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When you purchase a computer that comes with Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows 8, that copy of Windows is tied to your computer’s hardware. It’s an OEM copy, which means it can only be used on that computer. Even if you purchase a retail, boxed copy of Windows and install it, that copy of Windows will become tied to your hardware after it activates itself with Microsoft. If you change your hardware later, your copy of Windows may become “non-genuine,” turn your desktop background black, and start pestering you to use a genuine version of Windows.

You’re allowed to make certain hardware changes under the Windows license agreement, but even making allowed hardware changes may turn your copy of Windows into a “non-genuine” copy that requires reactivation with Microsoft.

Why Windows May Become Non-Genuine

Windows becomes non-genuine after some hardware changes to prevent you from taking a copy of Windows tied to one computer’s hardware and move it to a new computer. This sounds simple, but, in reality, it’s hard to define exactly what a single computer is. Is your computer still the same computer if you change its graphics card? Sure, probably. What about the motherboard and CPU? Maybe. What if you change the motherboard, CPU, memory, and everything but the hard drive? Where exactly do you draw the line between the old computer and a new computer?

Microsoft doesn’t spell out the exact hardware changes that can cause a Windows PC to become non-genuine, but we know that changing the following hardware components can cause this: The motherboard and CPU Hardcore Hardware Upgrades: How To Install Or Replace Your Own CPU Hardcore Hardware Upgrades: How To Install Or Replace Your Own CPU The processor remains one of the most important components in a modern computer. Upgrading it can provide significant benefits in certain games and applications, particularly if you are switching from a dual-core or quad-core model,... Read More , hard drive, network card, graphics card How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained] How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained] Read More , and RAM How To Upgrade Your Laptop In a Flash: Add a New Hard Drive & Increase RAM How To Upgrade Your Laptop In a Flash: Add a New Hard Drive & Increase RAM Laptops are not as easy to upgrade as desktops. Many components are simply soldered on to the motherboard and others, though technically replaceable, are restricted by technical skill and cost. There are, however, two upgrades... Read More . Changing a single component or even two components may be fine, but changing several components may upset Windows. In some cases, changing a single component — like imaging a failing hard drive How To Clone Your Hard Drive How To Clone Your Hard Drive Copy the entirety of one hard drive to another. It's called cloning, and it's an important process if you want to replace or upgrade the primary hard drive in your computer. Cloning isn't the same... Read More , replacing the hard drive How To Install A New Hard Drive To Replace An Old One How To Install A New Hard Drive To Replace An Old One Read More , and then re-imaging your copy of Windows to that hard drive — may result in Windows becoming non-genuine.

windows activation remove

Allowed Hardware Upgrades

Before you continue, it’s important to bear in mind what’s allowed and what isn’t. This will depend on whether you have an OEM or retail copy of Windows installed on your computer.

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  • OEM Copy: If your computer came with Windows, it likely has an OEM copy. An OEM copy is tied to a specific computer and can’t be moved to a new computer. While you’re free to upgrade a PC’s hardware components or replace a failing hard drive, you can’t move your OEM copy to a new computer.
  • Retail Copy: If you purchased a boxed copy of Windows, it’s likely a retail copy. A retail copy of Windows can be moved to a new computer, but you’re only allowed to use that copy of Windows on a single computer at a time. That means you’d have to uninstall the old copy of Windows before you moved it to a new computer.

It’s important to understand these limitations. For example, if your computer is non-genuine because you’ve attempted to move a hard drive containing an OEM copy of Windows to an entirely new computer, Microsoft won’t help you make that copy of Windows genuine again. Even if you have a retail copy, you’ll want to ensure it’s only installed on one computer at a time.

Many online stores seem to sell OEM copies of Windows in boxes. This isn’t technically allowed via Microsoft’s license agreement 10 Ridiculous EULA Clauses That You May Have Already Agreed To 10 Ridiculous EULA Clauses That You May Have Already Agreed To Let’s be honest, no one reads EULA's (End User Licensing Agreement) - we all just scroll down to the bottom and click "I Accept". EULAs are full of confusing legalese to make them incomprehensible to... Read More , but if you do buy such a box, you won’t be allowed to move it to a new PC after installing it on a PC.

This is all the way it’s supposed to work, according to the Windows license agreement. However, if you call and ask nicely, Microsoft may allow you to move an OEM version of Windows to a new computer — that’s their prerogative. Many people have noticed that Microsoft is more flexible than the language in their license agreements would lead you to believe.

windows-7-activation-successful

How to Make Your PC Genuine Again

If you do find yourself with a non-genuine version of Windows after performing a hardware upgrade, replacing a failing component, or — in an extreme worst case scenario — upgrading a hardware driver or firmware that causes Windows to think you’re using a new component, you’ll need to activate Windows again with Microsoft.

To re-activate a Windows 7 PC, you’ll need to open the Windows Activation tool. To do so, click the Start button, type “Activate” into the Start menu, and click the Windows Activation shortcut. Select the “Show me other ways to activate” option and go through the wizard, selecting the “Use the automated phone system” option. You’ll then be given a toll-free number you can dial. If everything goes properly, you’ll be given a confirmation ID you can enter into the Windows Activation tool to make Windows genuine again. If the automated system fails, you’ll be put on the line with a Microsoft customer service representative. Explain your situation and they’ll hopefully allow you to re-active your installed copy of Windows, making it genuine again.

windows-7-activation-wizard-other-ways

Of course, there are also other unofficial methods, one of which James covered here in the past How To Fix The Windows 7 Activation Countdown After Installing The SP1 Update How To Fix The Windows 7 Activation Countdown After Installing The SP1 Update If you had previously applied an activation hack to your Windows install to get around that restriction, you may be shocked to find that the recent Service Pack 1 update from Microsoft nullified that hack... Read More . These hacks may allow you to bypass the Windows activation system. We don’t really recommend using them. For one thing, it’s against Microsoft’s license agreement. What’s more, such tools may not be completely secure — you’re downloading and installing a tool that requires low-level access to your system from a shady website that you can’t completely trust. And, if you have an actual legitimate copy of Windows, Microsoft will likely be happy to make it genuine again if you go through the activation process and give them a phone call.

Have you ever had Windows become non-genuine after upgrading or replacing a piece of hardware? Did you have any trouble re-activating Windows with Microsoft? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

Image Credit: Eric Jones on Flickr

  1. Amanda Green
    July 22, 2016 at 1:53 am

    Recently i got a Office 2016 Product Key from a page. The key is working properly and it's genuine. Shared to you:
    #plus.google.com/113990216221163079769/posts/iuuYmjB12Jv

  2. K G Smith
    June 4, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Ok.. After installing a 1tb hybrid hdd on an hp a few years old.. this happend to me. I read all of this and that and even if i go to the validate and it succeeds it still comes back later that it is not genuine even if the system properties says so. I also experienced windows update problems. Here was my resolve.

    uninstall intel matrix storage manager, It doesn't work right with 4k sectors.

  3. Chrisatvac
    April 6, 2016 at 8:03 am

    I have an OEM license. The file "system.dat" became corrupted requiring a complete re-install of windows. No hardware (none at all) was changed. Same cpu, disk, Graphics card, MOBO, memory, case, PSU, fans, cdrom, leds everything the same. DELL OEM license would not validate. The phone call was automated. Its a windows xp SP3 system which I need for C++ and VB programming. It's off the internet for now. I re-install everything once a month until the license fails 21 to 28 days before failing. The plus side is I'm good at re-installing (4 hours or less). Also there is little chance orf being hurt by malware viruses etc. since I'm off-line.

    Since XP isn't supported anymore I assumed Microsoft simply wasn't answering their phone anymore. Who would you call to attempt to re-use an oem license anyway?

    This system was originally installed in 2011 to replace a system with a burn't cpu.

    I may have an extra unused oem license which I was saving. Or I may just try to get a license
    thru Microsoft. I'm considering looking for a group of xp pro or server licenses for a discount
    to allow for inevitable MOBO, CPU, DISK changes in the future.

    My windows 7 system (2011 install) also uses an OEM license. I'm looking at backup software which allows Windows 7 to install on the same system with a cloned backup disk.
    The disk partitions are possibly tied to an identifier tied to system restore or the license which seems to be another way to invalidate your license.

    After losing 4 systems in two years due to (1) hard drive failure, (2) cpu failure, (3) Microsoft XP system.dat failure (crash), and (4) computer virus attack I'm looking at other options.

    I'm stabilizing, cleaning, reducing usage, backing up, and minimizing internet access.
    Working offline except thru a heavily protected system.
    I need better warnings aboput bad web sites.
    I need better sites to offer windows tools.
    I need fewer internet ads.
    I need fast, clean information.

    -- programming since 1976
    - Z

  4. Sean Owens
    March 17, 2016 at 10:12 am

    After I replaced a hdd with a sdd I was getting the validation messages. Your last method using the activation tool worked. My os is windows 7 64bit.

  5. Ken
    February 20, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    After hard drive crashed and was replaced I contacted Microsoft. I explained everything and they said they'd be happy to sell me a new copy of windows...

  6. Hilary Elder
    July 19, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    To add to my last comment. Although Windows confirmed my activation was successful and I am running a genuine copy of Windows 7, the computer is still giving me messages that it is not. Seems Windows doesn't know what it is doing!

  7. Hilary Elder
    July 19, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I replaced my two hard drives and, as a responsible computer owner, having used an automatic back-up program, I reloaded the back-up I had from an external hard drive. I lost nothing and all my programs, files etc were back as before. However, I kept getting the 'your Windows product is not genuine message'. I managed to get hold of a really helpful Microsoft help guy who thought he had removed the offending file but he had not. I have looked at loads of sites that give you information but this was the only one that advises you to 'Activate'. All I had to do was type in 'Activate' and I got a message saying my Windows product had been activated and I was now running a genuine copy. Hurray. Thank you so much

  8. Joann V. Sterner
    May 27, 2015 at 3:58 am

    Hey,guys just wanna share a site with u,it's about windows keys,they're legal&genuine,cheap and easy to use.i just get mine and activated succeed,check it key4cheap.co m

  9. Chris
    April 28, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Having this issue for two months now. Tried to contact MS and they went thru the process of trying to activate it from their end to no avail. Their suggestion, buy their service plan so that a technician can try to fix this issue that happened after one of their updates. I have not updated any hardware on this computer. This all happened after and official update, had downloaded and restarted my computer. I have tried to reinstall the disc I have, still getting the same message, that my windows is not genuine, when it has been genuine for two years now.

  10. arifur rahman
    March 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    install windows xp normally. but when i install windows 7 then after formatting dist when load the windows in the hard disk percentage 0% does not increasing after some time call hardware problem. my hard disk 500GB, ram 2GB, mother board Intel G41 series, processor dual core 2.96Gh

  11. Tom
    March 6, 2015 at 1:28 am

    Tom It has happened to me twice and I only installed a video capture card first time I redid my computer, today it happened I removed the hardware and computer was fine. Kinda of a pain you ask me

  12. up urs
    March 5, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Called some towel head gave me a bunch of shit.He should beselling slushies.

  13. Josh
    January 10, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    just go to mydigitallife site and it will explain how to flash your bios. Don't worry it's not hard and no cause for worry. In short you flash your bios and upggrade it to a 2.0 or 2.1 slic bios table, then you can put in the rtm- Release to manufacture codes. The same keys that are assigned when you buy a new computer and windows is already activated. Presto, you have told your computer at the hardware level is a rtm auto activated copy. But I would call Microsft first and see if they will help. I run 2 LLCs, one of which I only deal with computer, networking, ect issues and, in my experience Microsoft will usually help you out in this case. Just be very nice and, make sure to explain that it either the same machine, just with upgrades, or it was put into a new tower. But only one key for the machine will be the only one in use. You can also just find your key sticker on your machine and activate it online with that same key. You can almost always get 3 copies of that OS version up and going. 1 will have been taken for the original key that was activated.

  14. Alwin George
    March 10, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Check this below link to make your windows 7 copy genuine.. Methods shown in the link is very informative and easy!!
    http://youtu.be/7vX6FyuIC9k

  15. Richard
    March 3, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    How to make windows genuine .. Well below video worked for me .. method explained in this video is very easy and effective. hope it may work for you ..:)
    http://youtu.be/1TBouO-4KJ8

  16. siddharth
    February 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Check this below link to make your windows 7 copy genuine.. Methods shown in the link is very informative and easy!!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TBouO-4KJ8

  17. Jack
    December 13, 2013 at 7:50 am

    I found this link useful in this case. May be your people want to check it out

  18. akash
    December 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    It doesn't work

    • Bryan
      January 8, 2015 at 4:42 am

      Try not to be too specific there : )

  19. Tony Bze
    October 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    I have the retail version of Windows 7 and after having problems with my Asus Mobo, I replaced it with an MSI Mobo and at the time upgraded the HDD and when I re-installed Windows 7, I found myself not being able to activate it. I have made numerous attempts with Microsoft to get them to tell me what to do to have it activated I even gave them certain Information that would tell them that the Installation Disc is genuine, but to no avail. I paid at the $700.00 bz or $350.00 US for my copy, now I have a disc that is good for nothing. They keep giving me a call this 0800, but from my country 0800 numbers are not free and I will not sit for 30 minutes or more to speak to someone that will have me run around like a dog chasing it's tail. I pains me to say that I took the alternative, so that I can have my PC work. But Microsoft left me no other option.

    • Anon
      March 31, 2014 at 2:53 am

      Skype can be used to call 800 numbers for free. It's worth a try.

  20. TxBlackLabel
    October 10, 2013 at 5:36 am

    The method I have used is just call.

    Call the toll free number
    Tell the automated call the numbers on the screen
    It asks "is this installed on more than one PC?" my reply is always "no"
    Verified
    Proceeds to give activation code
    Finish

    total time under 10 minutes - 6 is the average time.

  21. Rafael Cervera
    October 9, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Dell said that the PC was out of warranty. I asked how could this be, since I purchased it six months earlier, and the guarantee was for a whole year. They said a year from "manufacture" date, which is different from "Sell" date. To add insult to injury, they also said no way they would ship a CD with the OS on it since it is their policy for you to make a copy from the original with Dell Backup and Recovery or Dell DataSafe Local software. Sounds like Baylin is the original lost Microsoft Fanboy...

    • Baylin
      October 12, 2013 at 1:05 am

      You're careless then. Its your own fault that happened.

  22. Rafael Cervera
    October 9, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    My Dell had a HDD failure six months after I bought it. When I installed the new HDD, I realized that no replacement OS cd's had come with the package, so I called Dell. The told me that instead of phisically shipping a copy of OS with the new PC, one has to make a copy using software of the original shipped with the PC. I have switched to GNU Linux since then and am much happier.

    • Baylin
      October 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm

      Another neck beard made up story. If you got a replacement hard drive from Dell, they ship a Windows 7/8 CD with it. I know from pass and current experience with Dell.

    • Darren
      February 22, 2015 at 12:12 am

      WAY to go. I love your solution, Just throw the dam baby out with the bath water.

  23. Richard Steven Hack
    October 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Or you can go to MyDigitalLife Web site forums and learn how to bypass this nonsense all together. Windows 7 was ridiculously easy to crack. Windows 8 has been much harder.

    And yes, Microsoft will generally allow you to move your OS from one machine to another, as long as they think the old machine is out of action, since they don't want to tick off even more customers who will then switch to Apple by forcing people to buy Windows again.

    • Crazie Flawed N
      October 18, 2013 at 3:27 am

      dubbed SIR RICHARD HACK.. TY ;)

  24. Steve Costello
    October 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I have not yet had this problem, fortunately.

    As it is probably only a matter of time before it does happen, I am saving this so I will know what to do in that case.

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