Sunday, February 08, 2015

Getting at your Windows 8 OS key

This was new to me!

Up until a few weeks ago, my experience with Windows license keys has been either to get it in the retail box, access it from the COA sticker on the OEM PC case, find it on the underside of the laptop or in the battery well. Of course if you are doing an enterprise-wide deployment you probably already know your volume activation product key as part of your support documentation.

But where do you find the OS license key on a Windows 8 system?

Turns out, it goes along with something I had missed during the Windows 8 rollout – it typically is now embedded in the BIOS of modern system boards once installed.

If you haven’t run into this problem because your Win 8 systems are running fine, then there is a good chance – like me – your first introduction to this new model can be a bit shocking.

If it is OEM purchase (Dell/HP/etc.) then you probably won’t find it on a sticker any longer, however, you can use NirSoft’s ProduKey to get it before hand for archival purposes in case you need to reinstall the OS.

This happed to a co-worker so here are the specifics.

The user had purchased a OEM Windows 8 system from a big-box store.  The HDD had failed miserably so there was no chance at even trying to get the key from the OS using ProduKey.

The user didn’t have any system restore or OS restore disks. And you can’t easily download the Windows OS install disks from DigitalRiver like you can for Windows 7 OS systems.

Option 1) – Build a WinPE boot disk and then download RWEverything | Read & Write Everything utility and stick it on a USB key. Then boot the (former) Win 8/8.1 system with the WinPE disk and run the RWEverything app from the USB to access and note the Win 8/8.1 BIOS-embedded OS key. Then download the Windows 8/8.1 ISO file from Microsoft and use the recovered key to enable the download to occur.

Option 2) – Download the Windows 8/8.1 ISO file and use the appropriate Windows 8/8.1 “trial” key to get the ISO file. Then when you go to activate the product, it should pick up the original OEM key embedded in the BIOS.

Option 3) – Just download and build a Windows 8.1 installation set using the Windows Installation Media Creation Tool. Boot the impacted system, install Windows, once running it should pick up the BIOS embedded Windows 8/8.1 license key and keep moving.

Because my friend already had a WinPE-based boot disk, he went with Option 1 and was eventually able to download the Windows 8 ISO files needed to set the system up, activate it again, then spend tons of time trolling the OEM’s site downloading the additional custom drivers needed to clear the issues in the device manager. It was a hassle but it was possible.

So now I have backed up Lavie’s new’ish Dell laptop Win 8 key to save future headaches. And I have stowed a portable version of RWEverything on my WinPE bootable service USB stick.

More resources and references for Win 8 BIOS-embedded keys, key recovery tools, and Windows 8 ISO download links and trial keys.

Super-special hat tip to Philip Yip who produces amazing Windows support guides over on his Unofficial Windows Guides blog. Extensive documentation and support material is here – very well organized – a must-bookmark site for anyone supporting Windows OS’s.


--Claus Valca


FF Extension Guru said...

Dang, didn't know that about Win8. I just did a close examination my Win 8.1 Gateway desktop I bought a couple years ago and well there is indeed not a Windows sticker on it. Just downloaded and used NirSoft’s ProduKey, saving the information somewhere safe.

Claus said...

@ FF Extension Guru - I'm glad it helped! Definitely worth the while to do in advance.

It might also be a good idea to do a driver backup of your system along with downloading the Windows 8 ISO set or install files in advance...just in case.

Double Driver

--Claus V.