Four Places to Find Your Windows 8 Product Key
Windows 8 and 8.1 PCs no longer have a Certificate of Authenticity (CoA) sticker with their product key printed on it. This helps prevent theft — people can’t just glance at a sticker on your laptop to get your Windows product key. On the other hand, you can’t simply look at a sticker on your Windows PC when you reinstall the operating system. You’ll have to find the 25-digit product key elsewhere.
Having your product key is necessary if you want to download Windows 8 or 8.1 installation media from Microsoft . Their downloads require a valid product key. It’s also useful if you want to perform a fresh install of Windows to wipe away all the bloatware that comes with a new PC .
Embedded in UEFI Firmware
PCs that come with Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows RT have an encrypted product key embedded in their UEFI firmware . When you reinstall the same version of Windows 8 or 8.1 on a PC that came with it, the product key will be automatically applied and activated. You won’t see any product key prompt — it will all happen automatically.
This only applies if you’re installing the same copy of Windows. This doesn’t apply if you install an upgrade copy, a system-builder copy, or a different edition of Windows 8 . This also won’t work if you try to install Windows 8.1 on a PC that came with Windows 8 — Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 have different product keys for some reason, so you’d need to install the original version of Windows 8 and then upgrade to Windows 8.1 via the Windows Store.
This feature is designed to simplify things, but you may need to get at your Windows product key anyway — use a tool in the next section to view this hidden key while Windows is installed.
On a Running Windows System
The Windows product key is normally hidden and not shown anywhere in Windows’ interface. However, you can use a third-party utility to view the product key stored in Windows. You can then write down this product key and re-enter it when installing Windows. This is the only way to find the Windows product key on PCs that come with Windows 8 or 8.1 pre-installed.
You’ll need to download a third-party tool for this. We like NirSoft’s lightweight ProduKey utility, but you can also use another product-key-finding utility . Run the tool and it will display the Windows product key in use on your current Windows system — write it down so you can use it later.
In a Purchase Confirmation Email
If you purchased Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 online — maybe you grabbed that cheap $40 or $15 offer when Windows 8 was released — you’ll find your Windows 8 or 8.1 product key included in an email Microsoft sent you at the time of purchase. The product key from this email can be used when you reinstall Windows 8 or 8.1.
Here’s what our email looks like. Its subject is “Thanks for ordering Windows 8” and it was sent from Microsoft Customer Support. Your email may look a bit different if you purchased Windows 8 or 8.1 more recently.
Included in a Retail Windows Box
If you purchased a retail, boxed copy of Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, you’ll find your product key included on a card in that box. You may need to dig the box out of your closet to find your product key. Look for a card with a picture of a key on it. If you set it aside when you originally installed Windows 8, we hope you remember where you put it!
Visit Microsoft’s Upgrade Windows with only a product key page to download installation media for Windows 8 or 8.1 — all you need is the product key you found above.
Having trouble? Bear in mind that Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 have different product keys for some reason. If you have a Windows 8 key, you can’t install Windows 8.1 — you have to install Windows 8 and use the free upgrade to Windows 8.1. If you have a Windows 8.1 key, you can’t install Windows 8 with it. If you try either of these things, you’ll receive an “invalid product key” message. Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade to all Windows 8 users, so why Microsoft decided to make this so complicated is a mystery.