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Seeing the Activate Windows 10 watermark in the corner of your desktop? While it’s a minor annoyance, it can sometimes appear even if you’ve activated Windows properly. And this annoyance can get in the way of what you’re working on.
We explain what Windows activation means and how you can remove the “activate Windows 10” watermark.
What Is Windows Activation?
Before we proceed, we should first briefly explain what Windows activation is. See our Windows 10 activation FAQ for much more information.
While you’re allowed to install Windows 10 on any PC free of charge, doing so does not activate the operating system. Activation checks in your copy of Windows with Microsoft to make sure it’s genuine. You have two main ways to activate Windows 10: with a product key, or through a digital license.
You receive a product key if you buy a Windows 10 license from Microsoft or another retailer. If you purchased your PC ready-built, it also likely came with a product key. Conversely, those who upgraded to Windows 10 from a copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 have a digital license and don’t need a product key for activation.
Windows 10 allows you to link your digital license with your Microsoft account, which makes reactivating it in the future much easier (as we’ll see).
Using Non-Activated Windows 10
As it turns out, a non-activated copy of Windows 10 works almost exactly the same as an activated one, with a few minor limitations.
You’ll see the “activate Windows 10” watermark in the bottom-right corner of your screen, plus a message in Settings letting you know that Windows isn’t activated. Additionally, you can’t use any of the items in the Personalization category of Settings. This prevents you from changing the wallpaper, color, Taskbar, and similar settings.
If you don’t mind this, however, Windows 10 otherwise functions perfectly fine. You’ll still receive system updates and don’t have to deal with any nagging popups.
Now that you understand activation, let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons this watermark appears. We’ll then dive into how to remove the “activate Windows 10” watermark in other ways.
Review Your Activation Status
To find out why you have the “activate Windows 10” watermark on your system, head to Settings > Update & Security > Activation.
Here you’ll see the status of your computer and what you can do to activate it and remove the watermark. Let’s review some of the common ones. You may need to search for your specific error code if your issue isn’t mentioned here.
1. Enter a Valid Product Key
You can see in the above screenshot that Windows 10 is not activated because the previous version of Windows wasn’t activated either. In this virtual machine, we upgraded an unlicensed copy of Windows 7 to Windows 10 and never entered a product key during installation.
Because of this, Windows 10 is not activated and thus shows the watermark. A similar situation would happen if you installed a fresh copy of Windows 10 on a machine and didn’t enter a product key upon installation.
The easy way to resolve this and remove the Windows 10 watermark is to enter a genuine product key, if you have one. Thankfully, Windows 10 accepts any valid Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or Windows 10 key. If you still have the sticker on your old Windows 7 computer, it should work to activate Windows 10.
Click Change product key and enter your 25-digit product key to activate Windows. If you enter a valid key that hasn’t already been used too many times, Windows 10 should activate and remove the watermark.
If you have an activated Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 machine but don’t know its product key, see how to recover your Windows product key.
2. Run the Activation Troubleshooter
Another common activation issue occurs when you make significant upgrades to your computer, such as replacing the motherboard. Windows 10 ties your digital license to your PC’s components, so when you make major changes, it no longer recognizes it as your computer.
To resolve this, you can run the Windows activation troubleshooter. This will allow you to re-link your Microsoft account to your computer and activate Windows again. Head to Settings > Update & Security > Activation again and click Troubleshoot. Once the troubleshooter starts, click I changed hardware on this device recently. This will prompt you to log into your Microsoft account.
If you haven’t linked your digital license to your Microsoft account prior to the hardware change, this won’t work. You can try contacting Microsoft support to get it sorted out, but there’s no guarantee of success.
3. Review Enterprise Activation
A less common problem, but one still worth mentioning, occurs in a business situation. If Windows was activated from an enterprise server, and it loses contact with that server, Windows will show the “activate Windows 10″watermark after some time.
When you visit the Activation menu, you’ll see a message such as We can’t activate Windows on this device because we can’t connect to your organization’s activation server. In this case, you need to reconnect your computer to your company’s network and reactivate it. You can try using a company VPN to do this if you can’t physically connect it.
4. Purchase a New Windows 10 Key
If you don’t have a valid Windows key, never connected a digital license to your Microsoft account, and your issue doesn’t lie with enterprise activation, your only (legitimate) option left is to buy a new product key for Windows 10.
You can do this right from the Activation menu in Settings; click Go to Store. Here you can buy a product key for Windows 10 Home ($140) or Windows 10 Pro ($200) depending on which version you have installed.
If you don’t want to pay this much, have a look around the web for alternative retailers. For example, Walmart has an OEM copy of Windows 10 Home for $100 at the time of writing. You may be able to find even steeper discounts from third-party sites, but you run the risk of buying a phony key. Follow our tips for getting a cheap and legal Windows license for some ideas.
Once you do activate Windows 10 with a new key, head back to the Activation menu and makes sure it states that your activation is linked to your Microsoft account. If it doesn’t say this, click the Add an account button below. Sign into your Microsoft account so you can reactivate more easily in the future if needed.
Other Windows 10 Activation Issues
The above list of activation scenarios isn’t exhaustive. For example, you might have a mismatched product key and edition of Windows installed. A key for Windows 10 Home won’t activate Windows 10 Pro.
Additionally, Microsoft limits the number of times you can use one product key to activate Windows. If you’ve used the key a lot in the past, it’s possible that you’ve exhausted it.
Workarounds to Remove the “Activate Windows 10” Watermark
If none of the above methods to activate Windows worked for you, and you don’t want to buy a license, you may wonder how to get rid of the “activate Windows 10” watermark without actually activating it.
We’ll briefly cover a few workarounds for this, but you should know that they aren’t guaranteed to solve the problem. They may work for some time, then revert in the future. So take them with a grain of salt and know that the best way to remove the “activate Windows 10” watermark is by activating it.
5. Try Universal Watermark Disabler
Winaero offers a tool called Universal Watermark Disabler, which is the closest solution for a Windows 10 watermark remover that we’ve found. Simply download and open it, then choose Install from the dialog box. This will sign you out of your computer.
After you sign back in, the watermark should be gone.
6. Disable Windows 10 Tips
Some people have reported that heading to Settings > System > Notifications & actions and disabling both Show me the Windows welcome experience… and Get tips, tricks, and suggestions… will disable the Windows 10 watermark after a restart.
Your mileage may vary with this, but it’s worth a quick try.
Methods That Don’t Work
Around the web, you’ll see two common methods that claim to remove the “activate Windows 10” watermark. While you’re welcome to try these, don’t expect either one to work for any length of time.
The first tells you to run a batch command that includes the command taskkill /F /IM explorer.exe. All this does is restart File Explorer and the process that runs under it. It’s not directly related to the watermark, so even if this makes the watermark disappear temporarily, it will most likely come back.
Second is a Registry edit. This one instructs you to find a key called PaintDesktopVersion and set it to 0. However, this value is usually already set to 0 (including on our test non-activated Windows 10 machine), so it won’t have any effect.
You should avoid downloading random software that claims to disable watermarks or activate Windows for you, as they could include malware. Be careful about trying other methods that require modifying or deleting system files, since doing so can cause problems to your system. These aren’t worth the risk just to remove a small watermark.
Banish the “Activate Windows 10” Watermark
We’ve taken a look at what Windows activation is, where this watermark comes from, and several ways to remove it. Ultimately, the most reliable way to permanently remove the Windows 10 watermark is activating the OS. And you don’t necessarily have to buy a new key to do this, as we’ve seen.
While the workarounds may prove helpful for a time, the watermark might come back after you try one of them. If you don’t mind the lack of personalization options, living with the watermark is perfectly acceptable too.