When something’s doing its job right, it’s easy to take it for granted. That principle applies to cars, tools, cell phones and even significant others… And it certainly applies to operating systems. However much we may take Windows 10 for granted there may be times when we need to reinstall it, or perhaps need to upgrade your PC’s motherboard. When this happens, you can be met with frustration and even outright panic when you are asked for your Windows 10 product key. You will likely scour every inch of your laptop or desktop computer trying to find it to no avail. You might search every page of your operator’s manual only to find further frustration.
What’s more, the key dinding programs which worked so perfectly for previous iterations like XP, Vista and 8.1 simply won’t work with Windows 10.
Fear not, however! Here we’ll look at exactly what you need to do to find your Windows 10 product key.
Why isn’t my product key on my PC?
For years and years Windows PCs came with a product key sticker that was usually placed either on the machine’s exterior or within the computer’s manuals. Today, however, as we move more and more towards digital and cloud based solutions, manufacturers are storing this license within the machine’s UEFI/BIOS. You don’t even need to worry about it because the information is automatically retrieved and applied when reinstalling the operating system.
While this is admittedly a better approach for most, it can be frustrating when upgrading or changing your hardware.
What is “Digital Entitlement”?
Windows 10 introduced a unique element not present in other iterations of the OS. This “Digital Entitlement” element to the Microsoft license links your Windows key to an ID generated based on your PC’s hardware. Since your hardware can significantly change when hardware is changed and upgraded, this entitlement was expanded a couple of years ago to become a “Digital License”.
The good news for you is that this means that your Windows 10 license now ties Windows keys to Microsoft accounts. This means you can activate a copy of the operating system simply by logging in with valid credentials.
So, now we know a little about how Windows 10’s unique keys work, let’s look at some ways in which you can find your Windows 10 product key…
How To Find Your Windows 10 Product Key
There are different kinds of Windows license. You may have gotten yours with your Windows 10 PC, you may have purchased one directly from a retailer or you may have gotten a free upgrade when you made the jump from Windows 8.1 to 10.
The first step is checking your digital license. We can do this using Windows’ “Settings” app.
Go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation.
If you have a valid digital license, you should see the words “Windows is activated with a digital license” or “Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account.”
In this instance you can link your Microsoft account to a Windows license by clicking “add a Microsoft Account” on the bottom of the same page and entering your login information.
Finding your key within Windows
There are a couple of ways you can retrieve your key within Windows. Entering the following lines into an Admin Command Prompt can display the Original Equipment Manufacturer key embedded in the system’s UEFI/BIOS. Just copy and paste this;
wmic path softwarelicensingservice get OA3xOriginalProductKey
Or if you use PowerShell;
powershell “(Get-WmiObject -query ‘select * from SoftwareLicensingService’).OA3xOriginalProductKey”
Alternatively, there’s a Visual Basic script that retrieves registry-based Windows keys which you can download here. Simply copy and paste the text into Notepad, save it as a .vbs file and double click to launch.
Finding your key outside Windows
If you need to retrieve your key but aren’t able to boot into Windows, it can still be retrieved from outside… Although this is markedly more complicated. You can access this data from a Windows To Go drive. Alternatively you can network your non-booting Windows drive to another computer.
You can navigate to your license directly from the Windows registry. Go to;
You should see “DigitalProductId” in the right panel. This registry hive is stored in a file on your operating system’s drive at Windows\System32\Config. Look out for the file named SOFTWARE.
No matter whether you can boot your PC or not, so long as you have an active Microsoft account (or at least know your way around your registry), accessing your Windows 10 product key is relatively easy and won’t require you to resort to paid retrieval services.