Bios embedded Windows 8 product keys - gHacks Tech News

Bios embedded Windows 8 product keys

If you have purchased a laptop running Windows 8 recently you may have noticed that it may not contain a small label on the back side or battery compartment listing the operating system's product key. The question that should come up at this point is how you are going to reinstall the operating system without the product key.

The answer is however fairly simple. Device manufacturers are embedding the product key in the BIOS of the motherboard. What this means is that the installer will automatically recognize the product key and use it during installation and activation of the Windows 8 operating system.

This has several advantages, both for Microsoft and OEMs as it is no longer that easy to "steal" product keys this way, and for users who do not have to worry about fading text or damaged labels on their laptops.

One of the improvements Microsoft is making to Activation 3.0 for newly built machines that come preloaded with Windows 8, you won’t have a COA (Certificate of Authenticity) sticker attached to the machine anymore. Instead, this will be embedded in the BIOS.

windows 8 product key

So far so good. There is a slight problem though in regards to installing a different version of the operating system on those devices. Say you have bought a laptop running Windows 8, and have an OEM copy of Windows 8 Pro lying around that you want to install on that laptop.

The installer will automatically use the BIOS key during installation giving you no option to enter the retail copy product key during installation. You do end up with an activated copy of the original version of Windows and not the one that you have purchased separately.

Is there a way to get past this? I honestly do not know and would like to ask each and everyone of you to chime in and post your thoughts on how to get the installer to not use the embedded BIOS key during installation of Windows 8. (via Deskmodder)

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Comments

  1. Richard Steven Hack said on November 23, 2012 at 11:53 am
    Reply

    “it is no longer that easy to “steal” product keys this way,”

    Something similar was done with Windows 7 and it proved EASIER to enable “pirate” versions of Windows than it was with XP. I’m sure someone will figure out a bypass in due time. It’s already possible to activate using what are called “public KMS” servers although this is a PITA for normal users.

    There is a way to backup and restore your activation status from MyDigitalLife:

    GUIDE: How to backup and restore Windows 8 activation
    :http://forums.mydigitallife.info/threads/35737-GUIDE-How-to-backup-and-restore-Windows-8-activation

    If you need to see your Windows 8 Product Key, there is a Windows 8 Product Key Viewer at MyDigitalLife:

    Windows 8 Product Key Viewer
    :http://forums.mydigitallife.info/threads/30363-Windows-8-WDP-Product-Key-Viewer

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 23, 2012 at 11:57 am
      Reply

      With stealing, I meant simply looking at the product key on the laptop and copying it.

  2. techno7 said on November 23, 2012 at 2:21 pm
    Reply

    “Device manufacturers are embedding the product key in the BIOS of the operating system”

    You mean the hardware :-)

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm
      Reply

      Right, of course. Will correct it asap.

    2. Bob said on November 29, 2012 at 5:38 am
      Reply

      BELARC ADVISOR WILL FIND AND DISPLAY THE WINDOWS 8 PRODUCT KEY FROM THE BIOS. TRY IT, ITS FREE.

    3. MSC said on June 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm
      Reply

      The BIOS is not hardware – it’s firmware, and a BIOS chip can be modified in some cases, or replaced.

    4. Spiro said on September 16, 2016 at 9:06 pm
      Reply

      Actually this is correct, the syntax is just strange. It should have said, “Device manufacturers are embedding the product key of the operating system in the BIOS.”

  3. MDW said on November 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm
    Reply

    Is there a way to get past this?

    Would the ‘add additional features’ work, in the same way that it does if you want to add the Windows Media Pack Product Key to Win 8 Pro?

    1. MSC545 said on November 23, 2012 at 3:34 pm
      Reply

      It isn’t hardware, it’s firmware. Assuming that the BIOS chip is not soldered to the motherboard, it is trivial to change or modify it. If it is soldered, that is what de-soldering tools are made for.

      1. Tech42 said on November 24, 2012 at 10:31 pm
        Reply

        Desoldering a BIOS chip isn’t a trivial solution to the problem.
        And just because you want to run some software, a BIOS license shouldn’t halt you from doing so.

  4. kalmly said on November 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm
    Reply

    Horrible news. Thanks for the warning.

    The OEM that came with my Win XP computer was so bad that I purchased a boxed version of WinXP, wiped my hard drive, and installed the OS from the new CD. An expensive addition to a new system, but well worth it.

    The OEM on my laptop, Win7, wasn’t that bad, but if I were forced to purchase a new desktop, I would, once again, purchase a new boxed version of the OS I want to use. Are you telling me that is impossible? OR – would I still be able to wipe the hard drive and then install WIN7?

  5. MSC545 said on November 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm
    Reply

    See my post above.

  6. MSC545 said on November 23, 2012 at 6:07 pm
    Reply

    Correction – even if it IS soldered, you may be able to modify it with BIOS flash if one is available – and of course in time one will be.

  7. jimmyjamesjimmy said on November 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm
    Reply

    OEM is different to the Boxed Version (apart from licensing rules)?

    1. ilev said on November 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm
      Reply

      Very much. OEM usually tweak the OS to their hardware as well drivers
      for better performance.

      1. MSC545 said on November 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm
        Reply

        Yes, in fact, the OS that comes with a laptop has slipstreamed proprietary drivers to run things like the touchpad and screen. Unfortunately, a lot of crap and adware is also added. If you know what you are doing, this stuff can be removed in about 30 minutes. If you don’t, you replace your OS and wind up with devices that don’t work properly. I am surprised his machine worked after he installed a generic OS – that was very risky and unnecessary.

  8. Usman said on November 24, 2012 at 12:29 am
    Reply

    Can we use SLMGR.VBS command to install another product key and then activate Windows 8 again?

    1. msc545 said on November 24, 2012 at 6:11 am
      Reply

      I don’t see how you can. The key is in embedded in firmware which means that it would need to be either physically or electrically modified. As I noted previously, in some cases you maybe able to flash the BIOS, and in other cases you may need to replace the BIOS chip. The absolute worst case would be replacing the motherboard, which sounds bad but really is not, and is still a lot cheaper than replacing the entire machine.

  9. Morely the IT Guy said on November 24, 2012 at 2:48 am
    Reply

    Solution: Force Microsoft to fix it. They have a duty under contract law to fulfill the contract, and failure to do so entitles you to damages. I am sure they don’t want another class-action suit over this.

    1. msc545 said on November 24, 2012 at 10:53 am
      Reply

      Fix what ? Nothing is broken. You aren’t making sense.

  10. Tech42 said on November 24, 2012 at 10:38 pm
    Reply

    So what happens if your motherboard fails and you have to replace it?
    Your key is now gone, and the new motherboard may be “new” and without a key embedded.
    What then? It seems unacceptable that by simply changing out a part in my computer, with an exact replacement even, that I should be punished.

    And msc545, your responses give no real solutions, disregard the rights of the consumer, make incorrect judgements about the quality of bare OS installations, make false representations about the simplicity of switching out a bios chip, and it appears that you’ve chosen to respond to many comments with the intent of shutting it down without valid answers.

    1. Paul B. said on November 24, 2012 at 11:21 pm
      Reply

      > So what happens if your motherboard fails and you have to replace it?

      You would have to call in to MS and get a verbal authorization.

      Actually, you can think of this embedded MB code as just a sharper version of what MS has been doing since XP – tying the OS to the hardware. Before it was done in the OS registry, where details about the MB, HDD, OEM, model, and more was buried in encrypted form. According to a formula, these factors were weighed and when the threshold was exceeded one had to make that phone call.

      Now the code is kept in the hardware itself. MS is clamping down, and significantly, it is doing it with the aid of the OEMs.

      I would think, though, that a retail upgrade of the OS would override all this, as it always has.

      1. MSC545 said on November 25, 2012 at 12:27 am
        Reply

        Historically, MS has been extremely accommodating when one makes that phone call – if it is even necessary. This whole thing in a non-problem given the number of workarounds and solutions to it. I think that people are becoming alarmed over what amounts to an annoyance at worst. Assuming the Motherboard DID fail, so what ? The VRM is almost uniformly the point of failure, so you pull the BIOS chip and put it in the new motherboard. A five minute problem.

      2. Dylan H said on October 24, 2015 at 10:23 pm
        Reply

        I’ve spoken with a Microsoft support man directly about transferring ‘OEM’ (prestinalled by PC manufacturer) Windows for this very problem. His message is actually, no, you cannot transfer the license from one motherboard to another, as it is activated only by/for the firmware installed at the factory. He says the legal contract is not between you (the owner of the system) and Microsoft, but between you and the manufacturer, when you buy one of these PCs. In my situation, they’re HP, who stopped supporting my laptop conveniently after about two years, just as I am beginning to hear that this particular model is not very reliable (Pavilion). Not surprisingly, the Microsoft man suggested I buy retail Windows 10. He said retail Windows is transferable between hardware. Now if I could get HP to activate Windows with a new motherboard for my laptop, I would, but so far it seems they will not even hear requests regarding this model anymore. There is a market of second-hand main boards for these laptops out there, but if what I’m saying is true, then they are worthless to me unless I could reprogram the activation keys. But that is not how things should be.

    2. MSC545 said on November 25, 2012 at 12:30 am
      Reply

      And you obviously are not very technically skilled or knowledgeable. I’ve offered multiple, VERY SIMPLE solutions, and you find them to be problematic. If the situation ever arises for you, please do NOT try to solve the problem yourself.

    3. Anonymous said on March 12, 2014 at 3:07 pm
      Reply

      Tech42 you need to understand the EULA Microsoft has laid out for the OS. You are not being punished when you loose the key due to a mother board change as the original license key is null and void with the replacement. The license that came with that laptop or tower cannot be legally used if a major component has been changed as in the mother board. Not saying you cant use the key but if Microsoft pressed the issue they could force you to pay for another license.

      1. Tech42 said on March 14, 2014 at 12:35 am
        Reply

        You’re replying to a thread that’s over a year old…

        Anyway, read these threads to see that this is not the case, Microsoft backed-off on their licensing restrictiveness, at least in practice if not in public policy:
        http://www.tomshardware.com/answers/id-1759681/fwiw-hassle-windows-reactivation-motherboard-replacement.html
        http://www.eightforums.com/installation-setup/14281-new-motherboard.html
        http://www.reddit.com/r/techsupport/comments/1hrm3d/
        http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-1811525/reactivating-windows-motherboard.html

        And replacing a defective motherboard with an identical one is not considered to nullify the licensing:
        http://www.microsoft.com/oem/en/licensing/sblicensing/pages/licensing_faq.aspx#fbid=ELG1u3WCUqI
        http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/desktop/f/3514/t/19507413.aspx

  11. MSC545 said on November 25, 2012 at 12:33 am
    Reply

    Desoldering a chip or burning a new one is trivial. I’ve done it many times and so can you.

  12. Gonzo said on November 25, 2012 at 11:25 am
    Reply

    I’m pretty sure most Windows 8 laptops are shipping with UEFI and not BIOS.

    Martin, are you using the Windows 8 Pro RTM disc from MSDN?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 25, 2012 at 11:29 am
      Reply

      Yes I’m.

      1. Gonzo said on November 25, 2012 at 8:37 pm
        Reply

        Did an ei.cfg to the ISO with your desired edition?

  13. Narg said on November 26, 2012 at 4:30 pm
    Reply

    Dell has been doing this for years with all versions of Windows. One of the many reasons I like Dell machines, so much easier to manage than other maker’s machines.

  14. Steven said on November 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm
    Reply

    Well in regards to the last part about using a different key, I think you’d be able to accomplish that once you’re already in Windows. You’ve been able to change your product key within Windows since Vista through “System Properties”.

  15. Dilan said on November 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm
    Reply

    When you upgrade from Win8 to Win8Pro, if you run the setup EXE from the disk it should update the product key in the firmware of the computer. Then you can burn it to a disk and wipe the hard drive if you wish to do so.

  16. Matias Aquino said on November 28, 2012 at 2:13 pm
    Reply

    @Dilan

    I can´t imagine any other way of doing Windows upgrades!
    I think the whole point of MS is to difficult serial piracy (which they do by embedding serials in the BIOS), not avoiding operating system upgrades.

  17. sandeep said on December 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm
    Reply

    this software works nicelly

  18. German Bernabe said on December 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm
    Reply

    I think that the manufacturers will have software that can rewrite the key in teh bios, the same way as they have software that can rewrite a new serial number in the bios.

  19. Hammerhead said on January 3, 2013 at 3:28 am
    Reply

    Hope this helps somebody…I bought a new laptop with Win 8 pre-installed.The last 5 digits of the OEM key were visible in control panel/system/View details in windows activation…but I used Belarc advisor to get the full key from wherever it is stored…Belarc was free and I didnt have any issues with it. I wanted Win 8 Pro, so I bought a retail version on sale for $50. I was on the road and didnt want to go through driver installations and chasing down some useful OEM apps, so I installed the Win 8 Pro by merely entering the new key in control panel/system/get more features with a new edition of windows/I already have a product key. I did not need to use the Win 8 pro media: the new key unlocked or downloaded the new features and installed them flawlessly, and now Belarc shows the new pro key as the installed key. I’ve been told by cust svc from ASUS that the bios is not accessible on machines in which Win 8 came preinstalled, only on machines that were upgraded from lower versions. The reason? The time to hit the proper key during boot for bios is 1/4 of a second due to the faster boot of Win 8. A microsoft blog also published the same info. I tried for an hour to access the bios and couldnt do it. I finally ended up using Win 8 settings/advanced startup…..UFEI Firmware settings….that takes me to what appears to be a BIOS setup but almost seems too simple. Maybe not the cleanest way but it works. Good luck!

    1. Duncan said on April 24, 2013 at 6:47 am
      Reply

      Running that method for upgrade is all good, and when it works it works, when it doesn’t and you’re working on a laptop with recovery partitions which don’t work since the upgrade, you can’t move forward and reinstall as the product key isn’t accepted again, and I can’t take the laptop back to original state and redo the upgrade. This UEFI story is a load of junk. I’m going to adapt my family to Linux, and buy hardware that isn’t MS dependent.

    2. Brett said on June 7, 2015 at 11:18 pm
      Reply

      dose anyone know if it is possible to update my embedded bios win8 key SL
      with a win8.1 pro retail pack that i bought

  20. Reggie said on June 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm
    Reply

    Also worth a mention is Asus, producers of some of the best motherboards and laptops available.

    Everything from Gmail, Chrome browser, Google Search and more can be added into Windows
    8 in a seamless manner. Connect to your work computer, from any remote location,
    and redefine family entertainment with Windows Media Center.
    Windows 8 platform is based on HTML5 and Java – Script and strives to offer you
    a sleek and clean user interface. Users can also gain a faster browsing experience thanks to
    Wi-Fi connectivity which allows users to take advantage local Wireless
    Networks whenever they have access, however many locations now offer free Wi-Fi meaning a fast connection is often available.
    The computers which are member of Home – Group will appear in Windows Explorer.

  21. Tony said on June 18, 2013 at 11:10 am
    Reply

    A customer have a hp 2000 2b19wm notebook pc, it was formatted to windows 7 home premium 64bit, now the customer wants to install again Windows 8, all the partitions were deleted

    So I used a Windows 8 SL 64 OEM Spanish Original, in the BIOS is enabled UEFI but the Win8 install show a message that the serial key is not valid, even if I disable the UEFI in the BIOS the win8 installation show the same error message about the serial key

    I assume that the WIndows 8 version it’s SL, because in the HP site says just Windows 8 64bits

    My question is, do I need a Windows 8 SL English to install it in the laptop?

    This sucks man!!!

  22. Mike said on May 13, 2015 at 5:24 pm
    Reply

    I see a lot of jibber jabber on here but of course none of the responses even post solutions. Below is directions how to replace the product key in the BIOS. http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Notebook-Operating-Systems-and-Software/windows-8-product-key/m-p/4048870/highlight/false#M214914

    Does anyone out there see any solutions to REMOVING the product key from the BIOS? If it can be replaced by a clean install then there should be a powershell or other type of command to delete the objects from the BIOS. Please post any if you found a solution.

    1. Wedge1967 said on February 13, 2016 at 1:22 am
      Reply

      you could try having the bios chip replaced with a compatible chip, without the embedded activation code, but that may come with its own set of problems

  23. Vic said on July 3, 2015 at 7:06 pm
    Reply

    I recently saw a Windows 8 machine missing the hard drive and of course without a key sticker. I could have bought this Asus laptop very cheaply. How would I go about installing Windows 8 using the internally stored key? All retail copies of Windows 8 or 8.1 that I have installed always require the entry of the key. Do I need software to reveal the key and then make sure I have a disk of the correct version of Windows 8 to install it or is there another tool? Thanks

    1. Wedge1967 said on February 13, 2016 at 1:32 am
      Reply

      the internal key is automatically used so your not even prompted to enter the product key, and most retail discs come with all the versions of windows the key that comes with the disc just activates one of those versions
      for example if you install windows 8.1, pro and enterprise are also installed but your key will only activate the features for 8.1 and not for the other two, if you upgrade just buy a 8.1 pro key from microsoft and upgrade by entering the key from your desktop, all the key will really do is unlock the features associated with 8.1 pro

  24. Adrian said on July 13, 2015 at 10:04 am
    Reply

    Here are some ways to get the CD-KEY from the BIOS or UEFI:

    http://www.sysadmit.com/2015/07/windows-uefi-bios-ver-clave-guardada.html

  25. Skid said on October 27, 2015 at 8:54 pm
    Reply

    M$ always makes things more and more complicated for it’s users. To have the license key in the Firmware of the BIOS seams appealing but useless in point of security. Firmware can be altered and so the Windows software which reads the license key. WAT Remover should be prove enough. I have seen companies using sophisticated hardware keys and failed miserably in protecting there software from crackers. Only what was needed was a hardware emulator which creates what needed or replaces everything to get things going. In point of copy protection, it’s useless to have the License key in the BIOS. It will not prevent piracy. As mentioned, what happens if you like to upgrade from a home edition to a pro? Most likely you will end up wasting quite some time in calling M$ to get it installed and running. I never liked Windows and I never will, so I do not use it. I’m a happy Linux user since over 15 Years. I just don’t like jailed environments like Windows and Mac OS X. Some people seam to love to be prisoners of corporations. I do not! I like to tweak, modify and have control over that what I use. There is nothing better than a community of great people which work together to have a good, free, and open system and user environment.

  26. RichardS said on January 23, 2016 at 5:00 pm
    Reply

    Computer crashed ran ASUS recovery now the product KEY is not recognized Called Microsoft they would not provide help, Called ASUS they would not provide help. Now I have to purchase a new version of Windows or Computer I am done with Both Microsoft and ASUS products.

    1. Tech42 said on January 26, 2016 at 11:02 am
      Reply

      You don’t need to do that. There are Win8 keys that you use during the reinstall process.

      http://www.howtogeek.com/187525/how-to-perform-a-clean-install-of-windows-8.1-with-a-windows-8-key/

      “We’ve been informed that simply entering one of the KMS Client Setup Keys from Microsoft’s website (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj612867.aspx) during the Windows 8.1 installation process should let you install Windows 8.1 normally. You should then be able to change your key to your original Windows 8 key from the desktop later.”

      If the built-in Asus recovery is broken, here are some links to help:
      http://www.eightforums.com/installation-setup/39197-unable-use-built-asus-recovery-partition.html
      http://www.eightforums.com/general-support/49338-windows-8-1-asus-factory-reset.html
      http://www.eightforums.com/tutorials/27129-product-key-find-windows-8-a.html

  27. Wedge1967 said on February 13, 2016 at 1:14 am
    Reply

    I bought a second hand Laptop cheap, they had put a password in the bios and promptly forgot what it was, enter the manufacturers tech dept “No Help There” there advice live with it, a local
    PC repair guy said no problem we just replace the bios chip with a compatible one, no sooner said then done, problem is the laptop came out with “windows 8.1 enterprise” and now when I load it I get “windows 8.1”, and I know the bios chip he installed is from the same make and model as mine, but I now have none of the features of Pro or enterprise, and even when I try to upgrade with a genuine 8.1 enterprise disc or key it fails…. am I doing something wrong, never had this problem with my other older laptops, or is the embedded bios code messing me around?

  28. Pablo said on April 12, 2016 at 9:27 pm
    Reply

    Trash the HD and the Dell OS DVD will not work. There was no key in BIOS or UEFI that the Dell OS Reinstallation DVD that came with the PC can find.

    100’s of PC and ZERO, not one, could reload the OS on to blank HD with this so called magical key in the BIOS/UEFI.
    Every PC we use was in my hands I ran the DVD’s that came with them and not one could get past the product key screen. They all want the key entered.

    I image them and move on. Windows is garbage in any form. Windows 10 is the OS for idiots.

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