Do you really need a product key to use Windows 10?

Dec 29, 2022
Updated • Dec 28, 2022
Windows, Windows 10

Windows 10 is approaching the end of its life. The illustrious operating system was launched in 2015 and is set to reach the end of its support phase in October 2025. That means that Windows 10 has less than three years of viability left. However, the old girl still has life in her yet. Therefore, articles pertaining to Windows 10 are still relevant. In that spirit, the following article will clear up whether you need a product key to use Windows 10.

TL;DR:  Do you need a Windows 10 product key?

No, you don’t need a product key to install and use Windows 10. However, there are certain concessions you’ll need to make. For instance, without activating Windows 10 with a product key, you lose the ability to change the background on your desktop through the Settings app.

How to use Windows 10 without a product key

Step 1: Download Windows 10

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

Naturally, the first thing you’ll need to do is download Windows 10. Microsoft lets you do this without entering a product key, so this is relatively easy and straightforward. Simply head to the Windows 10 download page on our website, and you’ll be taken to a direct link to get Windows 10. If you need to install Windows 10 on a different device to where you download the file from, you may need to use a utility like USB Bootable for Windows. If you prefer the more official route, try the Windows Media Creation Tool

Step 2: Install Windows 10

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

Once you’ve downloaded the operating system, you’ll need to install it. Just start the installation process as you usually would and keep a lookout for the screen that requests a product key. All you need to do here is head down to the bottom of the interface and hit ‘I don’t have a product key.’ Hitting this will still let you continue the installation. You’re likely going to see another interface during the installation process asking for a product key. Don’t stress, there’s usually a similar link you can hit to skip the registration process. 

By installing Windows 10 without registering the product with a product key, you’ll have the opportunity to install either Windows 10 Home Edition, or Windows 10 Pro. However, you should keep in mind that should you want to upgrade to a paid version of the OS, it will most likely be more affordable to choose to upgrade to Windows 10 Home Edition. No matter which version you initially select, the product will install as it usually does. 

The drawbacks

This wouldn’t be a comprehensive article without listing the various drawbacks of using Windows 10 without a license. Even though it’s possible, it might be a little less than ideal. 

Windows 10 won’t activate unless you use an activation key (product key). However, you’ll still largely be able to use your PC as you normally would. In the bygone days of Windows XP, Microsoft would physically prevent you from being able to use the OS without activating it. It would trigger Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) to revoke access to your entire PC. Nowadays, Windows will just moan at you every now and then. 

In the beginning, it’s very likely that you won’t even notice a difference. In due time, your PC will start nagging you. The first thing you’ll notice is a watermark at the bottom right-hand side of your screen. Then, you’ll start seeing a ‘Windows isn’t activated. Activate Windows now.’ link underneath the interface of your Settings app. Luckily, there are no pop-ups or notifications involved. 

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

However, while there won’t be many irritations in terms of notifications, you will have to contend with a slight decrease in usability. For instance, if you head into the Personalization screen in your Settings app, you’ll see text that reads ‘You need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC.’ This means you can’t change your background, you can’t select a new accent color, you can’t change your lock screen, and you’re stuck with the standard Windows 10 theme and Start menu configuration. 

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

There’s a way around the wallpaper change, though. If you head into your gallery, you’ll still be able to right-click on an image and set it as your wallpaper that way. Another way in which Microsoft seems to have grown more lenient toward people using the OS without registering it is that Windows 7 used to kick you back to a blank background after a short while if you used the gallery to set a new one. Windows 10 doesn’t do this; at least, it hasn’t yet. Additionally, if you head to C:\Windows\Web in your file explorer, you’ll find all of the stock Windows 10 Wallpapers. 

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

Is it worth it?

In all honesty, there’s not much to gripe over when using Windows 10 as an unregistered product. You’ll still have the core functionality of your PC, and you’ll only be bothered by alerts when you head into Settings and try and change things. However, a future Windows 10 update could change this. But, given that the OS has a little over three years left in service, it’s unlikely that Microsoft would do you dirty in that way.


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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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