You might have never entered a Windows or Office product key before in your life. If you did buy a preinstalled version of Windows for example it could already be activated by default.
The product key can be usually found on the Recovery CD that comes with the purchase of the hardware, on the hardware itself or on a booklet.
You do need the product key if you want to reinstall the operating system for instance. You could start searching for the product key or you could simply use the software ProduKey to find out and display the product key of the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office, SQL Server, Exchange Server and several other Microsoft applications.
It is possible to export all product keys to a file which can then be printed to have the product key available when you reinstall the product again. Copying does not work when installing the operating system, this means that exporting and printing is probably the better solution.
What I like is that you do not have to install the software at all - as usual with Nirsoft applications.
So you’re happily working away on your computer and as if it has a mind of its own it suddenly dies. Maybe you’ll see a blue screen of death, or simply a black screen, or perhaps everything just freezes. The symptoms don’t really matter all that much, the end result is the same. The PC is kaput, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
After a lot of messing around, testing and swapping out components, you decide your hard drive is probably okay, (perhaps it shows up okay on another computer), the power supply is okay too as is the RAM, so it’s likely to be either the processor or motherboard. If the computer is over a couple of years old, perhaps younger in some cases, you’ll find that replacing the motherboard isn’t as easy as you’d think. They don’t sell them anymore, or they’re hard to come by. In any case, if you’re forced into buying a new mobo, you might as well get an upgrade.
A day or two goes by, and you’ve spent your hard earned cash on new parts, and they finally drop through the door. You’ll soon have that computer back up and running in no time. But wait... what were the license keys? Just when you needed it, the original box to your software has magically disappeared almost in spite, and all you can find is your Windows disk and maybe a few pieces of software. You know that the CD in itself will be fairly useless without a valid license key to enter during the install, so again you’re stumped.
Well maybe not. There are a number of pieces of free software out there which enable you to examine your old hard drive, and get the license keys out. There’s “License Finder”, “Windows Product Key Finder”, “Magical Jellybean Finder” (which sounds somewhat odd if you ask me), and perhaps my personal favorite, “ProduKey”.
The nice thing about ProduKey, is that it won’t just find product keys on an already working computer. You can use it to examine hard drives of dead computers too. Obviously if the hard drive itself is fried, you’ll not get much from it, but in our case the hard drive was still working fine, so it should be possible to just plug it into another machine.
So now, your task should be to find another computer, and get your hard drive installed. You can use a laptop if you need to, and plug your drive into a USB caddy or docking station. Once you’ve done that, hopefully you’ll see your old drive appear under a new drive letter. Download and install a copy of ProduKey, and point it towards the windows folder of your hard drive. Cross your fingers and say a few prayers to the computer gods, and hopefully in the next few seconds you’ll see displayed all the keys for your software.
Make a careful note of these, and before you know it, you can reinstall Windows on that old computer without a hitch.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.