Will BIOS-embedded Windows 8 product keys cause reinstall troubles?

Will BIOS-embedded Windows 8 product keys cause reinstall troubles?

Summary: Will BIOS-embedded Windows 8 product keys cause problems for those wanting to upgrade -- or downgrade -- their copy of Windows?


Those purchasing Windows 8 PCs are noticing that the small "Certificate of Authenticity" that is normally home to the product key is missing, and instead a "Genuine Microsoft" label has replaced it.

This seems to be a cause of concern, and is prompting a number of questions.

Rather than using a sticker, PC manufacturers are instead embedding the product key -- associated with a fingerprint of the hardware -- into the BIOS/UEFI firmware on the motherboard. This is part of Microsoft new OEM Activation 3.0 (OA 3.0) mechanism and has been designed to combat piracy and, according to my OEM contacts, makes it easier for OEMs to order new keys from Microsoft, and even return unused keys back to Microsoft.

But what does it mean to the end user?

To most people, nothing. Windows is activated and should run normally. If, for any reason, you need to reinstall Windows 8 from the recovery partition or recovery discs, then the setup should recover the product key from the hardware, making it a lot less of a headache than having to read a string of tiny numbers off a sticker located somewhere awkward on your desktop or notebook PC.

But what happens if you want to upgrade Windows? Does this BIOS-embedded product key mean that you're stuck with whatever version of Windows that was installed on the hardware when it left the factory?

See alsoCheap Windows 8 notebooks [Gift Guide 2012]

Of course not.

Windows 8 users can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro either using the "Add features to Windows 8" feature baked into the operating system, or using a retail copy of Windows 8 Pro (which is a far more expensive way to upgrade). 

Commercial customers can also use volume license product keys and volume license media to upgrade hardware.

But what happens if you hate Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro and want to nuke it and downgrade? Will the BIOS-embedded product key cause problems? No, it won't. As long as you have the relevant media, and a valid product key, you can install an earlier version of Windows -- or Linux -- onto the hardware without any problems.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems

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  • BIOS-embedded product key

    So when the key is erased from bios by the malware, where do I find my key to reinstall?
    • nice try..

      Most malware does not affect the bios anymore, go back to the 90's for the hayday of that. Also motherboards now adays have redundant BIOS's so if a flash fails or if "malware erases the BIOS then they can easily recover from the secondary BIOS. Or if you are real worried you can find utilities on the net that can recover the key.
  • Suppose you want to reinstall Windows 8 after downgrading?

    Can you reinstall from the recovery partition and things will remain in tact or will it destroy the Windows 8 recovery partition when downgrade to say...Windows XP or Windows 7?

    I remember this girls recovery partition was gonna wipe out her installation with her personal files which she wanted to keep. I decided to use a retail disc which corresponded with the edition she had installed and did a custom install over the system partition where Windows 7 was installed. This ended up rendering the recovery partition inoperable.

    Something to think about before considering a downgrade. At a minimum, create a backup system image of the entire Windows 8 installation.
    • If you don't delete the partition during setup,

      Surely it will be intact and thus able to be re-used? Better yet, create recovery discs before you do this.
  • What if your motherboard needs replacing and takes the product key with it?

    That one, I find worrying.
    • Options

      If you built the PC yourself, you should have very little problem activating it by calling Microsoft and explaining that the old mobo is toast. I've done this with Win7 activations a few times when repairing computers. It's a bit of a hassle, but it works.

      If it's a system-builder PC (HP, for example) you are tied to an OEM product key.

      If the motherboard is replaced by HP or by the end-user using genuine HP parts, it is up to HP to get you a working product key. End-user replacement would require sending in the old motherboard, of course.

      If you replace the motherboard with a non-HP board, then you need to buy a new product key.
    • .... shhhh

      [whisper} crickets....
  • Wait...

    So if there are no issues with the embedded key, what was the point of this article?
    • The point of the article is that you won't know the key yourself, anymore

      Great. So I'll never buy a Windows 8 machine. I want a key I can see, store, transfer. One more tyrannical HIDING game that's been perpetrated from Vista forward.

      I was kinda on the fence about Win8 before, but this is el colmo. NEVER AGAIN.
      • @ brainout

        I bought 3 upgrade downloads from Microsoft and they came with a key. One installed on an HP laptop and one on a custom built machine. The other is going on a new custom machine after Christmas.
      • OEM Keys...

        are not transferable.
      • on the fence

        I was there myself and really didn't like the idea of W8 at all, given the little I had seen of it, but I really wanted the laptop and could only get it with W8. The more I use it though the more I like it. With a little setup it is a very nice OS, and with a little digging you can find every feature that made W7 so good
  • Dual boot?

    What happens if I want to set up a dual boot?
  • What about upgrading the bios /uefi

    Will the PK be lost when you flash the bios?
    • Not really

      If the programming is done correctly, the BIOS updater should read the contents of the old BIOS, update the BIOS and restore the configuration of the BIOS.
  • Thoughts

    As the key is stuck in the BIOS, I think the OS will be smart enough to know that if you to a higher edition [you can only go one up in Win 8!], it will probably store the upgraded key somewhere in the OS like Win 7 and before does.
    As far as older OSs, they won't know to look into the BIOS to get a serial number.
    Reinstalling [or dumping the image] onto a Win 8 machine that was downgraded shouldn't have much effect either.
    A future Win 9 will see they key and ignore it because it detects it as a Win 8 key [unless you need it for an upgrade].
  • Install Windows Server 2012 on a HP 3500 Pro with fails (Windows 8 Key in B

    I am trying to install a Windows Server 2012 Standard (from Microsoft Action Pack) on a HP 3500 Pro PC. But the installation failed, because he is reading the Windows 8 Professional Product Key from the BIOS and say that the Key is not correct for Windows Server 2012.

    I have contacted HP how i can deactivate the Product Key, but the have any solution.

    Do you have some idea how i can install the Windows Server 2012? It has some installationoptions for Windows Server 2012?

    Thanks for your help.
    • 2012 Server install issue..

      Answered in this kb http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2796988
  • RE-Install the same version using OEM media & Activation


    I've made a mess! Is it fixable?

    I've just bought a laptop from Samsung with Windows 8 pre-installed.
    When using it for the first time (no internet access) it wasn't activated.
    Talking to the custumer servisse at Samsung didn't help much (it seems they have VERY little knowledge about this activation process - didn't even check with me if I was online or not. They asked me to re-install the Windows using the recovery partition. I did it and since no internet was ON, it was still deactivated. Then they asked me to re-install it using the WINDOWS (settings/general/reinstall) which took around 3hrs to complete and then the sistem wouldn't start anymore, nor the recovery partition start-up option.
    So, they told me to send it back to be repaired (which would take them around 30days to send it back to me), which I declined (It was supposed to be a Christmas gift anyway.

    Not knowing anything about this "bios key", I just got my original Vista(32x) media and deleted the GPT partition thing, recreated the mbr and installed Vista 32. But it doesn't activate.

    Are you still there????? moving on...

    So, I spent some more Money and bought myself the WINDOWS 8 x64 SL OEM media.

    the following is what I intend to do:

    using a SEAGATE software, i will fill the HD with zeros (which should destrói all the partitions and data (already backedup).

    using s PARAGON cd, i will change my HD from MBR to GPT (leaving the whole HD unnallocated)

    using the OEM MEDIA, install Windows 8 without formatting anything (hope it creates those MSR, EFI...partitions by itself)

    1) can i go through with all these steps? if not, how should i proceed then?
    2)will I be promped to insert the product key during installation? if so, which one? (There's the one that came with the OEM media - written on a COA-like sticker (which has "this is not a coa" written all over it) and the one I got using the RW-Everything software (i guess this is the one inside my bios). Or should I just skip it when asking for the key (it would check the bios one itself and activate the system whem I am online)?



  • It is a nightmare, I know

    I have 3 Windows 8 units... and have had to re-install all of them several times, for various reasons. Every time it is a nightmare, and have had to call Microsoft for verification every time, and the problem persists, because you have to have the identical product key for key machine.

    We use Media center, which forces you to upgrade to Windows pro and then install Media Center and each install changes your product key. I hate, HATE, HATE Microsoft for making it so damned hard to use your own legal machine.