People who install the operating system from scratch should know that every copy of Windows needs to be activated and checked with a product key. This is done to prove that the Windows user license was actually bought since it isn’t free.
On Windows 10 or Windows 11, the product key is asked immediately during startup, but we can also enter it later to try the system first and then choose whether or not to pay the user license. If we have already purchased a user license in the past, we can recover it from the old PC and use it on the new one so as not to spend anything.
So, in this article, we’ll look at how to find the product key for Windows 10 and Windows 11 so that it can be used in a new installation and to fix the problem of a non-authentic copy when Windows was bought the usual way.
In the following chapters, we will first of all show you what types of licenses are supported by Windows and what the methods are for using an old license on a new PC (provided that the license we have is compatible with the transfer). The procedures described are also valid for old versions of Windows, in case we want to recover those codes.
1) License types supported by Windows
Windows 11 and Windows 10 support several different types of licenses, each with its own characteristics (also in terms of transferability from one PC to another).
Windows can be activated in several ways:
- Windows Product Key – A 25-character key is provided (type XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX). This is usually the license that is purchased in the shop (Retail) or that we can buy from the Windows Internet site, and we can transfer it from one PC to another without problems.
- Digital license: The digital license allows you to activate Windows without entering any product key. This license is provided when we upgrade from an old Windows operating system or when our license is tied to the Microsoft account. Most of these licenses of this type are ported, and activation is automatic.
- OEM license: This license is linked to the motherboard of our PC, so unless we use the same motherboard, we will not be able to transfer it from one computer to another.
Before we can move the license, we need to find out what kind of product key is active on our computer so we know if we can move forward.
2) How to recover the product key without app
On Windows, we can quickly recover the active product key on the PC in use without having to use external programs, so as to avoid this precious code being communicated online.
To succeed in the interior, we open the Start menu, look for the Command Prompt, right-click on it and choose Run as administrator. In the black window that will appear, type the following command:
wmic path SoftwareLicensingService get OA3xOriginalProductKey
We press Enter or Enter on the keyboard to confirm; if we have done everything correctly, the product key will appear directly under the command, ready to be copied. Another effective method for recovering the Windows product key without using an app is to use PowerShell, which is an enhanced version of the old Command.
To open it, go to the Start menu at the bottom left, look for PowerShell, right-click on Run as administrator and type the following command in the blue window:
powershell "(Get-WmiObject -query 'select * from SoftwareLicensingService').OA3xOriginalProductKey"
We press Enter or Enter again on the keyboard to see our license code appear directly in the new terminal.
3) App to recover Windows Product Key
Suppose we want to recover the product key using a convenient app. In that case, numerous free tools are available to recover the license key of Windows and other commercial products present in the operating system.
The best program to recover Windows Product Key is undoubtedly ProduKey, produced by the famous software house Nirsoft (which has also created other useful tools for Windows); to use the program, just double-click on it after downloading (it’s portable, so it starts immediately without installation), select the Windows item in the Product Name column, right-click on it, and select Copy Product Key. The code can then be pasted into a private chat or saved as a text file to be used on a different computer.
Another very useful program for recovering the Windows license code is ShowKeyPlus; with this program, we will be able not only to recover the Windows product key but also to know for which type of license it is active and what we can do to validate it.
Another tool similar to the one produced by Nirsoft is the Windows 10 Product Key Tool, available for free for every version of Windows; this tool is even easier to use, since you just need to start it to immediately view the code in a simple window, ready to be reused or copied.
Among the best programs to find Windows Product Keys we find Lazesoft Windows Key Finder; also in this case we will have a very simple tool to use, so as to immediately see the product key of the copy of Windows on the PC, with the possibility of directly copying the code or using the Save and Print keys to print the code on paper or on a PDF file.
4) How to validate the Windows Product Key
After recovering the Product Key from the old PC, we can validate it on a new, clean installation of Windows by following two different procedures:
- Windows installation screen: if we have started the Windows installation, the screen where to enter the product key will appear, but only if we have an active Internet connection. We can very well skip this screen and activate Windows later;
- Windows 10 settings: in Windows 10 we can activate the operating system by opening the Start menu at the bottom left, looking for the Settings app, and taking us to the path Update and security -> Activation; in the new screen we press on the item Change product key under the item Activate Windows now and enter the code recovered with the methods seen above;
- Windows 11 settings: in Windows 11 we can activate the operating system by right-clicking on the Start menu, clicking on Settings, selecting the System menu, pressing on the Activation menu, and pressing the Change button next to the Change Product Key item.
If you already have an active license and you want to replace it with the one recovered from another PC, just go to the same screen above and always press “Change product key,” which will appear this time under the heading “Update product key.”
5) Activate Windows Automatically (Without Product Key)
If we have a digital license we can activate it on our new Windows computer by logging in with the same Microsoft account used on the old computer (where the registered digital license was already present).
To proceed, open the Start menu, click on the Settings app, go to the path Account -> Your Info, and log in with your Microsoft account. Immediately after logging in, let’s go to Update and Security -> Activation (or System -> Activation on Windows 11) and check if the license has been transferred to our account; otherwise, press Troubleshoot at the bottom, so as to be able to start the procedure for restoring any license in our possession.
The product key can also be used on the new computer, without having to spend a lot of money again to buy a license for every new PC we buy. At present, we can only transfer retail licenses and some digital licenses, while we cannot transfer licenses already pre-activated on computers for sale in stores (i.e., OEM licenses).