.
Link Windows 10 license to Microsoft account
It is also possible to link your product key or digital license to your Microsoft account and therefore no longer to the hardware. To do this, sign in to Windows with a Microsoft account. This can be done as follows. Go to Settings, Accounts, Your info. Stands here Local account, then you still have to adjust it via the corresponding link Sign in with a Microsoft account insteadthen follow the further instructions.
This link has advantages. This way you can reactivate Windows 10 without having to contact Microsoft if you make significant hardware changes to your system, such as a different processor or motherboard. Also handy is that you through this link learn which computers you have signed in with your Microsoft account.
Incidentally, it is also possible to log in once with such a Microsoft account and then activate your system. You can then (again) create a local account and log in with it.
Problems can also occur when (re) activating Windows. For example, Windows may report that your system is not activated. Such a situation often occurs after a transfer to another PC. Then the driver for the network interface has not been installed (correctly) and the activation servers of Microsoft are inaccessible. It is then important to solve that problem first via device manager.
If that doesn’t turn out to be the problem, you may not have the correct product key. That happens more often if you have upgraded an older Windows version to Windows 10. You must then enter it again via Settings, Update & Security, Activation, Change Product Key.
If that doesn’t work, do it from the command prompt as an administrator with Slgmr / ipk
You can try out the built-in troubleshooter for (other) activation problems. Go to Settings, Update & Security, Activation and choose Resolving problems. This troubleshooter only appears when your Windows installation is not activated.
You can also visit the Microsoft support page, including for a list of error codes that can appear during problematic activations.
Finally. Suppose you plan to install Windows 10 on a different computer. Then you first need to know which license type your system has. Earlier we explained how to find out. In principle, with a retail license you can switch an unlimited number of times, except when this license comes from a previous (upgraded) Windows 7 or 8 (.1) system. Strictly speaking, Microsoft will only allow one transfer in that case.
Since Microsoft does not allow you to use two Windows installations with the same license key, you can no longer use Windows on your old device. If you want to do that, you have to delete that product key, which amounts to deactivating your Windows license.
To do this, right-click on Command Prompt in the start menu and choose Run as administrator. Then run the command Slmgr / upk from. You can now easily perform the transfer and enter the product key during or after installation. The latter can be done via Settings, Update & Security, Activation, Change Product Key or with the command line command Slmgr / ipk.