Microsoft's official Windows 10 Activation Guide

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 29, 2015
Updated • Jul 5, 2017
Windows, Windows 10

Microsoft's Windows 10 Activation guide offers detailed information about how activation works on the company's newest operating system.

Activation on Windows 10 is not as straightforward as it has been in previous versions of Windows thanks to the addition of the free upgrade offer.

It comes as no surprise that most questions that users have are about activating free copies of Windows 10.

Microsoft distinguishes between digital entitlement and product key activation methods in Windows 10.

All free Windows 10 upgrade versions, versions of Windows 10 bought from the Windows Store, and Windows Insider versions use the digital entitlement activation method.

Copies of Windows 10 bought from authorized retailers (either digital or physical), that are pre-installed on OEM machines, or provided through volume licensing agreements or MSDN use product keys as the activation method.

windows 10 activation

What's digital entitlement?

The core differences between product key activation and digital entitlement activation are the following two:

  • Digital entitlement does not require a product key.
  • The activation is linked to the device.

Since activation is linked to the device, it is possible to re-install the same version of Windows 10 on the device without entering a product key and have it activated once the installation completes (by skipping the product key step).

Obviously, you need to make sure that Windows 10 has been activated once on the device before you reinstall the operating system on it as you won't be able to do so if it is not fully activated (and thus linked to the device).

The main issue with this type of activation is that you cannot use this activated version of Windows 10 on a new device.

Insider Builds

If you have been running Insider Builds before Windows 10 was officially released by Microsoft, your system will remain activated for as long as you don't revert back to regular builds of Windows.

New users who opt-in to the Insider program need to activate Windows 10 before they can activate the system.

Installing Windows 10 Insider Preview on a device that never had an activated copy of Windows 10 on it will require using a Windows 10 product key or buying genuine Windows from the Windows Store. This also applies if the new installation is for an edition of Windows 10 that wasn’t previously activated on the device.

Windows 10 Activation Troubleshooting

More information and instructions about Windows 10 activation errors here.

This product key didn't work. (Error code: 0xC004C003)

License could not be found or was invalid. (Error code: 0xC004F034)

There are several reasons why these errors may be thrown:

  • You ran a clean install of Windows instead of upgrading from previous versions of Windows. The fix for this is to go back to the previous version, and run the upgrade from it to get Windows 10 activated properly.
  • The activation servers may have been busy. Windows will try again or you can try and activate manually under Activation in the Settings.
  • An invalid product key was used, for instance a Windows 7 product key.

Genuine Validation detected tampered Windows binaries. (Error code: 0xC004C4AE)

This error is thrown if third-party software added display languages to Windows that are not officially supported. To fix it use system restore, restore backups or reset the PC.

The Software Licensing Service determined that this specified product key can only be used for upgrading, not for clean installations. (Error code: 0xC004F061)

This happens when you try to use an upgrade key on a fresh installation of Windows 10 without previous versions of Windows present on the device.

A networking problem has occurred while activating your copy of Windows. (Error code: 0xC004FC03)

If you receive this error, something is blocking Windows 10 from completing the activation process online. Either try to troubleshoot the issue so that the activation can be performed online, or use the phone activation method instead.

The activation server reported that the product key has exceeded its unlock limit. (Error code: 0xC004C008)

The product key is not accepted because its number of activations has been exceeded. This can be the case if Windows 10 has already been installed on another device and activated using this product key. Solution is to buy another product key, or to contact Microsoft Support to sort out the error if it is one.

The activation server reported that the Multiple Activation Key has exceeded its limit. (Error code: 0xC004C020)

This error is similar to the one above. It means that the activation limit for the entered product key has been exceeded.

DNS name does not exist. (Error code: 0x8007232B)

The filename, directory name, or volume label syntax is incorrect. (Error code:


This refers to network issues while trying to activate a work PC. These errors may be thrown if you are trying to activate a work PC while not connected to the work network.

The Software Licensing Service reported that the license evaluation failed. (Error code: 0xC004E003)

The error may be thrown if third-party software, corruption or attacks modified system files needed for Windows activation. System Restore, backups, or a reset, may resolve the issue.

A security error occurred. (Error code: 0x80072F8F)

This error may be thrown if the system's date and time are set incorrectly, or if Windows cannot connect to the online activation service.

Unspecified error. (Error code: 0x80004005)

Microsoft recommends to activate Windwos manually if the error is displayed. This is done with a click on Start, and the selection of Settings > Update & Security > Activation > Activate Windows.

Microsoft's official Windows 10 Activation Guide
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Microsoft's official Windows 10 Activation Guide
Microsoft has released the official Windows 10 activation guide and troubleshooting tips for activation issues.
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  1. Dan Donx said on January 15, 2023 at 10:29 am

    What mental age of reader are you targeting with the first sentence? 10?

    Why not write an article on how to *avoid* upgrading from W10 to W11. Analogous to those like me who avoided upgrading from 7 to 10 for as long as possible.

    If your paymaster Microsoft permits it, of course.

  2. Dexter said on January 15, 2023 at 11:14 am

    5. Rufus
    6. Ventoy

    PS. I hate reading these “SEO optimized” articles.

    1. cdr said on January 15, 2023 at 3:32 pm

      I used Rufus to create an installer for a 6th gen intel i5 that had MBR. It upgraded using Setup. No issues except for Win 11 always prompting me to replace my local account. Still using Win 10 Pro on all my other PCs to avoid the bullying.

  3. sv said on January 15, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    bit pointless to upgrade for the sake of upgrading as you never know when you’ll get locked out because ms might suddenly not provide updates to unsupported systems.

    ps…. time travelling?
    written. Jan 15, 2023
    Updated • Jan 13, 2023

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 16, 2023 at 5:49 am

      This happens when you schedule a post in WordPress and update it before setting the publication date.

  4. Anonymous said on January 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Anyone willing to downgrade to this awful OS must like inflicting themselves with harm.

  5. basingstoke said on January 16, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I have become convinced now that anybody who has no qualms with using Windows 11/10 must fit into one of the following brackets:

    1) Too young to remember a time before W10 and W11 (doesn’t know better)

    2) Wants to play the latest games on their PC above anything else (or deeply needs some software which already dropped W7 support)

    3) Doesn’t know too much about how computers work, worried that they’d be absolutely lost and in trouble without the “”latest security””

    4) Microsoft apologist that tries to justify that the latest “features” and “changes” are actually a good thing, that improve Windows

    5) Uses their computer to do a bare minimum of like 3 different things, browse web, check emails, etc, so really doesn’t fuss

    Obviously that doesn’t cover everyone, there’s also the category that:

    6) Actually liked W7 more than 10, and held out as long as possible before switching, begrudgingly uses 10 now

    Have I missed any group off this list?

    1. Heinz Strunk said on September 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      You have missed in this group just about any professional user that uses business software like CAD programs or ERP Programs which are 99% of all professional users from this list.

      Linux doesn’t help anyone who is not a linux kid and apple is just a fancy facebook machine.

  6. ilev said on August 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    Microsoft has removed KB5029351 update

    1. EP said on August 24, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      only from windows update though
      KB5029351 is still available from the ms update catalog site

  7. Anonymous said on August 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    1. This update is labaled as PREVIEW if it causes issues to unintelligent people, then they shouldn’t have allowed Preview updates ot install.

    2. I have installed it in a 11 years old computer, and no problems at all.

    3. Making a big drama over a bluescreen for an updated labeled as preview is ridiculous.

    This is probably another BS internet drama where people ran programs and scripts that modified the registry until they broke Windows, just for removing stuff that they weren’t even using just for the sake of it.
    Maybe people should stop playing geeks and actually either use Windows 10 or Windows 11, but don’t try to modify things just for the sake of it.

    Sometimes removing or stopping things (like defender is a perfect example) only need intelligence, not scripts or 3rd party programs that might mess with windows.

  8. john said on August 24, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Windows 11 was a pointless release, it was just created because some of the Windows team wanted to boost sales with some sort of new and improved Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft cannot support one version well let alone two.

    1. John G. said on August 25, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Windows 11 is the worst ugly shame by Microsoft ever. They should release with every new W11 version a complete free version of Starallback inside just to make this sh** OS functionally again.

  9. EP said on August 25, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released a statement regarding the “unsupported processor” blue screen error for their boards using Intel 600/700 series chipsets & to avoid the KB5029351 Win11 update:–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–Error-Message-of-Windows-11-Update-KB5029351-Preview-142215

  10. EP said on August 29, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    check out the following recent articles:

    Neowin – Microsoft puts little blame on its Windows update after UNSUPPORTED PROCESSOR BSOD bug:

    BleepingComputer – Microsoft blames ‘unsupported processor’ blue screens on OEM vendors:

  11. Leonard Britvolli said on August 30, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    While there may be changes or updates to the Windows 10 Store for Business and Education in the future, it is premature to conclude that it will be discontinued based solely on rumors.

  12. sembrador said on September 5, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    My advice, I left win 15 years ago. Now I’m a happy linux user (linuxmint) but there is Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu depending on your needs.

  13. EP said on September 6, 2023 at 11:55 am

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released new BIOS/firmware updates for their Intel 600 & 700 series motherboards to fix the “UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR” problem (Sept. 6):–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–caused-BSOD-on-MSI-s-Intel-700-and-600-Series-Motherboards-142277

  14. Raphael Benzo said on September 24, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    I try to disable the Diagnostics Tracking Service (Connected Devices Platform User Services) but it wont let me disable it, any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Tank you for your help

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