Starting with Windows 8, product key stickers aren’t placed on the computers. For Windows 8 and 8.1, the Windows key is typically stored in the BIOS of the computer, which means Windows should automatically detect and use the stored key even during clean installs. I still suggest retrieving the stored key using a tool, as well—just in case. For Windows 10, the product key or digital entitlement is stored on Microsoft servers and should be automatically downloaded if the computer was running Windows 10 prior to your clean install.
As mentioned before, if you’re doing the free upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, you can now clean install Windows 10 and activate using your old Windows product key.
That’s it! You’re done with the hard part. Now that all the prep work is done, slapping your installation media into your PC and setting up a fresh Windows installation should be an easy-peasy step-by-step process. If your computer doesn’t boot into the installation media when you restart it, you may need to dive into its BIOS settings and change its boot order, or press a key during the boot process to access a boot menu and choose a boot device other than your primary hard drive.
One final note: If you’re prompted for a product key for any reason when clean installing any Windows version, I suggest inputting it then, not skipping to do later. If there’s an issue with the key—maybe you chose the wrong Windows edition or an OEM key isn’t working—you want to know before you blow away your current Windows installation.
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