Thursday 23 June 2016

How to pre-activate all your Win7/8 systems for Windows 10 without actually installing Windows 10 (even after 2016-07-29)!

Time is running has run out! However, you can still activate Windows 10 using a Windows 8 or Windows 7 Product Key even though the 'upgrade' deadline has expired!

Note: This will probably not work after 2017-12-31 - see here.

Microsoft have said that Win10 will probably be their last version of Windows, because they will release continuous updates for Win10.

So even if you don't like Windows 10 now, you may like Windows 10 a lot more in 6 months time or in 3 years time. Unless you activate and register each system now, you will have to pay for it later!

If you are still running Win7, you should definitely upgrade to Win8.1 or Win10 because Win7 has reached 'end-of-life'. Manufacturers are no longer releasing peripherals with Win7 drivers, so any new peripherals you purchase may not run on Win7 if it requires a special driver.

Tip: You can check the Windows version by running 'winver' from the Start - Run box.

As I have mentioned before in previous blogs, you don't have to install Win10 onto a system's internal hard disk in order to get it registered with Microsoft for Windows 10. All you need to do is boot the Win7/8 system from a USB drive which has Windows 10 To Go on it. Here are the steps:

1. Obtain a copy of the correct edition of a Win10 TH2 (1511) Installer ISO (see here).

For instance, if the system you want to upgrade is Win7 Ultimate x32 Retail\OEM, you will need a Win10 Pro x64 or x32 Retail\OEM installer ISO. If your system is Win8.1 Core x64, you will need Win10 x64 or x32 ISO. If you use 32-bit versions, they will work on both 32-bit and 64-bit systems.

Make sure you have the latest Threshold 2 (TH2 - v1511) versions because the first release of Win10 (10240) will not accept Win7/8 Product Keys.

2. Boot to the current Win7/8 Windows OS and run ProduKey from NirSoft. This will tell you the current Windows Product Key that your system is registered with if there is no OEM CoA label on the system. You can also try ShowKeyPlus to get the original OEM firmware Product Key. Make a note of the Product Key on a piece of paper (or stick a label to the bottom of the PC/notebook as you will need it if and when you do eventually install Win10).

ShowKeyPlus: Your product key depends on the type of Windows version you bought:
• If you bought Windows from an authorised retailer, the product key will only show as the Installed key. This applies to OEM System Builder keys as well.
• If you upgraded Windows, the Original key will be the key installed prior to the upgrade. N.B. if you upgrade to Windows 10 for free, you'll receive a unique ‘digital entitlement’ instead of a product key. The key displayed will be a generic key in that case.
• If you bought a new PC running Windows, the product key will be pre–installed on your PC and the key will be included in the firmware in the case of Windows 8 or 10 - or as an OEM marker, in the case of Vista/7. The OEM key will display the key in the case of the former, or whether your PC was built for Windows Vista or Windows 7.

3. Now make a bootable USB drive using WinToUSB (it's really simple to use!). You will need a spare NTFS-formatted USB drive for this (16GB+) - use the fastest one that you can get your hands on, and unless you want to wait a few hours, use a USB 3.0 drive (even if your system only has USB 2.0 ports). WinToUSB may re-format it, so back it up first!

Make sure you select either the VHD or VHDX option in WinToUSB. VHDX files are less prone to corruption, but add an I/O overhead which may result is slightly slower performance. The minimum size is usually about 14GB. Windows 10 will not boot from a 'flat-file' install on a Removable USB flash drive, so you need to use a VHD/VHDX file - also a single VHD(x) file is really easy to backup or copy.

Tip: When WinToUSB has finished, make a backup of the 'virgin' VHD/VHDX file - just in case something happens to your USB WinToGo drive.

4. (optional) - If you have an E2B USB drive (HDD or Flash drive), copy the VHD/VHDX file to the E2B USB drive. E2B can directly boot from .VHD and .VHDX Windows (NT6) files (they do not need to be contiguous either). You can give the file a more suitable name but don't use spaces in the filename of the .VHD/.VHDX file or you will get a BSOD!

5. Now MBR-boot your Win7/8 system from the WinToUSB drive (or E2B VHD file) and once it has reached the Desktop of Win10, activate the OS by entering in the Product Key you noted in step 2. It will require an internet connection to 'phone home' and activate.

6. Shutdown.

That's it!

You can repeat just Step 2 and Step 5 on any other unregistered Win7/8 systems you have. It will take you about 5 minutes per system!

If you make a Win10 Pro VHD and a Win10 'core' VHD (x32) using WinToUSB, you can activate and register any Win7/8 systems for Win10. So you will need 2 VHDs.
  • Win10_x32_Basic.VHD
  • Win10_x32_Pro.VHD
If you run a repair shop, why not do this for any customer who has Win7/8 already installed (you could make a small charge for it). Put up a sign on your web site and in your shop window. If you offer a system health check/speed up service, etc., you can advertise this additional service to encourage new customers (for 1 month only!).

P.S. E2B (aka Easy2Boot) is a free multiboot USB solution which can be found here.

See also 'Activate with just one click' here. No need to use ProduKey or ShowKeyPlus to find your OEM Product Key!

How does 'Activation' work?

If you bought a computer from an OEM (e.g. HP, Lenovo, Dell, etc.) and it came with Windows pre-installed, then you will have a Windows OEM licence. If you bought a Product Key separately (e.g. from Amazon) then it is usually a Retail Key (unless otherwise stated).
OEM licences (OEM Product Keys) are not transferable to another system (i.e. another mainboard), however Retail Product Keys can be transferred to another system (and are more expensive).

When you register a Product Key with Microsoft over the internet, a 'hash' is stored on their server together with the Product Key. This 'hash' identifies the system. Microsoft needs to tie the Product Key to your system, so it may record such things as (the precise details recorded are not specified by MS for obvious reasons, but it is not hard to guess!):
  • BIOS Make/Date/Manufacturer/Model
  • Mainboard Serial Number/UUID
  • Ethernet MAC address
  • CPU type
  • Hard Disk type/serial number
  • RAM size
Now, you may change the hard disk and upgrade the RAM in your system, so MS will allow for this; however, the mainboard and MAC address should not normally change, unless you replace the mainboard. If the licence was an OEM licence, then you cannot re-activate it using the same key - you should get a pucka replacement mainboard from the same OEM that you bought the system from. The OEM replacement mainboard will come with a new un-activated Product Key programmed into the firmware (e.g. if you bought a Win 8 system, the replacement mainboard should come with a new Win8 'OEM key' already in the firmware).

If your system refuses to activate over the internet, you will have to ring MS and explain what you have changed in the system. They can see the current new 'hash' and the old 'hash' and so can work out just what you have actually changed. If your story matches with what they can see, then they may feel inclined to give you an 'activation code', which you will have to type in to re-activate your Windows OS.

So if you have changed the RAM and hard disk, fitted a new Ethernet card and disabled the on-board Ethernet card and performed a BIOS upgrade which has destroyed the pre-programmed information, they may need some convincing that you are not trying to transfer your Windows OEM licence to a completely different system!

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