Once your machine has a digital entitlement, you can install or reinstall Windows 10 any number of ways, and Microsoft will always remember that your machine is authorized for a genuine copy of Windows 10. You don’t have a Win10 key, there’s nothing to write down, no hoops you have to jump through.
Microsoft explains the nuances on its Activation in Windows 10 page.
The trick is to do an in-place upgrade first. If you perform a clean install initially, you wipe out all evidence of the “genuine” Win7 or Win8.1 installation, and your life will become considerably more complicated.
To perform an in-place upgrade and preserve your license, you have three choices:
- Upgrade through Windows Update.
- Run the “Upgrade this PC now” option from the Download Windows 10 site.
- Create an installation disk with the Windows 10 Media creation tool, stick the disk in the PC you want to upgrade, and run setup.exe on the disk.
Once you’ve performed the in-place upgrade, you can boot from that same installation disk and use it to perform a clean install, deleting your hard drive partitions in the process. But if you want the license to travel with your machine, use one of those three methods to upgrade your PC first.
Remember the prime directive: If you’re prompted for a Win10 key, click Skip, Do This Later, or Next (depending on the dialog box). Don’t bother trying to find a Windows 10 key.
What to do if you’ve already performed a clean install and wiped out all vestiges of your (“genuine”) Windows 7 or 8.1 key? First, make sure you upgraded correctly -- 32-bit to 32-bit, 64-bit to 64 -- and make sure you have the correct version as described in the section “Installer hangs for hours.”
Got the right version? Wait a few days. Windows 10 has an ability to magically heal its activation problems.
If that doesn’t work, you can try an automatic phone activation. Grab a pencil and a piece of paper. Press Windows key-R. Type:
(Note the space.) Hit Enter. Choose your country. You receive a toll-free number and a horrendously long list of numbers known as the “installation ID.” Call the toll-free number and type in the installation ID. You will hear an automated voice with an installation key. Write it down. Click Next on the slui dialog box, type in the numbers, and you should be home free.
If that doesn’t work, get on the phone and talk to a human. I’ve been working with phone activation for many years, and although there are a few notable exceptions, in almost every case if you have a good story, you’ll get a Windows 10 key.
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