Assuming you have a legitimate copy and just need to retrieve the original key
Every licensed copy of Windows 10 has a unique license key and if you ever need to reinstall Windows, you’ll potentially need to find the Windows 10 product key to get things back up and running again.
The problem is that most people have never even seen their key, since they bought a computer with Windows preloaded. You may also have lost yours or forgot what you did with it. The good news is that there are many different ways to figure out what licence key is yours.
But First, Some Things You Should Know
Your Windows 10 product key is not locked to any sort of specific Windows 10 media. If you’ve lost your disc or flash drive with Windows 10, you can simply download a new copy and install from that. The key is simply a representation of your license.
Your Windows 10 license is also locked to a particular computer’s hardware. If you make a big hardware change, or change computers entirely, then you’ll have to do a reactivation so bind your license to the new hardware configuration. If Microsoft thinks you are abusing your license by installing Windows 10 to multiple machines at the same time, they may be unwilling to do this.
You Might Not Need It
If you have a Microsoft Account and have previously linked it to your Windows 10 product key, all you have to do on a new install is log in with your account details. Check out this article on how to link your product key to see how it works.
When you switch from a “local account” to logging in with your Microsoft Account, this probably happened automatically. If you are trying to activate a copy of Windows, simply change your account from local to Microsoft and it should work.
The same applies if you upgraded a copy of Windows 7 or 8, for which you would have needed a Microsoft Account. Simply log into Windows with your account credentials, since there is no product key involved here either.
Check Your Retail Box
This is very obvious, we know. Still it should be mentioned since, if you bought a boxed retail Windows 10 copy, this is the simplest way to find the Windows 10 product key. It should be inside the box printed on something.
Get It Straight From Windows
If you’ve got an activated copy of Windows and just want to see what the product key is, all you have to do is go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation and then check the page. If you have a product key, it will be displayed here. If you have a digital license instead, it will simply say so.
Check Your Computer for a Sticker
If you bought a pre-built computer or laptop which came with Windows 10, check the chassis for a sticker which displays the Windows 10 product key. This is becoming less common with high-end laptops such as unibody ultrabooks, but plenty of computers still display their product keys on a sticker.
Check The Documents That Came With Your PC
If there’s no sticker in sight, there might be a certificate of authenticity in the document pack that came with your computer. Assuming that you didn’t throw all of those little pamphlets out, you might be lucky and find your product key in between the offers for antivirus packages and peripherals.
Use a Third-Party Tool
One of the easiest ways to retrieve your product key from a running machine is to use a third-party utility. Produkey worked perfectly for us on the latest version of Windows 10. Just run the program and your product key is right there.
Do note that some anti-malware packages will flag Produkey as a “PUP” or potentially unwanted program. It’s not a virus or anything harmful to your system, a PUP is just a tool that could be used by hackers to compromise your machine. However, this is your computer, so there’s nothing wrong with you using the tool to retrieve the key you already paid for.
Digital Store Records
If you bought your copy of Windows 10 through a digital storefront such as Amazon or the Microsoft Store, they’ll have a record of your product key. It will either be in the email you were sent confirming the purchase or in your order history, should you have deleted that email. So all you have to do is search your mailbox or log into your online account.
Hit Up The OEM
If you bought a pre-built computer or laptop that came with Windows, then you probably have an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Windows license. This opens up the possibility that your OEM will know which product key goes with your computer’s serial number.
There’s no guarantee that they’ll have this information on hand for you, but if you’ve come this far down the list then it’s not the worst option.
The Last Resort: Call Microsoft
OK, this might not really be a last resort. While there have been ups and downs over the years, Microsoft’s online customer service was quite good the last few times we’ve had to deal with them. So if you do have problems activating Windows or finding your Windows 10 product key, there’s a good chance hopping on live chat with one of their service representatives will solve the issue.
Are You The Keymaster?
Product license keys are obviously on the way out when it comes to Windows, as Microsoft starts shifting to a cloud-based subscription model for its software and services.
For now however, we still have to occasionally deal with the minor road block of not having a Windows key in hand. The worst case scenario is being forced to buy a whole new Windows license, but hopefully the tips above will help you avoid that.