The free Windows 10 licence you have is on your PC’s hardware and you can still use it on that same PC if you change its hardware but that won’t be as easy as you think because Microsoft won’t give you a product key.
Just to avoid piracy, Microsoft doesn’t want to explain how the activation process works, they refuse to give too much information but that doesn’t make the licensing impossible too.
How Windows Licences and Activation Usually Work
The Windows 10 license works differently from other Windows licensing systems. These all required a product key. Even modern Windows 8 and 8.1 PCs and new PCs that come with Windows 10 have a Windows product key embedded in their UEFI firmware. If you buy a new copy of Windows 10 for example, to install it on a PC you’re building yourself you’ll also have a product key.
In cases like this, the license key would work to activate Windows. But Microsoft has been giving out Windows 10 product keys to users who need to ugrade their Windows. You don’t have a Windows 10 product key if you’ve upgraded for free.
How the Free Windows 10 License Works
The free Windows 10 license Microsoft gives to upgrades works very different. Microsoft would provide you Windows 10 product key. Instead, when you upgrade from Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1, the upgrade process registers a unique ID associated with your PC’s hardware on Microsoft’s Windows activation servers.
Later, whenever you install Windows 10 on that same PC, it will automatically report to Microsoft’s activation servers. Microsoft will confirm that the PC with that specific hardware configuration is allowed to use Windows 10, and it’ll automatically be activated.
Microsoft didn’t made this clear in the installation process itself. To get rid of Windows 10 on your PC activated this way, ou have to continually skip all the product key prompts while installing it.
This automatic process only works if your PC has the same hardware it had when you upgraded to Windows 10.
What if You Change Your PC’s Hardware?
Microsoft didn’t made this clear how the hardware-based Windows activation process works. Just replacing your hard drive or upgrading your graphics card shouldn’t cause a problem. If you’ve just changed a few peripherals, Windows 10 may just automatically activate itself after you clean-install it.
However, changing you CPU will likely be a big chance that it avoids the PC from automaticallu activating. The hardware configuration will actually look different to Windows 10, one which isn’t allowed to have the free upgrade.
If you are having issues like this, you should be able to clean-install Windows 10 normally. Skip both prompts when you’re asked to enter a product key. After it installs, it will attempt to activate itself with Microsoft and won’t automatically activate. It won’t look geniue until you get it activated. The activation screen will prompt you to purchase a new license from the Windows Store.
According to Gabriel Aul, Vice President of Engineering for the Windows & Devices group at Microsoft, you can then contact support from within Windows 10, explain the situation, and they’ll activate Windows 10 for you:
— Gabriel Aul (@GabeAul) August 8, 2015
To get this done, open the Start menu, select All Apps, and launch the Contact Support app included with Windows 10. Navigate to the Services & apps > Windows > Setting up category, which includes activation issues. You can text-chat with a Microsoft support representative here or have a Microsoft representative call you on the phone.
The free Windows 10 license doesn’t work with a Microsoft account, it’s just tied to the PC’s hardware configuration. However, we would advice you to sign into the PC with the same Microsoft account you signed in with on your old PC. That would give Microsoft Support some way to confirm you previously had a free Windows 10 license on that PC. That’s just a guess, of course — Microsoft isn’t saying exactly what is required here.
Microsoft Can’t Let You Move a Free Windows 10 License to Another PC
Have this at the back of your mind, that this will only work on the same PC. This does create some an inconvenient situation for people who bought a full retail license and not an OEM license of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1. Most people don’t do this, even people building their own PCs usually seem to buy OEM copies of Windows.
Those retail licenses are portable between different PCs, so you can move them from one PC to another just like the way you can move a Windows 7 license and built your own PC to a new PC as long as you uninstall it from the first PC.
However, that free Windows 10 license you get as part of the upgrade process is tied to an individual PC. Even if you upgraded from a retail copy of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, you won’t be given a retail copy of Windows 10. It is not possible for you to move that free Windows 10 license to another PC. After the first year is up and the free Windows 10 upgrade offer is over, you’ll have to buy a new copy of Windows 10 if you want to move it to an entirely different PC.
This is inconvienient I guess. But on the other hand, that Windows 10 license was just a free bonus in the first place. Retail licenses of Windows 10 you purchase can be moved between PCs in the same way.